Yemen combat deaths now exceed 60,000 as violence keeps escalating

Yemen combat deaths now exceed 60,000 as violence keeps escalating

By Luke Vargas   
Relief items are seen at an aid distribution point near Wusab Assafil, Yemen. December 2, 2018. Courtesy: ICRC Yemen
Relief items are seen at an aid distribution point near Wusab Assafil, Yemen on Dec. 2. (Courtesy: ICRC Yemen)

November marked the deadliest month of fighting in Yemen's Saudi-Iran proxxy war since ACLED began monitoring the conflict.

UNITED NATIONS – A new survey estimates the death toll in the ongoing war in Yemen now exceeds 60,000, far higher than the U.N.’s last official count in early 2017 placed combat fatalities at 10,000.

“That was already a significant underestimate based on U.N. work.”

Andrea Carboni is a research analyst at the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and says the U.N.’s method of collecting casualty data had serious limitations.

“They kind of relied on figures provided by clinics, by medical centers, but of course they were not including people that may have not made it to a medical center or that may have died in combat.”

ACLED does something different, using media reports from the foreign press covering the war in Yemen and from a host of domestic sources, including blogs and social media, to arrive at its casualty count.

“We try to triangulate the information provided in each media around a single conflict event as much as possible. And then we use, when possible, the most conservative estimate when it comes to fatalities. This is to avoid inflating the violence.”

The violence in Yemen is bad enough without that inflation. Carboni says the Saudi-Iran proxy war has grown deadlier in recent months, with more than 3,000 people killed in fighting last month alone, the war’s deadliest month yet.

Crucially, ACLED’s death toll only includes combat fatalities, not the civilians so often caught up in Yemen’s fighting. Groups like Save the Children estimate “tens of thousands more may have died from other causes linked to the conflict, such as starvation and disease.”

And even if supplying casualty data about the all-to-often invisible war in Yemen won’t bring fighting to an end on its own, Carboni says an accurate casualty count is a necessary tool to measure suffering in the country.

“I think that using more credible figures is going to give a more precise kind of picture of the devastation that this war has brought about to the people of Yemen, and of course also to realize what kind of pressure foreign governments, including western governments, should put on their allies to stop the war.”

[Note: The latest ACLED death toll does not cover the first 12-14 months of the Yemen campaign. With that period’s likely death toll included, Carboni estimates the Yemen casualty count would be closer to 70,000 or 80,000.]

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