Intended for healthcare professionals


Fifty years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia: analysis of data from the world health survey programme

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 26 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1482

Is this a true figure of violent war death in the world?

The study by Obermeyer and colleagues1 reported that the war leading up to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 killed 269,000 people- nearly five times the number previously estimated (58,000 people). The authors have concluded that Uppsala/PRIO database has consistently underestimated casualty figures in the world.

Information from the Uppsala/PRIO database, produced by collaboration between Uppsala University in Sweden and the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, has suggested that 58,000 people died in the secessionist conflict caused when the Pakistan Army was ordered by the country`s military ruler, General Yahya Khan, to crack down on dissidents in East Pakistan.

While no historian would treat the 58,000 figure for Bangladesh seriously, even the revised figure of 269,000 given in the article will be considered an underestimate by many1. There are many sources that put the true figure at anywhere between one and three million.

Death By Government, a much quoted book by political scientist, R.J. Rummel2, says that �gthe human death toll over only 267 days was incredible. Just to give for five out of the eighteen districts some incomplete statistics published in Bangladesh newspapers or by an Inquiry Committee, the Pakistani army killed 100,000 Bengalis in Dacca, 150,000 in Khulna, 75,000 in Jessore, 95,000 in Comilla, and 100,000 in Chittagong. For eighteen districts the total is 1,247,000 killed�h although there are 64 districts in Bangladesh2.

Rummell2 goes on: �gthis was an incomplete toll, and to this day no one really knows the final toll. Some estimates are much lower - one is of 300,000 dead - but most range from 1 million to 3 million.�h

The authors concluded that based on house to house surveys, between 1955 and 2002 an estimated 5.4 million violent war deaths occurred in 13 countries, ranging from 7000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 3.8 million in Vietnam. In conclusion, the estimated deaths will be 5-10 times higher than those of the currently reported violent war deaths in the world such as Bangladesh. The household data should consider all the regions in the survey country rather than a specific site to represent the actual magnitude of death due to war violent.

Note: Dewan S. Billal is supported by Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS).

We declare that we have no conflict of interest

*Dewan Sakhawat Billal Ph.D

Muneki Hotomi MD, Ph.D

Noboru Yamanaka MD, Ph.D

Division of Infection and Immunity research Center, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Wakayama Medical University, 811-1 Kimiidera, Wakayama 641-8509, Japan.


1. Obermeyer Z, Murray CJL, Gakidou E. Fifty years of violent deaths related to war from Vietnam to Bosnia: analysis of data from world health survey programme. BMJ 2008 doi: 10.1136/bmj.a137.

2. Rummel RJ. Death by government, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

24 June 2008
Dewan S. Billal Ph.D
Postdoctoral Fellow
Assistnt Professor Muneki Hotomi, MD, Professor Noboru Yamanaka MD
Department of Otolaryngology, Wakayama Medical University, 811-1 Kimiidera, Wakayama 641-8509, Japan