One Million Deaths in Syria ? Really ? Really !

It was the French doctor Raphaël Pitti who in a radio interview to France Inter, on December 12, 2016 pointed out that most casualty figures we hear or read are a huge underestimation of the real death toll of the conflict.

Dr. Pitti is a war doctor, who during the civil war trained medical personal in Syria, and who knows like no other the medical situation on the ground in that war torn country.

He explained that about 500,000 people had died a violent death but that for every violent death you have to add at least one person who died through war-related sickness or hardships.

He concluded that one million deaths was a minimum figure.

This would mean that at Europe’s doorsteps we have been witnessing a conflict of genocidal proportion.

But how realistic are those figures ? And is “collateral damage”, if we may call so half a million perished people, not normal in a war ?

1. The direct (violent) deaths

For the number of direct deaths, the only figures we have are those from NGO’s and international organizations.

As such, The Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) estimated at the beginning of 2016 the direct death toll at 470,000 people. Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, cited around the same period the figure of approximately 400,000.

December 2016, the most brutal war year so far came to an end. So to assume, like Dr Pitti did, that there should be at least half a million violent deaths, seems quite logic.

This high death toll is corroborated by historical comparison.

Between 1992 and 1995, during the 3.75 years of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, approximately 1 % of the civilian population got killed. It is one of the best studied civil wars of recent history.

Many crimes committed resemble the ones that we have been witnessing in Syria. The shelling of cities, the sieges, the mass murders against opponents,…

On the other hand you had also some distinct differences.

The Syrian war is lasting now for almost double as long, knows a large scale use of air bombardments, the use of chemical weapons, a larger scale of destruction of urban areas, a larger number of people submitted to sieges…

All this is an indication that the Syrian war knows a higher intensity and that the percentage civilian casualties might be higher than one percent .

A fact that is supported by another finding.

In the Bosnian war the number of killed non-civilians was almost double the one of civilians. In the Syrian war the available body counts tell us a different story, the civilian population suffering double the losses of the non-civilian.

A pattern that rather corresponds to the Russian-Chechen wars (Dec 94 – Aug 96 and Sept 99 – May 2000) and their never investigated or prosecuted crimes against humanity.

Within 2 years and 6 months the Russian army killed between 5 and 10 % of the civilian population. A circumstance attributed to the reckless air bombardments and shelling of densely populated urban areas.

Taking the length of the Syrian conflict (6 years) into consideration, and the fact that the Syrian war knows extensive use of air bombardments, the figure of 500,000 violent deaths, which represents approximately 2.5 % of the civilian population, has thus a high degree of probability, but might even be an underestimation.

2. The indirect deaths

Epidemiologists, demographers, statisticians and human rights organizations have been working together in recent decades to establish scientific methods to estimate the indirect impact of wars on the population.

Not only was this necessary out of moral considerations : from that point of view is the distinction between a violent and non-violent death irrelevant. All that matters is that a number of people died who would otherwise still be alive if armed violence had not ravaged their communities.

But it was also necessary in order to better organize relief efforts and assess whether and to what extent international humanitarian law had been violated.

When a population is intentionally cut of from supply of medication, clean drinking water, food, heating, when hospitals, medical infrastructure are intentionally destroyed…though the people who died as a consequence from hardships and war related sicknesses did not die a violent dead, their deaths were brought by intentionally, which constitutes a war crime.

The studies that have been made from recent conflicts show that far more people die from indirect consequences than from direct violence. In general the ratio is situated between 3 and 15 indirect deaths for every direct death.

In the Iraq 2003-2007 war this ratio was much lower : 1.7 indirect deaths for every direct death.

Variation in the ratio of indirect to direct deaths depends on the pre-conflict level of development of the country, the duration of the fighting, the intensity of combat, access to basic care and services, and humanitarian relief efforts.

Taking all this into consideration, Dr Pitti’s estimation of 1 indirect death for every direct death could rather be a very prudent estimate. Especially when we compare the brutality of the Syrian war with its numerous sieges that locked up hundreds of thousands of people, the systematic destruction of hospitals, medical infrastructure, drink water stations, etc…to the Iraq war.

Furthermore are the 500 000 + indirect deaths from the Syrian war not simply collateral damage. They are the result of a planned systematic campaign raged against the civilian population, in full conscience of its devastating consequences and in violation of all religious norms (Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism…) as translated into international humanitarian law. The systematic character of those crimes being well documented by respected international humanitarian organizations, these 500 000 + indirect deaths have to be considered wilful murder. If the rules of war would have been respected, they would still be alive.

Note : this part was largely written based on articles from

3. Conclusion

The Syrian war is a mixture between the Bosnian civil war and the Russian-Chechen wars.

The large scale use of air bombardments and the length of the conflict (as per March 2017 6 years, with 2016 as the most brutal so far) make it very probable that the direct civilian death toll is much higher than the 1 % in 3.75 years of the Bosnian civil war, but maybe not as high as the 6 to 10 % in 2.5 years of the Russian-Chechen wars. As a result could Dr. Pitti’s assumption of December 2016, that there might be 500 000 direct deaths, even be a rather conservative estimation.

His assertion that we have to add at least one indirect death for every direct death, came not simply out of the blue, but has strong scientific evidence in support.

Those indirect deaths are not collateral damage but have to be considered as wilful murder.

One million deaths as a consequence of the Syrian war is thus a figure with a high probability value, but doesn’t even represent the worst case scenario : the actual number of victims could even be higher.

Note : the original article you find here : .

Last edited September 09, 2018