Avoiding the War on Terror would have saved over 10 million lives at home and abroad

Afghanistan Earthquake 2

The peace movement in various parts of the world has emphasized in various contexts that if the huge amounts spent on various wars had been spent instead on meeting essential civilian needs, then apart from avoiding the loss of lives caused in actual fighting and bombing or due to the loss of health infra-structure destroyed by bombs, many lives could have been saved also by diverting war expenditure to essential civilian needs presently unmet.

In the context of the 22 year war on terror launched by the USA and some of its close allies in 2001, it is estimated here that by avoiding this and diverting its estimated expenditure of about 8000 billion dollars (at the rate of approximately a billion US dollars a day or 700,000 dollars a minute), it would have been possible to save over 10 million human lives, almost equal numbers at home and abroad (about 5 million abroad and about 5 million in the USA). In addition serious injuries and disabilities for a large number of people would have been avoided. About 38 million people could have been saved from displacement. One does not know how many terrorists this war could get rid of, but certainly many new ones have been created, including some very dangerous terror and sectarian groups.

The Brown University (USA) based Costs of War Project had estimated the direct deaths resulting from violence (actual fighting, bombing etc.) caused by the USA’s post 9/11 War of Terror at about 920,000 (a little less than a million, or 0.9 million, this figure including US soldiers who died), adding that if all the indirect deaths related to the war on terror are also counted (for example deaths caused later by diseases resulting from destruction of sanitation and health facilities in the bombings), then the number of these deaths may turn out to be much higher, in fact it may be several times more. This year this project has also released its estimates of the indirect deaths caused in the War on Terror. These indirectly caused deaths have been estimated at 3.6 to 3.7 million. If these are added to the direct deaths caused earlier, the total number of deaths in the War on Terror goes up to 4.5 million or 4.6 million.

The details of reaching this estimate have been provided in a thoroughly researched and thickly referenced paper meaningfully titled ‘How Death Outlives War—the Reverberating Impact of the Post 9/11 Wars on Human Health’. This important paper written by Stephanie Savell is a confirmation of past trends (such as in the Korean War) that indirect death continue long after the actual war and can be much higher than the immediate war deaths.

While this study states clearly that the total death toll in the post 9/11 war zones of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen could be at least 4.5 million to 4.6 million (with around 38 million people displaced), it also says that so many aspects of life are affected by war that very precise estimates may not be possible to obtain and even these estimates are presented in a situation of still counting. As the number of serious malnourished children affected by ‘wasting’ is reported to be very high in these countries, hunger and deprivation are widespread, the tragedy is still continuing.

While the main estimate appears to be concentrated on the five countries mentioned above, the tragic situation in some other countries like Somalia and Libya has also been discussed in this report. In the context of Somalia in particular it is also mentioned that in view of the serious famine-like conditions prevailing here, the counter-terrorism laws could also have adversely affected the relief efforts badly needed by starving people.

This study tells us that while longer-term effects of war continue to cause more and more deaths, disabilities and distress, sometimes these deaths may even increase with the passage of time. In the case of Iraq, the number of children facing birth defects and disabilities may be very high, although this has been denied by others. There are several such examples of the longer-term health hazards of several extremely dangerous weapons, bombs and ammunitions.

Keeping in view all these factors and also including the countries left out of Brown University estimates, clearly the death toll in the War on Terror is likely to have been in excess of 5 million.

Now let us consider the possibilities of the alternative uses of the over 8000 billion dollars spent on the War of Terror over a 22 year period (at the rate of about 365 billion dollars a year). Compare this with the budget estimates presented by World Food Program officials that 40 billion dollars a year are needed for ending hunger at world level. Closer to home within the USA, problems of hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, denial of health services and essential utilities have been increasing. Poverty related mortality in the USA has been estimated at close to about 200,000 deaths a year (study by David Brady published in JAMA Internal Medicine April 2023). Excess mortality in the USA (defined as mortality in excess of the mortality in countries at similar levels of prosperity) has been estimated at close to 600,000 deaths a year (study by Jacob Bor, Andrew C. Stokes, published in PNAS Nexus on May 29, 2023).

If 80% of the nearly 365 billion dollars a year spent on War on Terror had been spent on meeting the essential unmet needs of the people of the USA, this would have resulted in a saving of at least 250,000 human lives in a year, or over 5 million lives over a 22 year period.

If 19% of the 365 billion dollars a year spent on the War on Terror had been spent on hunger-reduction programs in the areas worst affected by hunger at world level, this too would have saved many precious human lives.

If the remaining 1% had been spent on a completely honest and transparent investigation of the huge tragedy of 9/11 attacks, this investigation being coordinated by some of the most learned people of the highest integrity within the USA, then there may have been no need and justification for any such war at all.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.

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