UN agencies not above playing politics with statistics

It’s clear that technical departments within the UN sometimes have their work corrupted by the US government and its allies.

Consider recent reporting by the Grayzone on OPCW whistleblowers who exposed manipulation of an investigation into alleged chemical weapons use in Syria in 2018. Or recall an example from further back: Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who was in charge of the UN’s weapons inspectors in Iraq, isn’t blamed enough for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter put it “Hans Blix had an opportunity to stand up and be counted in the face of history, and history is going to condemn this man for not doing what was necessary in one of the more critical times of modern history.”

Looking at UNICEF’s annual statistics it’s very easy to see that it has also been successfully pressured by the US and its allies. The chart below shows Iraq’s annual figures for child mortality from 1990 to 2019. According to the chart, through two US invasions and over a decade of crippling sanctions child mortality steadily declined with no spikes ever taking place. The chart is totally preposterous. But could it be that UNICEF’s annual figures simply don’t show short term spikes and only project long term trends? That may be the case in some countries where the US is not as heavily involved, or, for whatever reason, not as interested in having the figures tell a politically acceptable story.  That doesn’t explain a chart like this for Iraq, especially when one also considers UNICEF’s data for Venezuela.



Below is UNICEF’s chart showing annual child mortality in Venezuela since 1990. Note how spikes are indeed shown.


A big spike is shown due to a natural disaster in 1999. Another is shown due to the collapse in oil price at the end of 2014 that dramatically exacerbated other problems in the economy that became serious after Hugo Chavez died in 2013. But since 2017, when Trump dramatically intensified US sanctions (and he has repeatedly escalated them since then) UNICEF’s chart claims that child mortality rate has stabilized. It also claims that child mortality increased from 2010 to 2014, when the economy was still growing!

Aside from US pressure, Venezuela’s medical establishment has also been bitterly antigovernment for the past 20 years. It should be noted that Dr. Douglas León Natera, the long time head of Venezuela’s medical federation, the FMV, signed the infamous Carmona Decree that was drafted by a US-backed dictatorship while it was briefly in power in April of 2002. Such people are well positioned to lobby UNICEF, especially during the Trump years when US aggression against Venezuela (backed by Canada and most European states) reached unprecedented heights.

The chart below shows how UNCEF has updated its data from Venezuela in recent years. Retroactively revising the mortality rate upward as UNICEF has done could be reasonable after 2014 when the country entered into economic crisis. Revising the rate upward for the years before the crisis is not.

Similar considerations may apply to figures for migration for Venezuela that UN agencies have published.

From 1999 to 2015, UN figures suggest migration from Venezuela about 400,000.  That didn’t stop western media from ingoing the UN in favor of an extremely anti-government Venezuelan academic (another Carmona dictatorship supporter) who claimed it was three times higher during that period. (For details see my August 31, 2018 piece in FAIR.org ). But, such sources aside, is it possible UN figures were always high?  The surveys done by antigovernment Venezuelan academics (ENCOVI surveys) suggest about 3 million have left since 2015. (Data below taken from ENCOVI surveys here and here.)

2015 (95, 355)

2016 (313,775)

2017-2019 (2,300,000)

That’s quite a bit lower the figure of 5 million that is often reported and attributed to the UN.

And in fact the UN population Division estimates the number of Venezuelans living abroad to be 2.5 million as of 2019 (download data here) – an increase of about a bit under 2 million from the figure it reports for 2015 (690,683).

It’s undeniable that Venezuela’s crisis has caused massive migration since 2016. But we should not just accept UN statistics at face value. The same skepticism should be applied to any other source the western media is eager to cite about any US rival or enemy.

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