While a handful of conflicts dominate international newswires, a host of bloody, unresolved wars continue to be played out across the globe to devastating human cost, underreported and, in certain instances, largely unnoticed by the wider world. These might not be seismic geopolitical events of the magnitude of the ongoing conflict in Syria, nor generally have Anglo-American interventions in the conflict zone to pique the interest of the international media. But the devastation they have wrought has been just as shocking.
A new interactive map, compiled by humanitarian news agency IRIN, charts the spread of conflicts across the globe. Each conflict is represented on the map by a red dot, the size of which is determined by the length of the ongoing war. Clicking on a red dot opens a fact box that summarises the nature of the conflict and the interests involved, detailing too the length and current status of each particular war. The number of fatalities for which the conflict is thought to have been responsible is also shown.
The sheer geographical scope of global conflict is immediately evident. Nearly 40 ongoing conflicts are currently represented, traversing the entire breadth of a globe pock-marked with red circles. Some, such as the war in Syria, are grimly familiar; others have scarcely entered public consciousness outside their own sphere of direct influence.
Some, such as that between North and South Korea, have ravaged their afflicted region for more than half a century; others, such as the ongoing struggle between Mexican drug cartels and government forces, are comparatively young, striking instead because of the number of lives they have cost across a relatively short period.
The map is intended to highlight oft-overlooked conflicts, and accompanies a series of features on these forgotten wars. The series seeks to examine ‘the root causes, human cost and potential for peace of conflicts in Myanmar, Casamance in Senegal, South Kordofan in Sudan, southern Thailand, and Mindanao in the Philippines.’ These six conflicts alone have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands – the overwhelming majority civilians – and have been responsible for the displacement of millions more.
More than 350,000 people have been displaced on the Philippine island of Mindanao by a conflict that has flared up spasmodically since, according to IRIN’s map, 1969. As ever, the situation is fraught with historical complexity. Since the Philippines’ independence at the end of the Second World War, Christian settlers have progressively eroded the perceived autonomy of the island’s indigenous Muslim population, sparking a succession of bloody struggles between separatists and government forces. At the same time, Maoist insurgents representing the the New People’s Army (NPA) have been seeking to overthrow the government and form a communist state. Following a series of failed peace talks, the conflict has shown few signs of abating. More recently, though, the tale has transmuted to become a familiar one in an unfamiliar context. The failure of these peace processes has led to the adoption of extremist ideologies, with more militant groups emerging and aligning themselves with the so-called Islamic State.
The story in Mindanao testifies to the way in which our understandings of conflict and of humanitarian crises more generally are conditioned by an often narrow viewpoint. This is something IRIN is seeking to redress through its coverage of otherwise underreported or misunderstood humanitarian stories. Originally called the Integrated Regional Information Networks, IRIN was until January 2015 a project of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It now exists as an independent, non-profit media venture, fulfilling its avowed aim of addressing the ‘major disconnect between the voices of those most affected by crises and decision-makers sitting in New York and Geneva.’