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Forgotten Conflicts: The Urgent Need to Rediscover the Humanity in Each Other

22 Feb 2024
By Andrew Kobylinski
Phillipines : Food distribution in Agusan del Sur. Source: Ryan Ang/ICRC

Irrespective of how much attention some conflicts receive, violence persists in various regions around the world. These are the “forgotten conflicts” that demand attention.

Conflicts and situations of violence rage in every corner of our globe. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), more than 100 armed conflicts are being fought globally, to which more than 60 states and 100 non-state armed groups are parties to. Several hundreds more are involved in other situations of violence.

As old conflicts evolve and new violence emerges, it is becoming more difficult to delineate the presence or absence of conflict. The existence of any given conflict can become a matter of legal debate and political disagreement. The proliferation of armed conflicts and other violent situations also make it exceedingly difficult to capture and maintain public attention to each of these contexts.

If you ask Australians “where is there conflict in the world?” many would understandably answer with what they see in the news or on social media. While ICRC’s biggest operations are in places that have recently garnered the most global attention — including in Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, and Ethiopia — it also operates in many locations that are often less known to many Australians, such as in Haiti, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Colombia.

The purpose of the “Forgotten Conflicts” series has been to focus on conflicts that have received less attention from the media, government, and general public.  Why? Because beyond the moral imperative to better understand the experiences of our fellow human beings, public attention and outcry is often key to galvanising support for humanitarian action. It helps us highlight all the work left to do to help the millions of people around the world currently experiencing untold suffering as the human cost of violence.

This year, the “Forgotten Conflicts” series will cover the continuing impact of the aftermath of tribal violence in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, the ongoing crisis and impacts on refugees of Myanmar, the situation in Nigeria, and the ever-present humanitarian needs in Somalia. In the spirit of “not forgetting,” however, it is important to chronicle additional existing situations of conflict and other violence that are currently occurring across the globe.

Across the Sahel

People living in the Sahel Region of Africa, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, continue to contend with deteriorating circumstances. The number of armed conflicts in the region is growing and many of them extend beyond national borders, forcing nearly two million people from their homes. In the places where these people have taken refuge, public services, such as hospitals and schools, are struggling to accommodate both the locals and new arrivals. What’s more, climate change is drying up wells and turning pastures and fields to dust, leading to tension between farmers and herders.

In the heart of Africa

Since the start of 2023, an escalation in fighting between armed groups in North Kivu province  in the Democratic Republic of Congo has displaced some additional 450,000 people, bringing the total number of displaced people in the country to a record 6.9 million. The situation is similar in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories to the south. ICRC teams in the field have observed, and are responding to, an increased need for humanitarian aid, both among displaced people and the communities that host them. Although the ICRC has a well-established dialogue with the various combatants, these are both numerous and intense, to the point that it leaves little room for humanitarian activities and few opportunities to deliver aid.

Ethiopia has slipped from global headlines since 2021 when significant escalations of violence and atrocities devastated the country. Humanitarian needs, however, have remained urgent as people continue to deal with the consequences of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, the hostilities in Amhara, the protracted conflict in Oromia, and other crises. The ICRC maintains a regular dialogue with all major actors involved in the fighting, past and present, to enhance respect for international humanitarian law. We also continue to support populations which remain affected by fighting in areas particularly hard hit and difficult to reach.

In the Middle East

In Yemen, nine years of armed conflict, violence, and economic hardship have exhausted people’s capacity to cope and have brought all essential services close to their breaking point. With 70 percent of the population in Yemen reliant on humanitarian aid and protective services to survive, and more than 80 percent of Yemenis living below the poverty line, the humanitarian situation is worsening.

After many years in the headlines, fighting continues in Syria. Communities have lived through more than 12 years of a deadly armed conflict and a devastating earthquake that caused further humanitarian suffering in 2023. Today, nearly 90 precent of Syrians live below the poverty line with more than 15 million needing humanitarian assistance, a trend that has been sustained over the past years.


The ICRC launched its activities across the region in 1992 in response to the humanitarian impact of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In September 2023, an escalation of armed conflict in the Karabakh region resulted in tens-of-thousands of people fleeing from their homes to Armenia. The ICRC was the only international humanitarian organisation able to work during this period. The humanitarian situation in the area today remains precarious. Food and essential medicines are scarce, and telecommunication services are disrupted, resulting in difficulties to contact loved ones.

The Americas

The war in Colombia isn’t over, it’s simply changed. Armed conflicts now dominate life here in the remotest regions of the country. Decades of armed conflict have left 8.8 million victims in Colombia, with people enduring indescribable suffering as armed actors repeatedly violate international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. In 2023, thousands of Colombians fled their homes, leaving everything. More than 500,000 people crossed the Darien Gap, a jungle between Colombia and Panama, in 2023 with no official figures on the number of deaths occurring during these crossing attempts.

In Port-au-Prince, extreme levels of armed violence are preventing an increasing number of people from accessing essential services such as health care. Many health facilities have stopped operating due to insecurity and a lack of personnel, despite the spike in the number of wounded patients. In 2024, the ICRC also increased the number of hospitals it supports with medical kits, training emergency health staff and community leaders, and support for Haiti’s ambulance services.

Asia and the Pacific

Long-running armed conflicts in the Philippines have left a heavy toll on communities that are already facing high levels of poverty, and burdening families whose livelihoods are disrupted. Humanitarian concerns around the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law also remain. Meanwhile, those who are looking for loved ones who disappeared in the 2017 Marawi conflict, still hope to get answers.

In all conflicts, whether reported on or forgotten, the people affected have real humanitarian needs, and as fellow humans it is our collective responsibility to ensure their humanity is respected, and that our common humanity is never forgotten or neglected. As ICRC President Mirjana Splojaric put it, “The ICRC asserts its clear determination to stand up for people during wartime – whether civilians or combatants – to ensure that their rights and protections under IHL are upheld. There is an urgency to rediscover the humanity in one another.”

Regardless of headlines, ICRC will not forget our commitment to bring vital help where it is most needed in conflict.

Andrew Kobylinski is a  Policy and Political Affairs Officer, ICRC Mission in Australia.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.