A new report from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) at Uppsala University reveals that at least 237,000 people died in organized violence in 2022. This represents a 97% increase compared to the previous year and marks the highest death toll since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Despite some de-escalation in the deadliest conflicts of 2021, such as Yemen and Afghanistan, the report highlights a significant escalation of violence in Ethiopia and Ukraine. The wars in these two countries resulted in a minimum of 180,000 deaths related to battles in 2022. However, due to limited information and extensive propaganda surrounding these conflicts, the numbers are subject to revision. Nonetheless, the data indicates that more people died in these two conflicts in 2022 than the total global death toll in the previous year.
Contrary to common belief, the report reveals that Ethiopia, where the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been engaged in conflict with the Ethiopian army (supported by Eritrea) since late 2020, witnessed a higher death toll compared to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Both Ethiopia and Ukraine have seen trench warfare and accusations of the use of human wave tactics, contributing to the high number of casualties. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 marked the first large-scale interstate war in two decades. While conflicts between states remain relatively rare, they have increased in recent years, often involving external states providing support to rebel groups fighting against other governments, effectively leading to state armies battling each other.
The report also highlights the persistence of a historically high number of active conflicts worldwide. In 2022, the UCDP registered 55 conflicts involving one or both sides being a state. This is a significant increase compared to the yearly range of 31 to 39 conflicts between 2000 and 2013 and the range of 52 to 56 conflicts since 2015.
Moreover, the number of non-state conflicts, where rebel groups and other armed organized actors fight each other, remains at a record high level. In 2022, the UCDP recorded 82 such conflicts. Nine out of the ten deadliest non-state conflicts occurred in Mexico, where rival drug cartels have been fighting for territory since the 1980s. Gang-related violence has also escalated in Brazil, Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador in recent years.
Additionally, one-sided violence targeting civilians increased in 2022. At least 11,800 civilians were killed in intentional and targeted acts of violence carried out by 45 different states or organized groups. The Islamic State (IS) caused the most civilian deaths in such acts, but several states also engaged in large-scale attacks on civilians in various conflicts. Russia and Eritrea, for instance, employed extensive violence against civilians in the wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia.
The report’s findings will be published in the July issue of the Journal of Peace Research.