12 Jan,2024

Changing Paradigm of war – increasing humanitarian crisis

Date:  12.01.2024 


Changing Paradigm of war – increasing humanitarian crisis 


Dr Arun Mitra


War is the most serious threat to public health with catastrophic effects on infrastructure and environment and accounts for more deaths & disability than many major diseases combined. It destroys families, communities and sometimes whole cultures. It channels limited resources away from health and other social needs. Any nuclear exchange can be an existential threat to humanity.        


Since 1800, more than 37 million people worldwide have died while fighting in wars. As there is no fool proof method to count the number of dead in the wars, this number could be much higher if we add those who die of displacement, abuse, hunger and disease (1).    


In the past when it was possible to maintain secrecy during war, Nazi concentration camps were not exposed to the world until the Red Army found them after the defeat of Hitler. Not many people believed the situation in these camps until some survivors came out with the stories of the atrocities committed on them.  


With the advent of new technology, the satellites and now the artificial intelligence it has become almost impossible to keep anything hidden. Any activity can be watched with utmost precision from thousands of kilometres away. This has led to targeting the sites accurately during warfare to the extent that the Israeli defence forces were able to kill Wissam Tawil, commander of Hezbollah's elite Radwan forces on 8th January 2024 in Lebanon. Likewise Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian major general, was killed by an American drone strike near Baghdad International Airport, Iraq on 3 January 2020, while travelling to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.


Based on the information, it is now easy for the global community to stop the wars with collective intervention. But it is an irony that at a time when nearly 24000 people have been killed in Gaza, out of which 70% being women and children, the world community has failed to stop the Israeli aggression and occupation. The rules of war as agreed upon in various conventions are being flouted with impunity.    


In spite of the wisdom to choose the target precisely, the reports coming out from various conflict zones show that the number of non-combatants being killed or injured and infrastructural damage has increased many times. There has been an increase in civilian fatalities from 5% at the turn of the 19th century to 15% during World War I, 65% by the end of World War II, and to more than 90% in the wars during 1990's, affecting more children than soldiers. As a result of changes in warfare strategies and ideologies over the last decades, the battlefields have moved into civilian's backyards, making them more vulnerable to and involved in wars as per an article published in frontiersin.org (2).


The wars cause serious humanitarian crisis. There is large scale displacement in Ukraine. An estimated 5.1 million people have been driven from their homes and are internally displaced and more than 6.2 million people have crossed into neighbouring countries in the region including Poland, Hungary, Moldova or other countries globally (3).    


The displaced people are forced to live in refugee camps in unhygienic and unprotected conditions where they are likely to develop serious health problems. Women and children are more vulnerable to abuse of all kinds. In large scale aggression there is compete paralysis of health care system as we observe in Gaza today. This is further affected by the fact that work of relief agencies suffers in such conditions.  President ICRC Mirjana Spoljaric who was in Gaza on 4th December 2023 said: "The level of human suffering is intolerable. It is unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza, and with a military siege in place there is also no adequate humanitarian response currently possible” (4).  


Several health workers have been killed adding to violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), thus raising new ethical and moral concerns (2).       


There are several parts of the world with internal conflicts affecting the people’s lives. The on-going conflicts in Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria and situations in Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan pose a serious threat to the lives of citizens. In such conflicts there occurs destruction of schools, hospitals, roads, factories, houses, cars and farms. The displacement and wars lead to several mental health problems including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (5).


It was expected that globalization would add to an interdependent world's economy, cultures, technology, and populations through increased cross-border connectedness, exchange of information, trade, and mutual use of technique and routines. It was expected that this interdependency would minimize military options to deal with bilateral and multilateral issues (2).  


But it did not happen. The phenomenon turned to be one way globalisation with the powerful countries trying to dictate in various spheres to maintain their socio-economic and political hegemony. This has led to impoverishment in several parts of the world. To sort out the deepening economic crisis in the developed world, they are furthering military engagements and arms sale. 


While there are resistance movement to this, it has also been observed that in many places there is rise of nationalism, and other types of reactionary movements. These lead to religious and political polarization in the society, and fosters extreme views and actions, leading to terrorism and modern armed engagements thus adding to internal and external conflicts (2).


It is unfortunate that the global structures responsible for restoration of peace have been weakened. This is clear from the veto by the US on the demand for cease fire in Gaza despite serious concern and appeal by the Secretary General and passing of resolution to the effect with an overwhelming majority by the UN General Assembly. This has necessitated urgent steps and effective measures by the global community to bring about changes in the UNO to make it responsive to the global needs for peace. How long we have to wait for such violations of human rights to go on ?  



  1. https://ourworldindata.org/war-and-peace   
  2. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.765261/full    
  3. https://www.unrefugees.org/emergencies/ukraine/    
  4. https://www.icrc.org/en/document/israel-and-occupied-territories-president-icrc-arrives-gaza    
  5. https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc14904.doc.htm       


Published in: