Middle East and North Africa continues to be the world’s least peaceful region

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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remains the least peaceful region of the world – a ranking it has held for nine consecutive years, according to the latest Global Peace Index (GPI) report.

The 18th edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks 163 states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. The report, produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), states that four of the ten least peaceful countries on the 2024 GPI are in the MENA region.

The region recorded a small deterioration in peacefulness over the past year after several years of improvements. There were deteriorations on the deaths from internal conflict, deaths from external conflict, and neighbouring countries relations indicators, driven by the conflicts in Gaza and Sudan and the associated increase in regional unrest. Tensions in the region remain extremely high as of early 2024.

The most notable falls in peacefulness in the region occurred because of the October 7th terrorist attack in Israel, and the subsequent retaliatory military action by Israel in Gaza. Latest estimates suggest that over 35 000 people have been killed in the conflict, although the true number is likely to be far higher.

The conflict has also thrown the entire Middle East region into crisis, with Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Yemen becoming involved. The risk of open warfare remains high, the IEP warned.

Yemen is the least peaceful country in the region and the least peaceful country overall on the 2024 GPI. This is the first time that it has been ranked at the bottom of the index. Peacefulness in Yemen fell over the past year, owing to deteriorations on the violent demonstrations, political instability, and neighbouring countries relations indicators. Yemen’s internal political instability has worsened in the past year due to deteriorating living conditions and rising social unrest. The internal strife in Yemen has been further exacerbated by regional tensions stemming from the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The Houthis’ missile and drone assaults against Israeli targets intensified instability in the region by threatening critical maritime routes through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. In response to these attacks the US and UK have intensified their military involvement in Yemen by launching missile, drone, and airstrikes against the group’s sites in northern Yemen since January 2024. This escalation represents a significant externalisation of Yemen’s civil conflict.

Although much of the attention in the region has been focused on the conflict in Gaza, there was also a significant deterioration in peacefulness in Sudan. Conflict erupted in April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) after a plan to dissolve the RSF and integrate it with the army was proposed. The armed conflict has led to the displacement of millions of people. There have been reports of violent clashes and targeted attacks against civilians, with the RSF reported to have massacred 15 000 people in West Darfur in June 2023 with some estimates placing the total number of people killed at 150 000 since the war began. The increasing civil unrest and lawlessness has meant that humanitarian agencies and multilateral organisations are unable to safely operate in most locations, including in the capital city Khartoum.

After Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Ukraine are the other least peaceful countries.

Globally, the IEP found that the average level of peacefulness had deteriorated once again, with 56 active conflicts raging around the world – the most since the end of the Second World War, and with fewer conflicts being resolved.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the second least peaceful region of the world behind the Middle East and North Africa, with three of the ten least peaceful countries in the world found south of the Sahara.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces several security crises, most notably the increase in political unrest and terrorism in the Central Sahel region. Burkina Faso has the highest terrorism impact of any country in the world, and five of the ten countries with the highest terrorism impact are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The IEP report finds that conflicts are becoming more internationalised, with 92 countries now engaged in a conflict beyond their borders, the most since the inception of the GPI in 2008, complicating negotiation processes for a lasting peace and prolonging conflicts. The internationalisation of conflict is driven by increased great power competition and the rise of middle level powers, who are becoming more active in their regions.

The combination of these factors means that the likelihood of another major conflict is higher than at any time since the inception of the GPI.

The 2024 GPI says there has been a significant rise in both conflicts and battle deaths in the past two decades, with battle deaths reaching a thirty-year high in 2022. Regional conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war and the Gaza conflict illustrate the devastating human cost and the complexity of modern warfare. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has seen over 2 000 fatalities per month for almost every month in the past two years, while neither side is making significant gains. The Gaza conflict has resulted in over 35 000 deaths since October 2023, resulting in a severe humanitarian crisis. These conflicts are examples of ‘forever wars’, where prolonged violence becomes seemingly endless without clear resolutions, exacerbated by external military support, asymmetric warfare, and geopolitical rivalries.