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The True Cost of the War on Yemen

Patrick Cockburn reports on the real death toll from the war on Yemen:

One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated. The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.

Now a count by a non-partisan group has produced a study demonstrating 56,000 people have been killed in Yemen since early 2016. The number is increasing by more than 2,000 per month as fighting intensifies around the Red Sea port of Hodeidah. It does not include those dying of malnutrition, or diseases such as cholera.

“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” says Andrea Carboni, who researches Yemen for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex that studies conflicts and is focusing attention on the real casualty level. He told me he expects a total of between 70,000 and 80,000 victims, when he completes research into the casualties, hitherto uncounted, who died between the start of the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemen civil war, in March 2015, and the end of that year.

The revised death toll of more than 50,000 is admittedly an estimate, but it is much closer to being accurate than the oft-cited, outdated figure of 10,000. The figure of 10,000 killed was itself a conservative estimate at the time it was first made, and that was almost two years ago. The official death toll has remained essentially unchanged despite the obvious escalation in the fighting since then because no one has bothered to keep track of the fatalities. The low figure creates the impression that the war is not really that destructive, and it erases the Yemenis who have died in the war as if they never existed. The war and humanitarian crisis have been badly neglected, and the true cost of the war has been consistently misrepresented. It is important to have a more accurate assessment to correct these errors and to show that the war has caused much greater loss of life than most people realize.

The Yemen Data Project has been working with ACLED to determine how many people have died in the fighting:

As Cockburn says, the revised figure doesn’t include those killed by preventable causes of hunger and disease. Approximately 50,000 children have died each year of this conflict from preventable causes, and the most recent estimate for the current year has been revised upwards to 66,000. Many deaths from starvation aren’t reported, so it is likely that the loss of life is even greater than this. The war has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and if things continue as they are it is likely to claim millions more as a result of the largest famine in decades. That is the true cost of the war on Yemen, and this is what opponents need to cite when they are making their case to end U.S. involvement in this indefensible war.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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