Yemeni War Deaths Have Been Underestimated by 5 to 1

Civilian casualties in the three-year horror in Yemen has been vastly underestimated by mainstream organizations, reports Nicolas Davies.

Total Deaths in Yemen
Top More Than 100,000

By Nicolas J. S. Davies

An NGO responsible for reporting on war deaths in Yemen has acknowledged that it has underestimated the casualties in the three-year-old conflict by at least five to one.

Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project had originally estimated that about 10,000 people had been killed in the war in Yemen, roughly the same number reported by the World Health Organization. WHO surveys are regularly cited as estimates of war deaths in Yemen by UN agencies and the world’s media.  But ACLED now estimates the true number of people killed in Yemen is probably between 70,000 and 80,000.

ACLED’s estimates do not include the thousands of Yemenis who have died from the war’s indirect consequences, such as starvation and preventable diseases like diphtheria and cholera. UNICEF reported in December 2016 that a child was dying every 10 minutes in Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis has only worsened since then.  At that rate the total of all deaths caused directly and indirectly by the war must by now be more than one hundred thousand.

Yemen: More civilian deaths than previously reported. (Abdo Hyder/AFP/Getty Images)

Another NGO, the Yemen Data Project, revealed in September 2016 that at least a third of Saudi-led airstrikes, many of which involve U.S.-built and (until Friday U.S.-refueled warplanes) using U.S.-made bombs, were hitting hospitals, schools, markets, mosques, and other civilian targets. This has left at least half the hospitals and health facilities in Yemen damaged or destroyed, according to the Yemen Data Project, leaving them hardly able to treat the casualties of the war or serve their communities, let alone to compile meaningful figures for the WHO’s surveys.

Even comprehensive surveys of fully functioning hospitals would capture only a fraction of the violent deaths in a war-torn country like Yemen, where most of those killed in the war do not die in hospitals. And yet the UN and the world’s media have continued to cite the WHO surveys as reliable estimates of the total number of people killed in Yemen.

Dramatically Wrong

In a three-part series for Consortium News in April, I claimed that such estimates of civilian deaths in U.S. war zones were likely to be  dramatically wrong  because that is what epidemiologists have found whenever they have conducted serious mortality studies based on well-established statistical principles in war zones around the world.

Epidemiologists recently used some of the same techniques to estimate that about 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Studies in war-ravaged Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been widely cited by Western political leaders and the Western media with no hint of controversy.

Some of the same public health experts who had worked in Rwanda and Congo used the same methods to estimate how many people had been killed as a result of the U.S. and U.K.’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. In two studies they published in the Lancet medical journal in 2004 and 2006, they found that about 600,000 people had been killed in the first three years of war and occupation.  

White and red flags, representing Iraqi and American deaths, in the quad of Oregon State University campus. (Wikimedia Commons)

Broad  acceptance of these results would have been politically disastrous for the U.S. and UK governments. It would also have further discredited the Western media that had supported the invasion of Iraq and were still blaming the Iraqi victims of the illegal invasion of their country for the violence and chaos of the occupation.  The British Defence Ministry’s chief scientific advisor described the Lancet studies’ design as “robust” and their methods as “close to best practice,” and British officials admitted privately that they were “likely to be right.  The U.S. and UK governments nonetheless launched a concerted campaign to discredit them.

No Scientific Basis

In 2005, as American and British officials and their acolytes in the corporate media discounted his work, Les Roberts, the lead author of the 2004 study, told the UK media watchdog Media Lens, “It is odd that the logic of epidemiology embraced by the press every day regarding new drugs or health risks somehow changes when the mechanism of death is their armed forces.”  

Roberts, at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health at the time of the 2004 study and now at Columbia, accurately said there was no legitimate scientific basis for the objections being raised to his work and its results. But it was not so odd that embattled political leaders would use all the tools at their disposal to try to salvage their careers and reputations—and to preserve the U.S. and UK’s future freedom of action to destroy countries that stand in their way. 

By 2005, most Western journalists in Iraq were hunkered down in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, reporting mainly from the CENTCOM briefing room. If they ventured out, they were embedded with U.S. forces traveling by helicopter or armored convoy between fortified U.S.bases. Dahr Jamail was one of a few brave, un-embedded Americans reporting from Iraq. (He later named his book about his time there Beyond the Green Zone.) Dahr told me he thought the true number of Iraqis killed might well be even higher than the Lancet studies’ estimates and that it was certainly not much lower, as the Western propaganda machine insisted it was.

Unlike Western governments and the Western media in the  Iraq case, and UN agencies and the same Western media in Afghanistan and Yemen, ACLED does not defend its earlier, inadequate estimates of war deaths in Yemen. Instead, it is conducting a thorough review of its sources to come up with a more realistic estimate of how many people have been killed. Working back from the present, it now estimates that 56,000 people have been killed since January 2016.   

Andrea Carboni of ACLED told Patrick Cockburn of The Independent newspaper in Britain that he believes ACLED’s estimate of the number killed in three and a half years of war on Yemen will be between 70,000 and 80,000 once it has finished reviewing its sources back to March 2015, when Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and their allies started the war.  

But the true number of people killed in Yemen is inevitably even higher than ACLED’s revised estimate. As I explained in my Consortium News report, no such effort to count the dead by reviewing media reports, hospital records, and other “passive” sources, no matter how thoroughly, can ever fully count the dead amid the widespread violence and chaos of a country ravaged by war.

This is why epidemiologists have developed statistical techniques to produce more accurate estimates of how many people have really been killed in the world’s war zones. The world still waits for that kind of genuine accounting of the true human cost of the Saudi-U.S. war in Yemen and, indeed, of all America’s post-9/11 wars.

A earlier version of this article appeared on CounterPunch.

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapter on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

If you enjoyed this original article please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one.


31 comments for “Yemeni War Deaths Have Been Underestimated by 5 to 1

  1. Brian James
    November 17, 2018 at 17:47

    The absence of a free press is very clear!

    Sep 10, 2018 20 Million Starving Yemenis Fueling the Saudi-US-NATO War Machine.

    The people of Yemen have found themselves struggling not only for survival, but for a space in the Western media’s war coverage.

  2. November 14, 2018 at 01:11

    Many years ignored & indulged by most media, including weapons sales by Obama administration via HRC’s state department for donations into her fraudulent foundation …

  3. mark
    November 13, 2018 at 22:58

    The western presstitute media consistently downplayed the death toll at 10,000, a figure that didn’t move for 3 years.
    Compare this with Syria, where the death toll was constantly being emphasised and revised upwards to serve propaganda purposes. 200,000, 250,000, 400,000, 500,000, 550,000, or whatever figure they have picked out of the hat.
    Compare it with Iraq as well, where “we don’t do body counts.”
    We only do body counts against regimes that are in the cross hairs for destruction.
    Figures can be plucked out of thin air as convenient. Like the “one million Uighurs imprisoned in concentration camps” in China.
    Or the “50,000 executed” in a Syrian prison.

  4. exiled off mainstreet
    November 13, 2018 at 19:37

    My guess is that the death toll is far higher even than mr. Davies suggests. Both yankee factions’ policies are based on war crimes and, in this instance, crimes against humanity.

  5. Riyan Bopanna
    November 13, 2018 at 13:14

    This news is troubling. Why doesn’t it reach the social media? Can someone tell me how and with whom I need to charge this. None of the people I know , want to know these matters and are least bothered.

  6. Sally Snyder
    November 13, 2018 at 08:47

    As shown in this article, United States taxpayers are financially supporting both sides in the Saudi-led war in Yemen:

    Washington has proven itself to be completely unable to understand the repercussions of its global agenda.

    • Truth First
      November 13, 2018 at 17:11

      “Washington has proven itself to be completely unable to understand the repercussions of its global agenda.”


      Washington completely understands the repercussions of its wars around the world. Killing to ‘solve’ problems is the American way, at home and abroad. No country has kill more innocent people or overthrown more democratic governments since WW2 than America.

    • Hank
      November 14, 2018 at 11:12

      How many movies have been produced since WW2 that depicted the war crimes of the German Nazis? As I look around the world today I see nothing different in what the USA and its “allies” are doing on a massive and daily basis! The State Department has always acted like its own policies are based on “reality” of the world’s situation. This is a crock of crap! US foreign policy has been hijacked by the War Party and everything is geared to endless profitable wars(I call them rapes!) based on that phony “reality”. Not until someone or some nation or even block of nations starts sanctioning the USA for its crimes will this world ever hold war criminals accountable.

  7. November 13, 2018 at 01:05

    Having done battle with technologies and lost, CN has my sympathy. I note no comments on this article. Thought I posted one. Also noticed mix of fonts on comments on another article. Good luck. Hope it is a simple matter of a fix.

  8. MARCO
    November 12, 2018 at 23:39

    Getting into the commentary is a tough monkey puzzle!

  9. November 12, 2018 at 21:44

    Most Americans believe the propaganda slogan “Support Our Troops” actually means “Support Our Wars.”

  10. Don Bacon
    November 12, 2018 at 20:56

    re: “epidemiologists have developed statistical techniques to produce more accurate estimates of how many people have really been killed in the world’s war zones.”

    United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights


    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

    Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, . . .

  11. alley cat
    November 12, 2018 at 18:15

    I skim many websites and comments every day looking for accurate information and analysis of what the Empire is up to and why. CN’s new, deliberately blurry, typeface and the sore eyes it now causes makes me want to avoid it, no matter how valuable the content of CN’s articles and comments. I used to be able to scan a hundred comments on CN (which to me are every bit as important as the articles) in a matter of minutes. No more. And if I try, I come away bleary-eyed and frustrated.

    As a long-time reader and supporter of CN, I’m very concerned that your new, hard-to-read, font will negatively affect what should be your overriding mission: defending and promoting democracy by disseminating the truth.

    • Don Bacon
      November 12, 2018 at 21:03

      I have not been negatively affected, but then I’m difficult to affect negatively. I’ve been in the army.

    • Realist
      November 13, 2018 at 14:48

      I set the magnification to 200% on Google Chrome or Microsoft IE. It helps a bit. Actually, my eyes are so bad I’ve had to do this long before the font fiasco.

  12. mike k
    November 12, 2018 at 17:55

    More lies from the wealthy perpetrators and their media puppets. They rule by lies. Loud and repeated lies are all most of the sheeple ever hear. Then they repeat these lies to each other, just as good little conformist robots are supposed to do. They have no questions, only the answers that they are fed, just like they were during their whole fake education process.

    This crummy font really sucks.

    • Don Bacon
      November 12, 2018 at 21:04

      I resent being called sheeple. Stop it. What country are you in, non-sheeple?

      • November 13, 2018 at 17:14

        No one called you a sheeple. To suggest that America is not full of sheeple however does make you a sheeple.

      • Sam F
        November 13, 2018 at 18:36

        Said in good humor I’m sure, non-sheeple. I too agree with Mike.

        The font reminds me of first-edition classics like Tom Paine, and to students thereof may suggest thoughtfulness before typing away. Perhaps it reduces non-robot trolling a bit, perhaps not.

  13. November 12, 2018 at 17:05

    Yet again the absolute moral corruption of the West is on full display with Yemen. No surprise here really. After all a nation that can justify the needless deaths of a half a million Iraqi children as “worth it,” is a nation that can justify anything. I don’t remember seeing the faces of those Iraqi children as they died year after year, yet when our U.S. & Western supported – “regime change jihadists” – attacked Libya and Syria, any children inadvertently killed by those governments as they fought “our jihadists” were plastered across Western media as propaganda props with claims that such governments care nothing about children.

    Who isn’t moved by the image of children killed in war? “Normal” humans are of course, but certainly not the psychopaths who cynically use such images to shamelessly promote, what else, nothing “more war.” Such images are valuable and endlessly useful to demonize those in our regime change sights, but the thousands upon thousands of children killed as a result of our illegal & immoral policies warrant little more than a footnote after the fact, and certainly no TV or media images showing our barbarity.

    Initiate illegal regime change wars and then use the photos of dead children killed in your war to “justify” both “continuing” and “expanding” the war. Destroy a secular regime like Libya where people had healthcare and free education, including a higher quality of life index that a handful of nations in Europe, and claim you had no choice as you were “fighting a dictator” and “spreading democracy” and make things up like “Gaddafi’s viagra fueled rape camps,” claim you care about the poor women who will be raped in these mythical camps. Shamelessly ignore the slaughter of children in your illegal wars, but show every available photo of a dead child you can find if it can somehow be blamed on the nation you’re trying to destroy, even if that child is collateral damage as that nation defends itself, or that child is a completely fabricated propaganda prop created by a Western supported regime change group like the White Helmets. This is the West. Amoral, ruthlessly violent, greedly beyond all comprehension, and totally dishonest. 500+ years of such behavior should be enough for anyone with a conscience to figure this out and see through the endless propaganda.

    • Sam F
      November 12, 2018 at 19:38

      Very true, the Western oligarchy is “Amoral, ruthlessly violent, greedy beyond all comprehension, and totally dishonest.”

  14. Anne Jaclard
    November 12, 2018 at 16:19

    Now that the corporate press has moved on from the “ignoring” phase of the propaganda model in the case of Yemen, welcome to “minimising” and “selective attention.” There’s a window open right now to blow the whole thing open though thanks to MBS’s murder though, so it’s important for CN & others to push this stuff out while it’s still hot. Good work.

    • Skip Scott
      November 12, 2018 at 17:05

      I hope you’re right Anne, and that there is an opportunity to “blow the whole thing open”. However I fear that Robert Parry’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” will move along to other issues that don’t threaten MIC profits. The only reason MbS’s murder of Khashoggi had any legs at all was his working for the CIA’s favorite newspaper. But I doubt they even have the juice to oust MbS, and they probably don’t have any better puppet to opt for.

  15. November 12, 2018 at 15:09

    It is disheartening when the evidence is overwhelming that those American leaders who cause the deaths are detached from the concern for the loss of alien human life and are concerned only with their achieving some economic or political goals. It is called the game, and it truly is, and death and suffering their game causes is of little importance. Ridding Iraq of Hussein or Syria of Assad were the goals and the loss of life irrelevant. These same folks would deny their inhuman behavior, and often go to great lengths to express their sorrow when it is to their advantage to do so. It is called hypocrisy with a capital H.

    In Yemen, we have been financing and aiding the Saudis to kill Yemenis because Saudi Arabia is our friend and Iran may be at least sympathetic with the loss of life in Yemen, and Iran is our enemy. Clearly, we “regret” what is happening to the Yemenis but so be it.

    Sunday was Memorial Day and their were public acclamations of sorrow of the deaths thalt have to be memorialized. Monday finds us still financing and participating in wars in Syria and Afghanistan, engaged in secret wars, and trying to provoke Iran, Russia and China. Wars that make no sense unless you are serious players of the game.

    • Skip Scott
      November 12, 2018 at 16:57

      “Ridding Iraq of Hussein or Syria of Assad were the goals and the loss of life irrelevant.” That was really on half of their goal. The other half is to install a puppet that would permit the looting of the targeted country by “our” multinationals, or if that is not immediately possible, to let chaos reign until such time that it is possible. Hussein and Assad were both independently minded secularists intent on building a decent economy for their citizenry. That is not permitted. Putin is demonized for the same sin.

      • November 13, 2018 at 01:28

        Skip, you’re right. Sad stories about what Syria was like before the “civil war”, of Syria taking in a million refugees when we invaded Iraq, taking in many, many thousands of refugees when Israel invaded Lebanon, cooperating on Desert Storm, an all it received was the back of our hand and their country destroyed, now trying to put itself back together again, while we work to see that doesn’t happen.

        Iraq, who we invaded was our instrument of destruction when it invaded Iran and their reward was the back of our hand and the destruction of their country. If the hazy history of their invasion of Kuwait is correct, we sent no signals we would oppose their invasion then punished it with bombing and sanctions for doing so.

        Destroying Libya, pauperizing Venezuela, aiding the Saudis in their destruction of Yemen, attempting to destroy the economy of Iran and Russia, on and on it goes all the while trumpeting our exceptionalism. A country so blessed with ocean barriers and rich resources and favorable climate yet uses its blessings to subjugate others rather than help them. Some would say criminal, others sinful.

        • Truth First
          November 13, 2018 at 17:19

          The guys implementing the “criminal” behaviour go to great lengths to make sure that this behaviour is, in fact, legal. Very handy when the criminals can make sure that their crimes are not crimes.

        • KiwiAntz
          November 13, 2018 at 18:21

          Great comments Herman on how the American Empire has destroyed the lives of millions & ran roughshod over other Countries. This hubris & arrogance was a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s when America became the sole Superpower! With no counterbalancing power to rein in their excesses, America has taken advantage of the power vacuum & sought to dominate & impose its will on others, with murderous results? The mass murder, mass shooting mentality that plagues the USA was exported to other Nations on a Global scale! But this unchecked power has hit a roadblock in Syria? Russia has been rebuilt under Putin & in Syria, Russia has thwarted America’s poisonous & illegal Regime change destruction policy. Russia has sent America a message in Syria, that enoughs, enough & we will stop you from achieving your mass murder objectives! America, in its hellbent fury, as a dying Empire is now going all out with its economic warfare & Military invasions as a last gasp, Custers last stand, to preserve its Unipolar status that is fading into oblivion. Russia, China, Iran & others are fighting back against the tyranny of the US Empire & it’s not going to be pretty sight if these Nations amalgamate their Warfare resources to stop the US Tyrant & Global Bully!

          • Sam F
            November 13, 2018 at 18:49

            The rest of the world will likely wait out the US implosions. Perhaps they will learn to invest more in US mass media and bribes to politicians as Israel does.

        • Lois Gagnon
          November 13, 2018 at 19:02

          Add pathological.

      • Realist
        November 13, 2018 at 15:02

        Really, when you stare at the problem long enough that’s exactly what you see: national leaders being demonized and entire countries ravaged by war because they want to modernize and develop their economies, not because they pose any threat whatsoever to the United States. Still, that is the lie trotted out time and again. We Americans have heard that bunk so many times over that at this point we just sigh as it goes in one ear and comes out the other. At least the self-righteous devils are not (directly) killing us (yet), we think. As for right now, I’ve got to find another job to keep my family fed and pay my taxes to the war machine. No time to sympathise with any foreigners who’ve managed to get in Uncle Sam’s way.

Comments are closed.