Let me briefly specify six trends of particular concern to us:
One, wars are lasting much longer than they used to 20 years ago.
The ICRC – initially working on short-term emergency situations – is increasingly active in many places around the world for decades. In our ten largest operations, we have been on the ground for an average of 36 years.
Two, wars are more often fought in highly populated urban areas, and when high powered explosive weapons are used, large numbers of civilians are at risk of death, injury, but also of losing their infrastructure – water systems, electricity, and jobs.
These protracted, urban conflicts impact the basic health, water and sanitation systems, causing long-term, systemic impacts.
Three, increasingly the root causes of violence are unclear and difficult to address – they are often a tangled web of politically-motivated violence, terrorism and disproportionate reaction by states, inter-community and social violence, which often go hand-in-hand with economic crime. This also defies traditional legal concepts (like IHL, criminal and anti-terrorism legislation) and challenges us with complex overlap between the legal frameworks.
Four, armed actors are more numerous, more radical but also less political and less structured.
Our research shows that more than six times the number of armed groups have been created over the last six years than during the six decades before that.
Today only a third of conflicts are fought between two belligerent parties, and a fifth of conflicts have 10 or more parties involved. In a city like Taiz, Yemen, our colleagues recently counted around 40 armed groups, all of them in control of some territory, population and authority, making consensual humanitarian approaches and negotiation particularly challenging.
This makes core aspects of ICRC’s work – engagement with belligerents on IHL and access to victims – acutely more complicated and problematic.
Five, wars often involve partners, allies and coalitions – leading to a dilution of responsibility, fragmentation of chains of command and an unchecked flow of weapons.
There is also a trend of denying responsibility for IHL violations, including for direct or proxy partners – or of passing responsibility to someone else down the line.
This only increases the climate of impunity and ultimately causes yet more suffering.
And finally, as you know, we are on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution with increasingly sophisticated and more deadly weapons, but also the potential to harness technology to find new ways to provide humanitarian assistance.
In this environment we can’t afford to stand still when the gap between needs of populations affected by war and violence and our ability to respond gets bigger by the day.