The New York Times reported yesterday that in 2014 more than 76,000 people were killed in the ongoing war in Syria. This was actually the highest figure since the conflict began (with 73,447 deaths in 2013; 49,294 in 2012; and 7,841 in 2011), so things have not gotten better.
The statistics came from the British-based organization The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and the newspaper admitted that the figures could not be independently verified. That is probably to be expected. Estimating casualties during a time of war is a nearly impossible task, for obvious reasons. Even demographic surveys conducted after a war give a wide range of casualty estimates, as was the case with Iraq. Still, any attempt to quantify casualties is admirable, and a reminder of the damage done by war.
One pattern stood out to me, which was the proportion of deaths attributed to civilians. If their estimates are correct (as much as possible), then civilians comprised 23% of deaths. The rest were divided among various factions of combatants.
This is fairly unusual. Most wars in the recent past have tended to affect civilians more, with casualties in the range of 67% to 90% of total deaths. So, either the pattern in Syria is rather aberrant compared to other wars, or the estimates are off-base.
It is possible, given the enormous number of Syrians displaced by the war, that there are fewer civilians directly in harm’s way. The last figure I saw was 7.6 million people displaced within Syria and 3.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries (source). Perhaps in some twisted way, that is a good thing, that displacement is the best of the horrible options available.
However, it’s probably most accurate to say that there are no real winners here. This is an enormous humanitarian disaster.