Sudanese army soldiers loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan sit on top of a tank in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan on April 20, 2023.
– | Afp | Getty Images
With the eyes of the world on the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, an unprecedented number of potentially “catastrophic” conflicts are flying under the radar, analysts warn.
The International Rescue Committee earlier this month published its emergency watch list for 2024, listing the 20 countries most at risk of deteriorating security. These countries account for about 10% of the world’s population but about 70% of the displaced, along with about 86% of the world’s humanitarian needs.
The UN estimated in October that more than 114 million people were displaced by war and conflict around the world. This percentage is now probably higher.
IRC President and CEO David Miliband said that for many of the people his organization serves, this is the “worst of times”, as exposure to climate risk, impunity in an ever-increasing number of conflict zones and the increasing public debt collide with “declining international support”.
“The headlines today are rightly dominated by the crisis in Gaza. There’s good reason for that – right now it’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a civilian.” Miliband said.
“But the watch list is a vital reminder that other parts of the world are also burning, for structural reasons related to conflict, climate and the economy. We have to be able to deal with more than one crisis at a time.”
Isabelle Arradon, director of research at the International Crisis Group, told CNBC earlier this month that conflict deaths worldwide are at their highest level since 2000.
“All the red flags are there, and on top of that, there is a lack of instruments to resolve the conflicts. There is a lot of geopolitical competition and less appetite to resolve these deadly conflicts,” he added.
Number one on the IRC’s watch list is Sudan, where fighting broke out in April 2023 between the country’s two military factions and internationally-brokered peace talks in Saudi Arabia have not yielded a solution.
The conflict has now escalated into “large-scale warfare” that garners “minimal” international attention and poses a serious risk of regional spillover, the IRC said, with 25 million people in urgent humanitarian need and 6 million displaced.
The Rapid Support Force — led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti) and reportedly backed by the United Arab Emirates and Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar — extended a multi-pronged offensive from the heart of the conflict in the capital Khartoum, leaving a trail of alleged atrocities in the Western Darfur region.
METEMA, ETHIOPIA – MAY 4, 2023: Refugees who crossed from Sudan to Ethiopia wait in line to register at the IOM (International Organization for Migration) in Metema on May 4, 2023. More than 15,000 people have left Sudan through Metema since fighting broke out outside Khartoum in mid-April, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, with about a thousand arrivals recorded a day on average
AMANUEL SILESHI/AFP via Getty Images
RSF has reportedly pushed into central Sudan for the first time in recent days, sparking further mass exodus of people from areas previously held by the Sudan Armed Forces.
ICG’s Arradon told CNBC that alongside the ongoing risk of further mass atrocities in Darfur is the possibility of a “full-scale ethnic conflict” that will draw more armed groups from the region.
“Peace initiatives are very limited at the moment. “Clearly, globally, there’s a lot of distraction, and so the situation in Sudan is one where I don’t think there’s a serious enough commitment right now at a high level to pause—they’re burning the negotiations, and so there needs to be more push.” , he said.
The flow of refugees into neighboring South Sudan and Ethiopia, which are reeling from internal conflict, the effects of climate change and extreme economic hardship, are adding to the risks of spillover, analysts believe.
Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda
Last week’s chaotic elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo just marked the start of a new electoral cycle that will continue until 2024 in a fragile setting.
Voting was marred by long delays at polling stations, with some not opening all day, and voting extended until Thursday in some parts of the vast mineral-rich country with 44 million registered voters.
Several opposition candidates have called for the election to be annulled, the latest row after a campaign marred by violence as 18 candidates challenged incumbent President Felix Tshisekendi for the leadership.
Some preliminary results show Tshisekendi well ahead in the polls, but the government on Tuesday banned anti-election demonstrations which were requested by five opposition candidates.
The political unrest comes amid ongoing armed conflict in eastern DRC and widespread poverty and ahead of further regional elections early next year.
The possible prolonged contestation of the results, fueled by long-standing suspicions by Tshisekedi’s fragmented opposition about the independence of the electoral commission, could spark further conflict with ramifications for the wider region, crisis analysts believe.
“We are very concerned about the risk of a serious crisis. We already saw in 2018 how voting contestation was a big problem, but now we have it over the M23 [rebels]with the support of Rwanda, which is increasing its fighting and getting very close [the city of] Rubber,” Aradon explained.
M23 rebels re-emerged in North Kivu province in eastern DRC in November 2021 and have been accused by human rights groups of multiple apparent war crimes from late 2022 as they expand their offensive.
Neighboring Rwanda has reportedly deployed troops to eastern Congo to provide direct military support to M23, fueling tensions between Kigali and Kinshasa and prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to repeatedly express concern about the risk of “imminent confrontation”.
The combination of a fractured and distrustful political backdrop, an ongoing armed insurgency and extreme socio-economic pressures make the region fertile ground for conflict in the coming year.
Arradon described the situation in the DPRK and other active and potential conflict zones around the world as “catastrophic.”
“DPRK, we are talking about 6 million displaced people. If you look at Myanmar, of course you have this huge population of displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh, as well as displaced within Myanmar itself,” he said.
“We have never seen so many people on the move globally, mainly due to conflict. It’s not just people on the move, it’s the fact that often civilians live side by side with armed groups, and that’s what’s happening in Myanmar. the case in the east of the DRC, also in Sudan, in the west and in Darfur.”
Myanmar’s civil war has been ongoing since the February 2021 military coup and the subsequent violent crackdown on anti-coup protests has sparked an escalation of long-running insurgencies by ethnic armed groups across the country.
Government forces have been accused of indiscriminate bombing And both the IRC and IGC fear that tactics may intensify in 2024 as ethnic armed groups and resistance forces have made significant gains in the north of the country.
The military currently faces challenges from an alliance of three ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State, along with one of the country’s largest armed groups in the northwestern Sagaing region and smaller resistance forces in Kayah State, Rakhine State and along the Indian border in the west.
“For the first time in decades, the military will have to fight multiple, determined, and well-armed adversaries simultaneously in multiple theaters; it can redouble brutal efforts to turn the tide on the battlefield, including scorched-earth tactics and of indiscriminate bombing in the coming weeks. ” assesses the IGC’s latest CrisisWatch report.
Countries across the Sahel have experienced a series of military coups over the past two years, partly in response to heightened instability as governments struggle to deal with Islamist militant insurgencies spreading across the region.
The Sahel comprises the semi-arid zone of north-central Africa between the Sahara desert and the savannah regions and includes Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Chad have experienced coups and severe instability in the past three years. The IGC’s Arradon said security concerns had been deepened by the fallout from the Libyan civil war to the north, which had seen a flood of arms move south to feed armed groups in countries with large percentages of their population in “regions that felt neglected ».
“Thus, this general security framework of populations that feel neglected, as well as easy access to weapons, has indeed created a growing security risk in the Sahel region, and resentment from these populations has grown,” he added.
…And much more
Alongside these, the IRC also has serious concerns about possible outbreaks of armed conflict in Haiti, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Cameroon, along with the well-documented risk of China invading Taiwan and its global geopolitical implications.
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