An interesting new study by the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University suggests that the civilian costs of war (understood largely in terms of increased mortality rates) have typically been overestimated. Much of the reason for this, they suggest, is both immediate humanitarian action and, even more important, the substantial decline in infant and child mortality rates in the developing world. This is largely due, in turn, to mass immunization campaigns by local governments and international organizations (see, all those UNICEF collections at Halloween paid off!).
New Report Reveals That Human Costs of War Have Shrunk Dramatically
Findings stand in sharp contrast to prevalent media images of contemporary warfare
New York – January 20, 2010 – Challenging commonsense assumptions, a new study from the Canadian research team that produced the much-cited Human Security Report, reveals that nationwide death rates actually fall during the course of most of today’s armed conflicts.
The new study, The Shrinking Costs of War, was produced by the Human Security Report Project at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University and funded by the governments of the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. It will appear in the forthcoming Human Security Report 2009 to be published by Oxford University Press.
The Shrinking Costs of War argues that wartime mortality, from disease and malnutrition, as well as war-inflicted injuries, has been driven downwards by:
Significant changes in the nature of warfare––evident in the 70 percent decline in the number of high-intensity conflicts since the end of the Cold War.
More than 30 years of highly effective health interventions in poor countries in peacetime––which have cut death tolls from disease during wartime.
A dramatic increase in the level and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance to people in war zones.
These findings stand in sharp contrast to contested claims of enormous death tolls in Iraq, Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The Shrinking Costs of War also provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the claim that 5.4 million people have died because of the war in the DRC. The study argues that the true death toll is far smaller.
The full report is here
--I've only just started going through it. While many of the findings are very interesting, I'm not sure that they have adequately addressed the issue of opportunity costs associated with war, and how much greater the impact of similar levels of humanitarian action and development investment would have been in the absence
of civil conflict.