Skip Navigation


The Center for Refugee and Disaster Relief


September 27, 2007

Johns Hopkins Researchers Respond to ORB Poll on Iraq Mortality

On September 14, 2007, the polling firm ORB Group (UK) released a poll estimating that 1.2 million Iraqis had been killed since 2003. The new poll has renewed interest from journalists and other parties in the results of an October 2006 mortality study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Refugee and Disaster Response. The Johns Hopkins study, “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey,” was published in the October 14, 2006, edition of the peer-reviewed scientific journal, The Lancet.

Based on the limited information available regarding ORB’s polling methods, the Johns Hopkins researchers concluded that the findings of the ORB poll are generally consistent with their own 2006 survey with regard to the number of violent deaths reported, the types of weapons used, and the geographic spread of violence. Both surveys reported approximately twice as many deaths from gunshots as from car bombs and explosives, while Western news reports show a preponderance of explosive-related deaths.

“Opinion polling and epidemiology surveys use different methods, but both surveys are reporting the same thing, which is that official reports and media accounts are undercounting the number of deaths in Iraq,” said Gilbert Burnham, MD, senior author of the 2006 Lancet mortality study and co-director of the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response.

The Johns Hopkins researchers noted some inconsistencies between their findings and those of the ORB survey. Specifically, the ORB report found a higher fraction of deaths among women and a comparatively higher death rate in Baghdad. It is unclear if these differences are the result of a change in the conflict in the 15 months between the two surveys, or from the exclusion of two governorates, Al-Anbar and Karbala, from the ORB survey, or other factors.

Comparing the various population-based surveys reported since 2003, the Johns Hopkins team believes that despite differences in methods and analysis, the same escalating trends in Iraqi mortality are being captured in both of the surveys. Moreover, official reports continue to undercount violent deaths.

“Our team strongly advocates for independent monitoring of Iraqi deaths in this conflict. Protection of populations in conflict should be driven by comprehensive data on events. The needs of Iraqis are not well served by partial and fragmentary information,” said Burnham.

©, Johns Hopkins University. All rights reserved.
Web policies, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205