Conflict Deaths Surge by More Than a Quarter in 2014

Conflict deaths
People walk on rubble as others try to put out a fire after what activists said were airstrikes followed by shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, February 9, 2015. Mohammed Badra/REUTERS/

The death toll from global conflicts surged by almost a third last year, according to a new report.

In the 20 deadliest conflicts last year, 163,562 people died compared to 126,994 in 2013. Syria remained the world's most bloody war zone, with over three times more deaths recorded than in Iraq, which ranked second. Nigeria's conflict death toll almost tripled from 2013 to 2014 as Boko Haram gained ground in northern Nigeria.

The figures were announced by American thinktank, the Project for the Study of the 21st Century (PS21), who analysed data sources including the UN, the U.S. military, Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and Iraqi Body Count. Executive director Peter Apps said that the rising death toll was caused by a variety of geopolitical and financial factors.

"In a lot of these wars, the actual killing is being done by small numbers of people - particularly members of the ultra-violent militant groups, such as ISIS, Boko Haram " said Apps. "There's also probably the effect of the wider global rise in geopolitical tensions - both Syria and Ukraine in particular have at times resembled classic Cold War-style proxy conflicts between the west and Russia as well as within the Middle East between Iran and its enemies."

Apps said that the global financial crisis had also contributed to popular discontent and a rise in nationalist groups. While the total figures were rising, he pointed to the spike being contained to a relatively small number of countries.

In regional terms, the Middle East and North Africa remained highly unstable, with conflicts in Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, Libya and Yemen all registering death tolls in the thousands.

Conflicts also raged throughout southern and central Africa, with the world's newest nation, South Sudan, ranking fifth with a total of 6,389 deaths. Since its split from Sudan in 2011, the fledgling country has faced challenges including border demarcation and establishing its share of Sudan's lucrative oil industry, as well as endemic corruption - the country is ranked 171 out of 175 according to Transparency International's corruption index.

Latest estimates put the total death toll of the Syrian conflict at 220,000. The civil war continued to rage throughout last year as embattled president Bashar al-Assad clung to power, while militant group Islamic State gained control of swathes of the country and established their unofficial headquarters in the central Syrian city of Raqqa.

The Ukrainian crisis saw the country rocket to eight in the death toll rankings. Clashes broke out last February during anti-government protests which led to former president Victor Yanukovych being ousted from power. The conflict snowballed and, despite a supposed ceasefire agreed in Minsk in September, the UN estimates that more than 6,000 people have now died in the year-long conflict. Pro-Russian rebels were reported to be preparing an advance in the country's eastern territories last week after taking the city of Debaltseve.

Fighting between Nigerian government forces and Islamist militants Boko Haram has intensified over the past year, with the militant group recently pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. The government campaign against Boko Haram has led to the Nigerian presidential elections being delayed by more than a month.