WE HAVE no problems with the Bangkok Post's tsunami special over the past couple of days, reporting on how Phuket and the region is coping five years after the big wave. However, the most important fact, the number of people who were killed by the tsunami, appears to have been exaggerated . . . by 2800 victims. On Monday, the Post told us that more than 8200 people died. Phuketwan
believes the number was 5395. On Tuesday, the Post tells us that 523 Swedes died. The tallies among both Swedes and Germans were above 530 each. Combined, they accounted for more than 1060 of the dead. Getting these basic figures wrong on such an important anniversary is a great shame. It reflects poorly on the Post's sources. Is the Post big enough to set this right? It is, after all, Thailand's history.
HOW MANY people were killed in Thailand in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004? One would think that, almost five years on, there would be some agreement.
There isn't. The figure most often used is 5395, which is the total that Phuketwan
believes is correct. However, the Bangkok Post today publishes the figure of 8212.
Did some 2800 additional victims die that we neglected to count? Not that we can tell. However, figures above 8000 continue to appear, even in articles by those usually reliable news agencies, Reuters and Associated Press.
We believe that the figure of 5395 is correct, and that the misreporting of the death toll in Thailand began with an official document that got it wrong back in 2005.
The small book, 'Tsunami 2004, Nam Chai Thai', was published in English and issued to all journalists who visited Phuket for the ceremonies of commemoration for the first anniversary of the tsunami.
As with all simple mistakes that are perpetuated regardless of the facts, the false figure was based on a seemingly logical calculation.
The author of the section of the book dealing with 'Loss of Life' agreed that the number of bodies totalled 5395.
However, the author then took the number of 'Missing,' with 2965 names listed, and figured that after 12 months, those people could also be presumed to be dead.
And that's how the original inflated figure of 8360 first saw the light of day.
It's certainly true that, a year after most disasters, the 'missing' can be presumed to be dead.
But in the case of Thailand after the tsunami, the author neglected to consider one very important fact: thousands of the 5395 known dead had been nameless when their bodies were recovered.
A huge international and Thai contingent of police, dentists and forensic pathologists was engaged in examining the nameless, making further inquiries around the world, and restoring their identities.
So those 2965 ''mising'' were mostly already among the 5395 known victims, waiting to have their identity established by DNA, fingerprints or dental records.
Almost every day during 2005, names were being crossed off the 'Missing' list as victims were being identified.
However, one year after the tsunami, the updated figures had failed to reach the author of the 'Loss of Life' section of the anniversary book.
Back then, another official brochure said there were 917 foreigners among the missing. We called 14 embassies in Bangkok, among them the ones with the largest death tolls, and found they had just 59 people listing as missing.
The mistake appears to have been perpetuated. Now, almost five years on, it's probably time to settle on a true figure.
How many people were killed in Thailand in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004?
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