Gaza City,  13 May 2024. Photo: Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images
Gaza City, 13 May 2024. Photo: Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images

Last year saw the highest number of state-based conflicts since 1946. In addition, the past three years were the most violent in the last three decades, according to new conflict trend analysis.

2023 turned out to be one of the most violent years since the end of the Cold War. A record number of 59 conflicts were recorded. However, it was not all bad news as the number of countries that experienced conflict dropped from 39 to 34.

“Violence in the world is at an all-time high since the end of the Cold War. The figures suggest that the conflict landscape has become increasingly complex, with more conflict actors operating within the same country,” said Siri Aas Rustad, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the lead writer of PRIO’s Conflict Trends: A Global Overview report.

The report provides an analysis of the global trends in conflict covering the period 1946 to 2023, to help policymakers and practitioners better understand the contexts they are working in. The paper uses data collected annually by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program at Uppsala University.

“The increase in state-based conflicts can be attributed in part to the Islamic State expanding across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and an increase in other non-state actors getting involved in conflicts, such as the Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin group,” said Professor Rustad. “This development makes it increasingly difficult for actors like aid groups and civil society organizations to maneuver the conflict landscape and improve the lives of ordinary people.”

The data also shows that while the number of battle deaths fell last year, overall the past three years saw more conflict-related deaths than any time in the last three decades. The dramatic increase in battle deaths was driven by three conflicts: civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the bombing of Gaza. 2023 saw an overall 122,000 battle deaths, with over 71,000 people killed in Ukraine and some 23,000 killed in Gaza in less than three months of 2023.

Africa remained the region with the most state-based conflicts per year (28), followed by Asia (17), the Middle East (10), Europe (3) and the Americas (1). The number of conflicts in Africa nearly doubled compared with ten years ago, from 15 in 2013. In the past three years, Africa has seen more than 330,000 battle-related deaths.

The continued fall in the number of conflicts in the Middle East reversed, with an increase from eight to ten from 2022 to 2023. In 2022, slightly more than 5,000 battle-related deaths were recorded in the Middle East, the lowest since 2011. However, in 2023 the number was back up at almost 26,000. It is worth noting that almost 23,000 of these were registered in Israel and Palestine. This shows that while violence in the Middle East continues, it is now driven by a different conflict than previously.

“The Middle East figures give hope that extreme violence and complex conflicts such as in Syria can diminish. On the other hand, it is a continuous worry that we see new extremely violent conflicts emerging more often than previously,” said Professor Rustad.

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