If Aleppo’s death toll is mistaken, the earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, may be a contender for the top 10 deadliest disasters. Even in a modern mass disaster, though, estimating the death toll is a tricky business.
In the year after the quake, the government of Haiti estimated that the magnitude-7.0 quake and its aftermath killed 230,000 people; in January 2011, officials revised the figure to 316,000. Those figures are highly disputed, however. A 2010 study published in the journal Medicine, Conflict and Survival put the number at around 160,000 deaths. A 2011 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) draft report from 2011 claimed even lower numbers — between 46,000 and 85,000.
The disparities reflect the difficulty of counting deaths even in the modern era, not to mention the political wrangling that goes on over “official” numbers. Many critics of Haiti’s estimates argue that the government revised the death toll up in order to secure further international aid. On the other side of the argument, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, were those who accused USAID of leaking the report to discredit the Haitian government.