The United Nations chief said Wednesday that one-quarter of humanity — 2 billion people — are living in conflict areas today and the world is facing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, when World War II ended.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cited conflicts from Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and Sudan to Haiti, Africa’s Sahel, “and now the war in Ukraine — a catastrophe shaking the foundations of the international order, spilling across borders and causing skyrocketing food, fuel and fertilizer prices that spell disaster for developing countries.”
He told the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission on Wednesday that last year 84 million people were forced to leave their homes because of conflict, violence and human rights violations. And that doesn’t include the Ukraine war which has already seen 4 million people flee the country and displaced another 6.5 million within the country, according to U.N. agencies.
Guterres said the U.N. estimates that this year “at least 274 million will need humanitarian assistance.” This represents a 17% increase from 2021 and will cost $41 billion for the 183 million people targeted for aid, according to the U.N. humanitarian office.
Guterres also cited the 2 billion figure of people living in conflict countries in a report to the commission in late January, which said there were a record number of 56 state-based conflicts in 2020. It doesn’t include the Ukraine war, which started with Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion and has affected almost all 40 million people in the country.
The secretary-general told the commission that conflicts are increasing “at a moment of multiplying risks that are pushing peace further out of reach — inequalities, COVID-19, climate change and cyber threats, to name just a few.”
He also pointed to an increase of military coups and seizures of power by force around the world, growing nuclear arsenals, human rights and international law under assault, and criminals and terrorist networks “fueling — and profiting from — divisions and conflicts.”
“The flames of conflict are fueled by inequality, deprivation and underfunded systems,” Guterres said, and these issues must be addressed urgently.
According to his report to the commission, the world is seeing the increasing internationalization of conflicts within countries, and this, together with “the fragmentation and multiplication” of armed groups linked to criminal and terrorist networks, “makes finding solutions arduous,” he said.
Consequently, Guterres said, “there are fewer political settlements to conflicts,” with Colombia a notable exception.
“Over the last decade, the world has spent $349 billion on peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and refugee support, he said. “And global military expenditures rose to nearly $2 trillion in 2020.”
The Peacebuilding Commission has worked to advance peace and prevent conflict in countries including Ivory Coast, Iraq, Africa’s Great Lakes region and Papua New Guinea, the secretary-general said, and the Peacebuilding Fund has grown, investing $195 million last year.
But it relies on voluntary contributions and peacebuilding needs are far outpacing resources, which is why Guterres said he is asking the U.N. General Assembly to assess the U.N.’s 193 member nations a total of $100 million annually for the fund.
“When we consider the costs of war — to the global economy but most of all to humanity’s very soul — peacebuilding is a bargain, and a prerequisite for development and a better future for all,” he said.