MANILA, Philippines (AP) — In the chaos of natural disaster, tallying an accurate death toll is often difficult and sometimes not a priority.
The aftermath of the Philippines typhoon has been no different, where initial estimates of the dead were put by some at 10,000. President Benigno Aquino has disputed that, saying it likely to be closer to 2,000 or 2,500. An official tally showed 2,344 confirmed deaths.
In one sense, it matters little outside of newsrooms. Any number of dead is a tragedy, whether it be 2,000, 3,000 or 10,000. In terms of planning emergency relief operations, the amount of people needing assistance and damage to infrastructure are often more important. Over time, a final toll is tallied, or in the case of larger disasters, an estimate agreed upon.
The following factors have been attributed to the confusion in the Philippines: downed communication lines making it impossible to get up-to-date information; shattered local administrations unable to work to full capacity; villagers burying their dead immediately or bodies being sucked out to sea and not being counted.
Similar factors were cited after the 2004 Asian tsunami, where in some instances separate government departments in Indonesia were giving out significantly different figures, each unconcerned about the confusion this created.