New conflict data: 2014 was a very violent year

12 October 2015

In June, Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) reported that the number of fatalities in armed conflict has increased substantially in recent years, and that 2014 was the most violent year since the end of the Cold War. New data show that also the other two types of violence analysed by the UCDP – conflict between non-state actors and violence targeting civilians – increased substantially in 2014.

New data from the UCDP released today confirm that 2014 witnessed a large number of fatalities in organised violence – the highest in two decades. Well over 100.000 people were killed in organised violence in the year 2014, the highest number in 20 years. The death count in organised violence has not exceeded 100.000 since 1994 when the Rwandan genocide took place.

In their new report, the UCDP for the first time provide data on all three categories of organised violence – state-based conflict, conflict between non-state actors, and one-sided killings of civilians – for the quarter century 1989-2014.

"The last five years have seen a dramatic increase in organised violence, especially in the Middle East, and if this trend continues an already very dire situation will rapidly become much worse", says Therése Pettersson, project leader at the UCDP. "On the other hand the level of violence in 2014 is still much lower than the previous peak in 1994. Moreover, in the earlier post-World War II period there were many years with big wars and genocides which resulted in much higher death tolls. Even the exploding violence in the most recent years does not contradict the trend that overall levels of organised violence are declining, albeit unevenly, since World War II", she concludes.

There are important regional variations. The Middle East is currently the most violent region, with developments in Syria and Iraq driving up the death toll the most. But over the last quarter century, i.e., 1989-2014, Africa has by far been the most violent region. Despite alarming levels of violence now in some areas, e.g., Northern Nigeria, Africa in recent years is actually much more peaceful than it was in the 1990s. Indeed, most parts of the world have seen reductions in the amount of organised violence over the time period. Also in the Americas and East Asia the trend is unambiguously in the direction of fewer deaths in organised violence. For Europe and Central and South Asia the picture is mixed with progress in some parts and setbacks in others.

"While it is necessary to take in the full extent of the atrocities rapidly developing now, for example in Syria-Iraq and Nigeria, it is also prudent to bear in mind that the world is nevertheless much less violent than during the Cold War and the World Wars. It is imperative that we keep analysing the factors that have caused this positive development, so that we learn how best to promote peace in the future. There is no contradiction in dealing with present catastrophes and preparing for looming threats on the one hand and appreciating the overall decline in violence on the other", says Professor Erik Melander, UCDP’s Director.

The data underlying this report can be found in three datasets that are available from the UCDP website