Archive for November, 2008

Conflict Death Tolls

Posted in conflict death tolls with tags , on 23 November, 2008 by Virgil

It is one thing to say that the world’s deadliest conflicts are being ignored, it is another to convincingly show it. It is necessary to first put the scale of the world’s conflicts in perspective – to find out how deadly they actually are. This is more easily said than done, for a number of reasons. Firstly, often no one is counting. Secondly, if someone is counting, they may have a vested interest in the outcome of the ‘count’ – a party to the conflict may want to show how low the damage is from their belligerence, while those considering themselves as being on the side of the victims (or aid organization trying to attract large donations) may want to show how high the death toll is. Finally, there is not necessarily a consensus as to which deaths count as conflict-related deaths – do only battle deaths (from the bullets and bombs) count, or should conflict-related deaths from starvation and disease also be counted? On this final question, considering the nature of conflict and its affect on society as a whole, it seems obvious that nonviolent deaths need to be taken into account. These problems aside, the table below is a tentative compilation of the approximate death tolls of conflicts since the end of the Cold War, drawn from a wide variety of sources.

 

 

Conflict

Death Toll

Democratic Republic of Congo

5,400,000

Southern Sudan

1,200,000

Angola

800,000

Rwanda

800,000

Afghanistan

500,000

Somalia

400,000

Iraq

400,000

Burundi

300,000

Darfur

300,000

Zaire

300,000

Liberia

200,000

Algeria

150,000

Ethiopia-Eritrea

100,000

Chechnya

100,000

Uganda

100,000

Sierra Leone

50,000

Kashmir

50,000

Colombia

50,000

Sri Lanka

50,000

Bosnia-Herzegovina

50,000

Philippines

20,000

Turkey

20,000

Nigeria

20,000

Gulf War

20,000

Azerbaijan

20,000

Bougainville

20,000

Cote d’Ivoire

10,000

Congo, Republic of

10,000

Peru

10,000

Aceh

10,000

Myanmar

10,000

Nepal

10,000

Croatia

10,000

Kosovo

10,000

Kurdish Iraq

10,000

Southern Iraq

10,000

Senegal

< 10,000

Guinea

< 10,000

Chad

< 10,000

Mali

< 10,000

Niger

< 10,000

Central African Republic

< 10,000

Haiti

< 10,000

Mexico

< 10,000

Israel-Palestine

< 10,000

Israel-Lebanon

< 10,000

Yemen

< 10,000

Andrha Pradesh

< 10,000

Gujurat

< 10,000

Northeast India

< 10,000

East Timor

< 10,000

Irian Jaya

< 10,000

Kalimantan

< 10,000

Molucca Islands

< 10,000

Sulawesi

< 10,000

Georgia

< 10,000

Moldova

< 10,000

Northern Ireland

< 10,000

Spain

< 10,000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the lack of reliability of death toll figures, the above compilation can give us a good overview of the relative state of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Many of the figures may actually be much higher than seen here – in many cases no one knows. Some of the figures are compromises – a midway point between two very different (and sometimes hotly contested) estimates. Most are rounded off approximations. Many include nonviolent deaths, while others do not (data simply does not exist). The important point here is not to debate whether the death toll figure for a particular conflict has been underestimated or overestimated by 10,000 or even 100,000 or more (although more accurate counts are always important) – with such a huge gap between the scale of the world’s deadliest conflicts and much smaller conflicts, the accuracy issue seems to lose some of its relevance.

 

The primary purpose here is to get an idea of the relative size of conflicts that seem to get the attention and humanitarian concern of the outside world and those that do not. It quickly becomes obvious that conflicts that have dominated the agendas of actors in a position to respond (policymakers, the media, the public and academia) are often relatively small in scale compared to many of those that have consistently failed to attract attention. The next challenge will be to find out why this is the case.

 

 

 

 

Why Stealth Conflicts?

Posted in stealth conflict concept with tags , , , on 21 November, 2008 by Virgil

When I first began researching conflict more than ten years ago, it seemed logical to start by getting a broad overview of the situation – laying out a map of the world and checking country by country to find out where in the world conflict was occurring and how severe it was. While death toll figures from conflicts are notoriously unreliable, it quickly became clear that the vast majority of the world’s deadliest conflicts were happening in Africa. It also became clear that most of the conflicts that were holding the interest and attention of the outside world were in fact relatively small in comparison.

 

I began comparing counts of death tolls from a variety of sources – death tolls that include (importantly) the nonviolent deaths caused by conflict-related starvation and disease. At latest count (sometime last year), conflicts in Africa accounted for some 88 percent of the world’s conflict-related deaths since the end of the Cold War. Eight of the world’s ten deadliest conflicts since that time have been in Africa, with Iraq and Afghanistan being the only conflicts outside of Africa to fall within the world’s ten deadliest conflicts.

 

But perhaps the most glaring point to note is the scale of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which utterly dwarfs any other conflict in our time. With the most recent count of the death toll reaching 5.4 million, it is four times deadlier than the second most deadly conflict, and is possibly the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II (with the possible exception of the Korean War). Yet, for all of the advances in communications technology and apparent humanitarian concern of our times, the conflict has consistently failed to attract the attention of the outside world. Instead, it is conflicts literally one thousand times smaller (and smaller) that have consistently found themselves in the spotlight of humanitarian and political concern – in Kosovo (with a death toll of 2,000 before the NATO bombing), and Israel-Palestine (with a death toll of roughly 5,000).

 

While I realized that for powerful policymakers, national/political interests mean far more than any notion of humanitarian concern related to the death toll of a particular conflict, humanitarian rhetoric was always a central pillar of the response. More importantly, those that have supposedly taken on the role of watchdog of the policymakers, and/or the objective viewers of the world – the media, civil society organizations and academia – seemed to be reading from very similar scripts when it came time to decide which conflict demanded the attention of the outside world at any given time. While certain actors may have held very divergent views regarding what should be done in response to a particular conflict, the vast majority seemed to hold very similar views about which conflict was important.

 

This has meant that not only is there a huge problem with the failure to respond with any semblance of proportion to the world’s deadliest conflicts by those able to respond, but it has also meant that there are very few who are even able to notice or point out the problem itself. It is scandalous that the world’s deadliest conflicts are not the object of attention and concern. It is doubly scandalous that this state of affairs is not even recognized as a scandal.

 

But how can this be possible in this day and age? How can there be such a unison outpouring of humanitarian concern for the victims of a relatively small conflict, such selective indignation, and at the same time almost blanket silence in response to a conflict responsible for an infinitely greater amount of suffering? How can we claim ignorance about the world’s deadliest conflicts, and at the same time be so closely connected to the largest and most advanced information gathering and delivery system the world has ever seen? How can this situation persist when an unprecedented number and variety of entities are now taking an interest and involving themselves in global affairs?

 

It is the desire to answer these questions that has led to the research I have conducted. I believe I have found some of the answers. I will continue to search for more (and more accurate) answers, and I will continue to work to bring them to light.

 

 

Welcome to Stealth Conflicts

Posted in general with tags , on 16 November, 2008 by Virgil

This blog has recently been set up to help draw attention to (and enhance understanding of) the problem of major conflicts (major in the sense that their death tolls are high) that end up being marginalized and ignored, most notably by powerful policymakers, the media, the public and academia. I will start writing posts as I get the time, hopefully sooner rather than later. In the meantime please follow this link to check out the introduction to the book: Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored. You may also want to check out an article published online called Stealth Conflicts: Africa’s World War in the DRC and International Consciousness. More information about me can be found here.

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