MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The United Nations announced today that the death toll in Syria has jumped to nearly 93,000. Since last July, more than 5,000 people have been killed every month. And the numbers in reality are likely even higher.
They're compiled for the U.N. by a nonprofit group in San Francisco called the Human Rights Data Analysis Group. Researchers go through a complicated process, scouring eight different sources that document deaths. Megan Price led that study, and she joins us now to talk about it. Welcome to the program.
DR. MEGAN PRICE: Thank you.
BLOCK: You're looking at sources from both the Syrian government and Syrian opposition groups and compiling them, and you come up with this number of 92,901 deaths. Who would be included in that number?
PRICE: Any identifiable victims who were documented by at least one of these eight groups. And by identifiable, I mean a record of a victim that includes their name and the date and location of their death.
BLOCK: And so who would be left out because you've indicated that this is likely an underestimate by many thousands?
PRICE: Indeed. We know left out of this count are records of unidentifiable or anonymous victims, incidences where a number of people are known to have been killed, but they have not been identified in the way these other records have.
We also know from our years of experience conducting research like this that inevitably in conflict there is violence that has not yet been documented either because no one witnessed the violence occur or because those who did witness it do not yet feel comfortable coming forward and telling their story or have not yet found the right person or group to tell their story to.
BLOCK: Is there any way of distinguishing in this number of these 93,000 deaths how many are civilian deaths and how many would be combatants?
PRICE: Unfortunately, no. The data that we have right now does not support those kinds of conclusions.
BLOCK: Hmm. Well, what about other categories? Do you break it down, say, between men and women who were killed or children who were killed?
PRICE: There is information about the sex of the victim in most of the records. And a little over 80 percent of these records are of male victims, but about 10 percent of the records are missing information about the sex of the victim.
BLOCK: And children?
PRICE: There is information about age in a very small fraction of the records. And so although we know that some number of children have been killed in this conflict, we cannot draw conclusions about the pattern of the age of the victims which, understandably, it can be a very difficult piece of information to collect.
BLOCK: Mm-hmm. So in the end, when you come out with a number like you have, how confident are you that that really reflects what's going on in Syria?
PRICE: I am confident that it reflects what has been documented so far about what is going on in Syria. But it is very difficult to know the relationship this information has to what is actually occurring in Syria. You need a model to get from what has been observed to what is actually happening. And that is definitely the next step in these analyses that needs to be done.
BLOCK: Hmm. Why is it important for you to do this work?
PRICE: Well, conflict, sadly, continues to happen all across our world, and the skill set that I have is being a statistician. I am not particularly useful on the ground. I'm not medically trained. And I feel like this is the best possible way that can apply my skills.
BLOCK: Megan Price, thank you for talking with us.
PRICE: Thank you so much.
BLOCK: Megan Price is director of research at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group. They have been documenting deaths in the civil war in Syria. Their latest count: 92,901.
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