How many Gazans have been killed so far? That’s why it’s so difficult to determine exact numbers – Firstpost

How many Gazans have been killed so far? That’s why it’s so difficult to determine exact numbers – Firstpost

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at the morgue of a hospital in Deir al-Balah on July 9. AP

Israel continues to bombard the population of Gaza with bombs and rockets. The tragedy is getting worse and the death toll is rising. It is a grim picture of the human cost of territorial conflict.

In this context, the Gaza Strip’s Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday (July 10) that at least 38,295 people have been killed and 88,241 injured in the ongoing war since October 7.

While such figures are coming in regularly, they are becoming increasingly difficult to collect. In fact, the death toll reported by Gaza’s Health Ministry is as controversial as ever – with or without reason.

We explain why data collection is becoming increasingly difficult, what the reason for the controversy is, and what the true estimate of the number of Gazans killed is.

Data collection: Why is it so difficult?

Before the Gaza war, health experts told Reuters that the region had strong population statistics and better health information systems than most countries in the Middle East.

In the first months of the war, the number of deaths was determined by counting the bodies brought to hospitals. The data included the names and identity numbers of most of those killed.

As the conflict progressed, fewer hospitals and morgues were operational. Traditional reporting procedures based on hospital records and official documents were severely compromised. Communication networks were also destroyed. These two things are the main reason why it is increasingly difficult to obtain and verify accurate data.

Israel’s attacks have destroyed critical health infrastructure in Gaza. Symbol image/AP

To adapt, Gaza’s Health Ministry had to rely more heavily on information from reliable media sources and first responders. While this shift was necessary, it resulted in a significant decline in the quality and quantity of the detailed data previously recorded. As a result, the ministry now reports the number of unidentified bodies separately from the total death toll.

As of May 10, 2024, 30 percent of the 35,091 reported deaths remained unidentified – evidence of the difficulty of obtaining information in such a volatile environment.

The reliance on alternative data sources has also opened the door to skepticism (even more than was already the case). Some officials and news agencies have used this shift to question the accuracy of the reported figures and cast doubt on the reliability of the data from Gaza.

Controversy over the numbers

There is no independent source for the death toll in Gaza. The United States, for example, does not keep its own count of Gaza deaths, nor do major international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which normally record deaths in war zones.

The death toll in the Gaza Strip is based primarily on information released by three Hamas-controlled bodies: the Gaza Ministry of Health, the Gaza Government Media Office, and the Gaza Branch of the Palestinian Civil Defense.

At least 38,295 people were killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive. Reuters

Critics have long speculated that the data from these sources are fundamentally distorted because Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and has political motives that could influence the reporting of casualty numbers.

Israeli authorities have also questioned the figures presented by the Gaza Strip’s Health Ministry, with many pointing out that the numbers may be inflated or manipulated for political reasons.

Despite these controversies, the figures reported by the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza have been accepted as accurate by international organizations such as the United Nations and the WHO in the past. Several independent studies and analyses have confirmed the ministry’s figures and shown that claims of data falsification are largely implausible.

A research report published in The Lancet in December 2023 found no evidence of inflated mortality data from the Gaza Ministry of Health. The study highlighted that the ministry has provided accurate mortality data in the past, with discrepancies between the ministry’s reports and independent United Nations analyses in previous conflicts ranging from 1.5 to 3.8 percent.

UN agencies have confirmed the reliability of Gaza’s Health Ministry, finding that these numbers are used to issue death certificates, which are then used for legal and administrative purposes, such as settling inheritances and land ownership. This means that the ministry has a significant incentive to accurately confirm the identity of the deceased and ensure that the data is as accurate as possible under the circumstances.

UN agencies have confirmed the reliability of the Health Ministry in Gaza. Reuters

In fact, stoking public skepticism about the latest reports from Gaza’s Health Ministry is in the larger interest of those seeking to prolong the war. Lack of trust in the data could undermine efforts to reduce the suffering faced by civilians in Palestine. It could also hinder the flow of life-saving aid.

Estimate of the actual number of fatalities

Given the complexity and controversy surrounding the reported figures, it is difficult to estimate the true death toll in Gaza. The reported numbers are likely underestimates. The destruction of health infrastructure, severe shortages of vital resources, and the inability of the population to flee to safer areas all contribute to a higher death toll than reported.

Accordingly ReutersThe United Nations estimates that 35 percent of buildings in Gaza had been destroyed by February 29 this year, suggesting that a significant number of bodies remain buried under the rubble. It is estimated that over 10,000 additional deaths can be attributed to this factor alone. In conflict, indirect deaths – those caused by the wider impact of war on health, infrastructure and living conditions – can be three to 15 times higher than direct deaths.

Palestinians search for bodies and survivors in the rubble of a residential building destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 3, 2024. AP

Applying a conservative estimate of four indirect deaths for every one direct death to the previously reported 37,396 deaths, the actual death toll could be higher, according to a study published in The Lancet last week. If we apply this calculation to the current death toll, which stands at 38,295, the actual number of Gazans who have died due to Israel’s reckless attacks in Gaza is over 191,400.

This would mean that over 8 percent of Gaza’s population (based on the 2022 estimate of 2,375,259 people) is affected by the conflict.

With contributions from agencies

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