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Report claims global fatalities from armed conflicts soar to highest levels since 1994

A new study reveals a drastic increase in deaths resulting from armed conflicts worldwide, reaching a peak unseen since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. The global total of 237,000 fatalities represents a surge of 97 per cent compared to the previous year.

This sobering figure was released by the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme (UCDP) at Uppsala University in Sweden. Although the study observed a decrease in fatalities in Yemen and Afghanistan, intensified conflicts in Ukraine and Ethiopia have significantly contributed to the overall increase in deaths.

Shawn Davies, Senior Analyst at UCDP, noted that the conflicts in Ukraine and Ethiopia alone accounted for an estimated 180,000 battle-related deaths in 2022. Contrary to popular perception, Ethiopia witnessed more deaths due to the ongoing conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian army, supported by Eritrea, than in Ukraine.

The resurgence of trench warfare, synonymous with high casualty numbers, was notable in both Ukraine and Ethiopia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has sparked the first substantial interstate war in twenty years.

Therese Pettersson, Project Leader at UCDP, highlighted an emerging trend: “It has also become more common for external states to send troop support to rebel groups fighting against other governments, which essentially means that state armies are fighting each other.”

UCDP’s report underlines that the number of active state-involved conflicts remains high, with 55 documented in 2022. Notably, the number of wars, defined as conflicts causing at least 1,000 battle-related deaths in a calendar year, rose from five in 2021 to eight in 2022.

Non-state conflicts, typically between rebel groups or other organised actors, are also on an upward trajectory, with 82 such conflicts recorded in 2022 – a record number. Most of these were concentrated in Mexico, a result of rival drug cartels’ “turf wars”.

Alarmingly, the report also disclosed an increase in one-sided violence, defined as targeted, intentional attacks on civilians. In 2022, a minimum of 11,800 civilians fell victim to this violence, perpetrated by 45 different states or organised groups. ISIS was responsible for the highest number of civilian deaths, while states like Russia and Eritrea have been accused of extensive violence against civilians in Ukraine and Ethiopia, respectively.

In response to the UCDP’s findings, Dr. Iain Overton, the Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), expressed deep concern. He stated, “These figures are more than just statistics; they represent a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale. It’s a sobering reminder of the devastating effects of armed conflict, particularly on civilian populations. Our collective efforts must focus on preventing and resolving these conflicts, and holding those who perpetuate this violence accountable. Each life lost is a stark call to action.”

The UCDP’s findings will be published in detail in the July issue of the Journal of Peace Research.