Warfare is Back in Town

A soldier in the city of Aleppo A soldier in the city of Aleppo © Enab Baladi

May 2018

The growing urbanisation of warfare remains a source of concern, as the vast majority of people killed or injured by explosive violence are civilians.

Since ancient times, cities have never been immune from war. History is rife with examples of towns and population centres put under siege. What has changed, however, is the way in which wars are being fought in urban areas. Experience shows new dramatic trends in combating, with belligerents often belonging to non-state armed groups and regularly avoiding engaging their enemies on open battlefield, instead blending in with the civilian population. On top of everything, many of the weapons deployed are still the ones originally designed for use in the open.

As such, increasingly urbanised warfare has a devastating impact on civilians. Indeed, particularly when explosive weapons are deployed in densely populated areas, the effects are likely to be indiscriminate. The result is that the number of civilian casualties is massively elevated.

In 2017, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a research and advocacy centre that monitors the impact of global armed violence, recorded a total of 42,972 deaths and injuries resulting from the use of explosive weapons. Of those harmed, 74% were reported to be civilians. Furthermore, the percentage increases (92%) when it is reported that the incident occurred in densely populated areas. Overall, 2017 saw the highest number of civilian deaths from explosives since the AOAV began monitoring, increasing 38% from 2016.

AOAV documented explosive violence from 59 countries and territories around the world. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen are the most impacted. Somalia, Nigeria, Egypt, India and the United Kingdom immediately follow.

Such findings reflect a consistent pattern of harm that has persisted, and even increased, over the years. The AOAV urges State and non-State parties to conflicts to stop using explosive devices in populated areas. Measures capable of enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law and accountability for violations must be implemented urgently.

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