Charli Carpenter observes that the latest Human Security Report contains the interesting news that the wars in Congo have not been quite as deadly as some widely cited figures suggest. In particular, they say that once you get the “baseline” mortality levels in Congo right, the death toll has been closer to 3 million than to 5.7 million. Carpenter comments:
Why do people think we need exaggerated statistics to set the agenda? If “only” some 3 million people, instead of 5.4 million, died by 2007, should this invalidate Kristof’s call for action on the Congo? By no means. In fact, given that this number has been circulating for three years without the effect Kristof seems to want, one wonders if the “millions have died” frame is even the most effective one for global advocacy.
A more useful metric may not be the absolute numbers but rather the relative numbers: Congo is one of the few places in the world where, according to this report, violence has reached sufficient levels to actually raise the national mortality rate for children under five (which appears to be declining in nations elsewhere around the globe in both war and peacetime). According to the HSR data, the one other case in which this occurred in recent decades is Rwanda. The analogy might perhaps be more effective as a clarion call than sheer numbers, inflated or not, which in fact seem to have done little to arouse international concern over the past decade.
The larger message of the HSR is that peace has been on the increase worldwide. The waning of great power conflict, changes in the conduct of war, and improved humanitarian response have all combined to make armed conflict rarer and also less costly. There’s often enormous skepticism about the efficacy of peace-oriented activities, but the evidence is pretty clear that a big difference is being made.