The U.N. and the Media Are Both Getting Casualty Counts in Gaza Wrong

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Last week, nan United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, aliases OCHA, came nether scrutiny for revising nan demographic breakdown successful its casualty figures for nan Gaza conflict. Between May 6 and May 8, it updated its numbers to bespeak those being reported from nan Health Ministry successful Gaza, whereas its earlier reports were drawn from nan Gaza Media Office. The key quality successful nan tallies was nan little number of dormant women and children: The Media Office was reporting chartless deaths arsenic women and children, and nan Health Ministry reported them arsenic unknown. Still, OCHA was criticized for nan switch: In an article successful nan Atlantic entitled “The UN Gaza Statistics Make No Sense,” Graeme Wood wrote, “One could beryllium forgiven for wondering whether nan UN had raised astir 6,700 Gazan children and 4,500 Gazan women from nan dead.”

The thought that an adjusted decease estimate based connected a much reliable root is simply a motion of malfeasance is based connected important misperceptions astir really civilian casualty counting useful successful practice. In reality, adjusting nan count down arsenic much grounds comes to ray is simply a motion of a reliable curator of numbers, not nan reverse. But this incident highlights 2 important facts astir civilian casualty counting successful conflict zones that are small understood by nan nationalist and nan media: Counting bodies is not a reliable measurement of estimating decease rates, and gender breakdowns don’t really matter successful determining civilian deaths. Both of these points are getting mislaid successful nan sum of nan numbers debate, and OCHA’s biggest correction whitethorn person been failing to amended observers and journalists connected these facts successful its haste to relay disposable demographic numbers.

First, nan astir meticulous casualty estimates don’t really travel from unerringly counting bodies. That is because immoderate count of bodies is ever imprecise. Numerous victims are ever missing aliases unaccounted for successful wars. Not each bodies extremity up astatine nan hospitals aliases morgues. Others do, but get misidentified. Patrick Ball, a statistician astatine nan Human Rights Data Analysis Group, told maine that nary matter who is producing nan Gaza assemblage counts, they’re apt to beryllium inaccurate successful each nan accustomed ways. “Some group reported arsenic dormant will move up, alive, later,” he explained. “And nan bodies of immoderate group who are not now reported dormant will move up erstwhile nan rubble is cleared. Both are inevitable, truthful precise counts correct now are implausible.”

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