Wishing Peace for a World Weary of War and Conflict
The Inhumanity in War Torn Countries
(Note to Our Readers: GBRI does not have a political affiliation, and nothing in this article should be taken as commentary on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of government responses. However, as a company that is focused on improving the quality of life for all people, it is important to understand the life experiences people are enduring.)
The biggest refugee crisis and internal displacement of people since World War II is occurring today, reflecting what seems like a world gone mad at times. Tens of millions of people are leaving their homes to seek help in other countries or in refugee camps maintained by humanitarian groups. The movement of people is the end result of numerous conflicts around the globe within and between countries. People are fighting over party control of governments, borders, land areas, religion, and various ideologies. For some, it is simply despair over poverty and lack of opportunity that drives them to take up arms and rebel against the status quo. What is happening around the world is nothing less than a human tragedy, and it is important to step back and look at the big picture. This helps to put things into perspective and foster a greater appreciation for living in the United States, a country where people live in peace.
For purposes of discussion, there are two types of displaced people: the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) and refugees. The IDPs remain within their country, but are unable to live in their homes. Refugees leave their country to find refuge in a different country. There are organizations attempting to track the number of IDPs and refugees, but it is very difficult since people move about in so many different ways without documentation. All statistics included in this article are approximations based on reported numbers.
Following is a review of some of the areas where major conflict and movement of people is occurring. It does not include all of them. There is a brief description of the reasons behind the conflicts and the devastating impact on people’s lives. In all cases, war still rages on.
Afghanistan: A War that Never Ends
Afghanistan became a target of the U.S. after the September 2001 attacks on New York City were determined to have been planned by Osama bin Laden, founder of Al-Qaeda. The U.S. has had a military presence since then, though it is small at this point. However, the U.S. may have pulled out most troops, but the conflict continues and seems to be escalating again. The war took on more complexity over the years due to a two-fold fight. The U.S. wanted Al-Qaeda eliminated, but it and its allies also ousted the Taliban from power.
Today, the war involves both Afghanistan and Pakistan because of a porous border and the fact the U.S. has fought the war on both sides of the border. After the U.S. ousted the Taliban from power, the Taliban set up their command center in Pakistan and now frequently enters Afghanistan to commit acts of terror. Combined deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last 15 years are estimated to be 173,000 people actually killed (111,000 in Afghanistan and 62,000 in Pakistan) and 183,000 seriously wounded. Among the dead are 31,000 Afghan civilians.1 People continue to die and get displaced from their homes. It is estimated that over 1.2 million people are internally displaced.2
India and Pakistan: Clashing on the Border
India and Pakistan can claim the world’s longest running conflicts. For 69 years, the two countries have been fighting over the control of Kashmir. The conflict initially arose out of Britain’s relinquishing control of the India subcontinent in 1947, creating Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, with Kashmir free to choose which nation it joined. Currently, Pakistan, India, and China have staked a claim in Kashmir.
There is now what is called a Line of Control that divides Pakistani and Indian controlled sections of Kashmir. The tension along this line makes the world fear a nuclear war could eventually break out because both countries are nuclear powers. There are continuing conflicts and clashes between military forces that escalate and subside, and escalate and subside. China has provided significant strategic weapons and economic support to Pakistan, while the U.S. has partnered with India, giving it “major defense partner” status. There have been an increasing number of incidents on the Line of Control and rising fears that India and Pakistan could end up in a nuclear war in the near future. One estimate puts the death toll attributed to fighting over Kashmir at 47,000 people, but an untold number have simply disappeared. It is likely the 47,000 number is far too low.3
Middle East: A Region Living with Constant Conflict
The Middle East has been a hotbed of dissent for decades (some say thousands of years), and war seems like an inevitability. In fact, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are so much in constant conflict that the average level of peacefulness in the world increases when this region is removed from the calculation, per the Institute for Economics & Peace’s 2016 Global Peace Index.4 The Index ranks 163 independent states and territories and has included Palestine for the first time. The score for MENA declined as conflicts expanded to include the intervention of countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia and groups like the State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Of course, the U.S. has been involved since 2001, beginning with Iraq. Following are some of the ongoing Middle East conflicts causing human misery.
In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush issued an ultimatum to the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein: Leave within 48 hours. Hussein refused and what would become a long protracted war began. The U.S. assumed the biggest role, though its allies joined the fight. Saddam Hussein was captured December 2003 and executed by Iraq’s government in December 2006. Since the fall of Hussein’s Ba’th Party, the country has seen wave after wave of violence due to what was, in effect, both a civil war between the government and rebels, and a sectarian war between Shi‘ite and Sunni militias. In 2007-2008, a surge of U.S. troops and an alignment of Sunni tribesmen with the U.S. began to turn the tide towards a more stable country. President Obama implemented a plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. On August 18, 2010, the last of the U.S. combat troops pulled out.
It would be nice to be able to say that Iraq remained stabilized from that point on, but it did not. In fact, the U.S. agreed to keep several thousand soldiers in Iraq indefinitely; however, Iraqis did not like the idea, so the U.S. pulled out all combat troops. The withdrawal left a void in that Iraq was not prepared to defend itself. Since 2011, things have gotten decidedly worse. There has been a renewed sectarian civil war and a spillover of an ongoing civil war in Syria. ISIL, seeing the civil war as an opportunity, began to take over major Iraqi cities as part of its plan to form a caliphate. The U.S. once again intervened, but mostly with aerial support. The world has had to watch atrocities played out on television as ISIL (ISIS or the Islamic State) has beheaded journalists, Iraqi troops, and civilians defending their country. There are now over 3.1 million people5 internally displaced in addition to more than half a million war-related deaths since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.6 Yet, the war rages on with human misery a constant factor.
The Syrian civil war is now on the list of the world’s worst humanitarian tragedies. It is a story that is still unfolding. In March 2011, pro-democracy protests broke out after the arrest and torture of teenagers who painted revolutionary graffiti on a school wall, followed by security forces killing demonstrators. The resignation of President Assad was called for, but instead of resigning, he sent government forces to crush the dissenters. That led to the formation of rebel forces that began battling government forces for control of cities and towns, and the surrounding countryside. Complicating the issue was the addition of sectarian conflict between the Sunni majority and President Assad’s Shia Alawite sect. As if that was not enough, ISIS saw the conflict as a good time to take control of some cities and areas.
Though all civil wars are horrendous, the Syrian conflict is particularly tragic because so many civilians, including women and children, have been used as pawns. The government has intentionally dropped barrel bombs on groups of people in rebel-held areas. ISIS has used public executions, amputations, and mass killings of civilians as a means of control. In 2013, the civil war took a new twist when the government fired rockets filled with the agent sarin into Damascus suburbs. In 2014, chlorine gas was used in rebel-held areas. ISIS also used chemicals of the homemade kind, like Sulphur mustard.
Russia began an air campaign with a stated purpose to target terrorists (ISIS) and bring the civil war to an end, seeing U.S. efforts as futile and creating worse havoc. However, more rebels have been killed than ISIS terrorists. Iran has also entered the civil war on the side of President Assad, as has Lebanon’s Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement. The U.S. has led coalition air strikes, but they are not doing much good.
The civil war rages on, so the humanitarian crisis is a tragedy still recounting. Since the start of the conflict, more than 4.5 million people have left Syria, seeking refugee status in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Europe. An estimated 6.5 million people are internally displaced. Over a quarter million have died. These numbers will keep rising. Even now, there is systematic targeting of civilians inside the city of Aleppo. The country is so decimated that 70 percent do not have adequate drinking water and food and 80 percent live in poverty. Getting enough aid to so many people is almost impossible.7
Europe Becomes a Destination for the Wrong Reasons
Europe has become a major factor in the Middle East-North Africa civil wars. Millions of refugees from these war-torn areas have found their way to Europe, many via overcrowded boats. Most of the refugees are from Syria, but they also come from Somalia, Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places. Europe was not prepared for such an onslaught of refugees, and did not have a coordinated response. This served to make the situation even worse as people were blocked from crossing borders or had nowhere to go to find shelter, food, and water. Many people drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Greece.
In fact, it was a picture of the Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, lying face down in the surf of a Turkish beach that inspired the world to provide more help, including the European Union which agreed to provide billions in aid to Turkey. Turkey had accepted over 2 million refugees by the end of 2015 and needed help dealing with huge numbers of desperate people. Nonetheless, that deal has faltered and Syrian refugees are once again risking their lives to reach Greece in greater numbers, many to get trapped in Greek refugee camps because of a growing backlash to the refugee crisis among EU populations. By the end of 2015, over 1.3 million people, trying to escape conflict in their countries, had reached the EU, and still press on.8 Per the UN Refugee Agency, in 2016, another 358,406 refugees arrived by sea and 4,899 are dead or missing.9
Palestine and Israel: Ongoing Cycle of Violence
The Palestine and Israel conflict is a struggle over land, but rooted in religion. The history is very complicated. In the simple version, Israel went to war in 1967 with Egypt and Syria, later joined by Jordan, to reclaim land it believed belonged to them by religious right. Israel defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, capturing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip became political units, governed by Israel. However, Palestinians were denied many rights and closely regulated. Since 1967, there has been disagreement over what land belongs to Israel and what land belongs to Palestine, which is still not officially recognized as a sovereign country.
The violence occurring between Palestine and Israel continues, though it is a conflict and not a war. Yet, a continuing series of incidences have cost many Palestinians and Israel lives. There is an ongoing cycle of violence that no one seems to be able to break. Some of the more recent attacks have included near-daily Palestinian attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, and counterattacks by Israel. There are frequent stabbings, car attacks, shootings, and bombings, forcing people on both sides to live in constant fear.10
Africa: A Continent in Conflict
The African continent has been ravaged by civil wars and sectarian unrest. In fact, at least 15 African countries are currently involved in war, are on the verge of war, or are experiencing significant unrest and conflict. Per the United Nations, it is estimated there are over 12 million internally displaced people in Africa.11 Following is a sample of the African nations experiencing some of the longest and most brutal conflicts.
The Central African Republic Civil War began as recently as 2012, when the mostly Muslim Seleka faction was formed to overthrow President Bozize, which they succeeded in doing. After the Seleka rebel leader left power, the Christian anti-Balaka militia began a reign of terror against Muslims. Since the conflict began, hundreds have died, and 5,000 people have been displaced. The conflict still continues.12
Somalia has seen conflict for decades with the most recent conflict, called the Somali Civil War, starting in 2009. The various conflicts can be considered an ongoing civil war which began during the 1980s, when a group banded together to resist the Siad Barre regime. After Barre’s ouster, the country collapsed into anarchy with rival clan warlords ruling their respective areas. In 2012, a formal parliament was sworn in and a presidential election held. Still, war between pro-government supporters and Al-Shabab militants continues. An untold number of people have died over the years. It is estimated that 1.1 million Somalis are internally displaced.13
In the Darfur region of Sudan, a protracted civil war led to the formation of South Sudan as a country. More than a decade of fighting between ethnic groups has left an estimated 3.1 million Darfuris internally displaced.14 The country is now facing one of the world’s worst food crisis as conflict impedes progress.
The Boko Haram Islamist group is fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government. The group believes in a version of Islam in which Muslims are forbidden to participate in any social or political activity considered to be associated with
Western society. Therefore, voting in elections and getting a secular education are considered forbidden activities. In its effort to overthrow a government it believes is run by non-believers, the Boko Haram group has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. It has run a campaign of bombing attacks and abductions. The violence the group has wreaked on Nigeria and neighboring countries, in an attempt to form a caliphate, has led to over 20,000 deaths and 2.5 million people in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger being displaced from their homes.15
This is just a sample of African countries involved in civil war or continuing to experience unrest as a result of unstable governments. Millions have been, and continue to be, displaced or killed. For many people, their only hope of survival depends on humanitarian organizations meeting their basic needs of food, water, and shelter.
Living in Peace: A Worthy Dream
The 2016 Global Peace Index mentioned earlier reports that only 10 countries in the world are completely free from conflict. What a sobering thought. From 2007 to 2015, there were 60 million people in the world displaced or becoming refugees, and that number will increase to well over 65 million in 2016. Refugee camps around the world are filled with desperate people begging for warm shelter, food and water, and medical attention. Organizations like the United Nations and Red Cross are simply overwhelmed. Achieving peace in the world seems like an unachievable goal at times.
Technically, the U.S. is considered to be at war because of its participation in and support for military operations in places like the Middle East. However, wars are fought outside U.S. borders when we are asked for assistance, so we are fortunate to live in a country where we do live in peace. Our children go to school without fear of bombings. People can practice their chosen religion. Our water and food systems are safe. There is a good healthcare system. The government is stable. In the U.S., we have a quality of life that others only dream about. U.S. residents have no fear of being placed in refugee camps or of their country devolving into a civil war. In the U.S., the political and social discussions may be raucous, but the government representatives are always working to enhance the principles of peacefulness and a just society from their own perspectives. For these things and more, we need to be grateful and take the time to appreciate our quality of life.
At the Green Building Research Institute, we work to improve the quality of life for people around the globe. The heartfelt wish of our staff as 2017 approaches is that the conflicts end once and for all. It may be a dream, but it is a worthy dream.
What is your wish for the global society in 2017?