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Presentation made to a symposium titled Documenting Mortality in Conflicts, organised by WHO/CRED with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and held in Brussels, 6-7 November 2008.

This slightly amended web version (published 2 February 2009) has been updated to reflect the latest statistics in the IBC database.

General nature of incidents reported — only the sensational?

Jan 2006–Sep 2008

  • 5,802 (45%) of reported incidents in IBC database concern the killing of one individual
  • 9,667 (75%) report events where a maximum of three civilians were reported killed

Larger incidents attract more reports:

no. killed median no. reports
≤ 3 2
≥ 6 6

Putting the Data to Work slide 4

Almost half of the reported incidents in the IBC database during this period concern the death of a single civilian; and if we expand the size of entries to include those where up to three civilians were killed, the proportion rises to three quarters of the entries in IBC’s database.

Needless to say, most news consumers will have a very different impression of the reporting of Iraqi war deaths: for them, it is indeed only the most shocking and sensational incidents that they will regularly encounter, and the more ordinary, but remorseless and everyday, violence that they will mostly miss.

The problem with the commercial media is not a failure to employ reporters to gather information on casualties, but the limited exposure that is then made available to this subject in the really prominent media outlets.

IBC's unique contribution is to ensure that this small-scale, low-profile, but ultimately substantial data stream on civilian casualties, often gathered at great and sometimes tragic human cost, is safely collected and not completely lost from public view. In the present environment, it unfortunately takes a concerted research effort like IBC’s to capture this data and bring it together in any kind of a coherent manner.