Human Security Report: Debate on Mortality in Crisis
The Human Security Report has published its response to the critique (especially by Les Roberts on this blog) of its “Shrinking Costs of War” report, which is available here: www.humansecurityreport.info.
In the ‘Overview’ of the debate the HSR focuses on two main issues. The detailed responses to the IRC and to Les Roberts are in separate documents.
The first two surveys––there were five in toto––were not based on representative samples and the evidence suggests that the excess death tolls that were derived from them were way too high.
When the HSR plotted the increase in the IRC’s child mortality rate for the first two survey periods and compared it with the child mortality trend data from a Demographic and Health Survey that covered the same period, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. The IRC’s under five mortality trend is sharply variant from other sources of data, for example from the Demographic and Health Surveys, which show much lower and slowly declining mortality trends. The DHS uses a readily replicable and verifiable method, and both it and the IRC estimates cannot be correct.
The second major problem raised by HSR was that the IRC researchers used the sub-Saharan African (SSA) average mortality rate as the baseline mortality rate for their excess death calculations. However, DR Congo is far from being an average African country––it languishes at, or near, the bottom of just about every development indicator for the region. When HSR re-ran the IRC’s calculations for the last three surveys using a higher and––arguably––more realistic baseline rate, the excess death toll shrank from more than 2.8 million to less than 900,000. This reveals how a modest and wholly defensible increase in the baseline rate can lead to a huge change in the estimated excess death toll.
The HSR response offers a new thought exercise. By the time of the last survey the IRC was reporting that 99% plus of all deaths were “indirect”. What would happen if we assumed that the average nationwide mortality rate for the next ten years continued its slow decline from 2002––i.e. that is went down from 2.2 deaths per thousand per month to an average 2.0 deaths per thousand per month? Even with this projected decline in overall mortality the death toll for the next ten years would be 5.8 million. Re-running the calculations using a baseline mortality of 2.0 that many think is more plausible gives an estimate of zero excess deaths.