Editor’s note: This article contains language about conflict, violence and sexual violence, and extreme hunger.
Nuclear arsenals are swelling. Conflict is on the rise. Millions are displaced. International law is disregarded with impunity, as criminal networks profit from the division and violence. This is the situation the world finds itself in today.
The reasons for the outbreak of conflict range from territorial disputes and regional tensions, to corruption and dwindling resources due to climate change.
As well as displacing people by the millions, conflicts disrupt access to basic services like food and water, and force people into extreme poverty, with the poorest and the most vulnerable paying the highest price. In addition to taking lives and devastating infrastructure in the short term, conflict and its consequences are profound and enduring, reversing progress towards achieving the UN Global Goals.
While conflicts usually dominate headlines for a time — such as Putin's war on Ukraine and escalating violence in Israel and Palestine — there are many more conflicts occurring globally than you may realize. Here are some things you should know about ongoing conflicts around the world.
1. There Are at Least 32 Live Conflicts Right Now
According to the Council on Foreign Relations’s Global Conflict Tracker, there are currently 32 ongoing conflicts worldwide. The tracker categorizes conflict into three groups: “worsening,” “unchanging,” and “improving.”
Of those worsening are the Israel-Palestine conflict, the war in Ukraine, the war in Afghanistan, violent extremism in the Sahel, the civil war in Myanmar, the confrontation over Taiwan, instability in Haiti, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, ethnic conflict and violent resource competition involving ethnic militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the power struggle in Sudan, and instability in Pakistan.
2. Conflict and Violence Are on the Rise
3. Over 238,000 People Died in Global Conflict in 2022
According to a study released in June 2023 by the Institute for Economics and Peace, almost a quarter of a million people died in conflicts around the world last year.
This marks a 96% increase year over year in deaths related to conflicts. The startling figure reflects, in particular, the impact of two highly fatal wars: in Ethiopia and Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in at least 82,000 deaths in 2022, the study estimated. But even more deaths were reported in Ethiopia — over 104,000 — in a conflict between the national government and regional forces in Tigray.
4. 2 Billion People Currently Live in Conflict-Affected Areas
At least a quarter of the entire global population lives in conflict-affected areas. Some of the worst affected places are Ethiopia's Tigray region, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
According to the UN, 84 million people were forcibly displaced in 2022 because of conflict, violence, and human rights violations. By the end of 2022, it was estimated that 339 million people would need humanitarian assistance this year. In other words, one in 23 people on the planet would need help in order to survive.
5. Only One Case of Rape Has Ever Been Successfully Prosecuted by the International Criminal Court
Rape is the most neglected war crime of the 1949 Geneva Convention, according to veteran foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, Christina Lamb.
In her book Our Bodies, Their Battlefields, she argues: “War rape [is] met with tacit acceptance and committed with impunity, military and political leaders shrugging it off as a sideshow. Or it was denied to have ever happened.”
Created in 2002 to prosecute those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has secured only one conviction for sexual slavery and rape, in the 2019 case of a Congolese warlord.
Indeed, women and girls experience the worst of conflict, often being seen as weapons of war.
6. The 10 Most Conflict-Affected Countries Lose, on Average, 41% of Their GDP
The cost of war is almost unfathomable. In addition to the human suffering, social unrest, and damage to infrastructure, the burden of war also impacts conflict-affected countries’ economies.
The Institute for Economics & Peace found that the average economic cost of violence in the 10 most conflict-affected countries in the world is equivalent to 41% of their gross domestic product (GDP).
Why is this important? Because when violence disrupts an economy, the effects are felt long after the conflict subsides and results in almost everyone getting poorer.
7. Conflicts Drive 80% of All Humanitarian Needs
“The human and economic costs of fragility, conflict, and violence are staggering,” Franck Bousquet, the senior director of Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV) Group at the World Bank, wrote in an article for the New Humanitarian.
8. Millions of Children in Yemen Are Being Pushed to Starvation
For nine years, Yemen has been locked in a bloody civil war between the Saudi-supported government forces and the Houthi with links to Iran.
Over 377,000 people have died in the conflict, with the UN estimating that 60% of these deaths were the result of indirect causes like food insecurity and lack of accessible health services.
Over 75% of the population, or 21.6 million Yemenis, remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Millions have been pushed to the brink of starvation including 2.2 million children under five who have required treatment for acute malnutrition, and a cholera outbreak has affected over one million people.
Children are paying the heaviest price. Four-year-old Meshal even gnawed his own fingers because he was so hungry. One child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen, according to the UN’s report from August 2021.
Conflict and violence are the primary causes of hunger, malnutrition, and famine, according to a 2023 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
9. Over 13 Million Syrians Have Been Forcibly Displaced Since the War Began
Over a decade after it started, the Syrian refugee crisis remains the largest displacement crisis worldwide (14 million, including 5.5 million refugees and 6.8 million internally displaced people).
At least 2 million people are living in tented camps with limited access to basic services.
The beginning of the war in Syria dates back to the Arab Spring — a series of anti-authoritarian protests, uprisings, and rebellions that spread across several Middle Eastern countries in the early 2010s.
The people of Syria raised their voices to demand reform. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on dissent and made it clear democratic rule wasn’t part of his plan. When thousands more took to the streets, the army answered by opening fire against the demonstrators. After that, small factions of armed rebels began to appear and have been trying to topple the government ever since. To this day, the government and rebels remain mired in a full-scale civil war.
Making matters even worse, on Feb. 6, 2023, two powerful earthquakes struck south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria, claiming tens of thousands of lives and causing untold destruction to homes and infrastructure across the region.
10. The Conflict in Myanmar Is the Longest Ongoing Civil War in the World
Lasting more than 60 years, the conflict in Myanmar (previously called Burma) remains the longest ongoing civil war in the world. The country has been plagued by decades of repressive military rule and civil war with ethnic minority groups since 1948, the year the country gained independence from the UK.
Back in 2011, there was some hope the country would transition away from full military rule, but hopes for democratic reforms were dashed and the military maintained control over much of the government.
In 2017, the Tatmadaw (the armed forces of Myanmar) and local security forces began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslim minority, murdering thousands and burning villages to the ground.
Nearly 880,000 Rohingya refugees have fled the country. The most vulnerable, including pregnant women, babies, children, and the elderly have been forced to travel for days to reach safety in Bangladesh. Today, they live in the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp, Kutupalong. Around half of those refugees are children.
11. Hunger Is Forcing Families in Afghanistan to Sell Their Children
An estimated 15.3 million Afghans are not consuming enough food, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
In such extreme conditions, many toddlers have already starved to death. Unable to watch this happen, many families have taken the agonizing decision to sell their children, while others have resorted to selling their organs on the black market.
Exacerbating these already dire conditions, a series of earthquakes hit western Afghanistan in October 2023, leaving many thousands of people injured, displaced, and without shelter. Of those who have died in the earthquakes, which are believed to be the deadliest in decades, more than 90% were women and children, according to the UN children's agency UNICEF.
12. Almost 300 People Have Been Kidnapped by Gangs in Haiti So Far This Year
According to reports received by the the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nearly 300 abductions took place in Haiti in the first six months of 2023, almost matching the total number for the entire previous year, and close to three times more than in 2021.
In Haiti, most often, it is women and children who are taken by armed groups “for financial or tactical gains.” However, children are alsocan be abducted to be killed or maimed, to become victims of sexual violence, or to be recruited as child soldiers into armed groups.
Violence in the Caribbean nation soared over the course of 2023 as gangs took control of more than 80% of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince following the assassination of the country’s President Jovenel Moïse and back-to-back natural disasters.
The abduction of civilians has become an increasingly prevalent feature of conflict, according to the UN.
13. Education Is on Hold For Almost Half of School-Aged Refugee Children From Ukraine
As the school year started across Europe in September, the UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency, warned that refugee children and youth from Ukraine were facing their third year of disrupted education, following the full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022.
According to the report’s findings, while 30-50% of some 5.9 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe are children, only about half are enrolled in schools in host countries for this academic year.
Factors contributing to these figures include administrative, legal, and language barriers; a lack of information on education options; a hesitancy among parents to enroll their children in host countries as they hope to return home soon to Ukraine; and a lack of capacity of schools in host countries. Many schools simply do not have the physical space or number of educators required to accommodate new students.
It’s not just the children of Ukraine who have had their education disrupted by conflict and violence. From Sudan to Afghanistan, 222 million crisis-affected children and teenagers need urgent education support and more than half of those are girls.