Global death toll from armed conflicts reaches highest level since 1994

Report finds 237,000 were killed as active conflicts reached historically high levels

A camp in Ethiopia provides a temporary home for thousands of people displaced by conflict. AFP
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The number of deaths caused by armed conflicts worldwide is at its highest in almost three decades, a study has found.

The rise in deaths has been fuelled by wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia and despite a drop-off in Yemen and Afghanistan the global total of 237,000 was the highest since the Rwanda genocide of 1994, data from Uppsala Conflict Data Programme (UCDP) at Uppsala University in Sweden indicated.

The figure was a 97 per cent increase in the number of deaths in the previous year.

“Violence in Ethiopia and Ukraine escalated drastically,” said Shawn Davies, senior analyst at UCDP.

It was estimated these wars accounted for 180,000 battle-related deaths last year alone.

“A common perception is that Russia’s war in Ukraine was the bloodiest conflict in 2022 but in fact more people died in Ethiopia where the Tigray People's Liberation Front has fought the Ethiopian army, the latter supported by Eritrea, since late 2020,” Mr Davies said.

Fighting in Ethiopia and Ukraine featured a resurgence in trench warfare, often associated with high casualty numbers.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led to the first large-scale interstate war in two decades.

“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,” said Therese Pettersson, project leader at UCDP.

The report indicates that the number of active conflicts involving states remains high, with 55 recorded last year.

Ms Pettersson explained: “Albeit most conflicts are small, the number of wars increased from five in 2021 to eight in 2022.

“Conflicts causing at least 1,000 battle-related deaths during one calendar year are considered wars.”

Non-state conflicts, those involving rebel groups or other organised actors, were also on the rise.

A Russian T-62 tank on its way to the Ukrainian border. AFP

UCDP registered 82 such conflicts in 2022, a record number. The majority were found in Mexico, driven by rival drug cartels' so-called turf wars, UCDP said.

The report also highlighted a rise in one-sided violence, involving 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, UCDP said.

The entity responsible for the highest number of civilian deaths was ISIS, while states such as Russia and Eritrea have been accused of using extensive violence against civilians in Ukraine and Ethiopia, respectively.

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

Updated: June 07, 2023, 6:21 AM