I saw an article by UNICEF about the context of their work with some eye-opening statistics. If they're referenced, I couldn't see the reference:

Civilian fatalities in wartime climbed from 5 per cent at the turn of the century, to 15 per cent during World War I, to 65 per cent by the end of World War II, to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s.

The context is talking about civilians (and particularly children) being increasingly affected by wars as the nature of war changes, so it's fair to assume it means the percentage of fatalities (presumably, all deaths, therefore including disease famine etc) in wartime who are civilians.

Is this true?

We've got a related question on a similar topic but there are a number of differences: casualties of war are different to fatalities in wartime, this claim is the 1990s while that covers wars in the 2000s, the claimed figures are different, etc etc.

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    5% of WHAT? Total casualties, population...? Also consider which wars, what tactics were used, and how, in a guerilla-type war, you figure out exactly who's a 'civilian'. WWI-style trench warfare doesn't have much opportunity for civilian casualties. Timur-style "kill them all and pile up the skulls" does.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 25, 2016 at 22:42
  • While the question isn't clear, ID bet it's n% of total casualties. Figures don't surprise me. Biggest question about recent times is 'what do we mean by war?'. Feb 26, 2016 at 2:04
  • 2
    Remember, in the old days it was mostly a fight between armies. These days we have air power that can go past the front line and strike the means of production--and plenty of nearby civilians. Also, an increasing number of wars involve one party who is using civilians for cover. Feb 26, 2016 at 2:30
  • @jamesqf % of fatalities in wartime who are civilians, surely? Feb 26, 2016 at 7:26
  • 2
    @Mustang "Casualties is sometimes misunderstood to mean fatalities, but non-fatal injuries are also casualties". In military usage it also includes prisoners, desertions etc Feb 29, 2016 at 8:29

1 Answer 1


On 14 August 2004, as reported in German minister says sorry for genocide in Namibia

Germany apologised for the first time yesterday for a colonial-era genocide which killed 65,000 Herero people in what is now Namibia. "We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time," said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's development aid minister, at a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the Hereros' 1904-1907 uprising against their rulers.

In the book The Revolt of the Hereros explains that of an original total population of 80,000 Hereros, only 15,000 were left after the war.

The Germans lost 676 soldiers to military action and 689 to disease.

The 15% figure for World War I is also wrong, looking at the well-sourced Wikipedia casualty figure table. Perhaps UNICEF is denying or not including the Armenian Genocide.

  • So you're saying, turn of the century wars also largely hit civilians in the form of genocide, but unlike today they were often not counted? Feb 26, 2016 at 14:02
  • The UNICEF statement is rather vague. "Turn of the century" is so non-specific and close to WWI. There was the Spanish-American war, Russo-Japan war, but nothing I can think of on the scale of WWI or WWII. I guess I'm just giving an example of how at the turn of the century there was a war with a very high percent of civilian casualties, plus saying their WWI figure is too low.
    – DavePhD
    Feb 26, 2016 at 14:09

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