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27.5.2020 : 10:32 : +0200

Non-lethal Violence

The lethal impact of modern war extends far beyond the number of soldiers and civilians who die violently in armed combat or clashes. Although male and female combatants are the most obvious casualties, armed conflicts also contribute to excess mortality and morbidity in the civilian population—largely through the spread of infectious disease, destruction of assets, the loss of entitlements, and the diversion of scarce resources away from basic services.


  • A reasonable estimate would be an average ratio of four indirect deaths to one direct death in contemporary conflicts.
  • That would represent at least 200,000 indirect conflict deaths per year, and possibly many more.

Armed conflict generates a series of lethal but indirect impacts on communities. In the short term, indirect victims of armed conflict die from a variety of specific causes:

  • easily preventable diseases such as dysentery or measles.
  • hunger and malnutrition.

These deaths are a result of the loss of access to basic health care, adequate food and shelter, clean water, or other necessities of life. In the long run, armed conflict affects mortality by its destructive impact:

  • on the national economy and infrastructure (including health facilities).
  • on social cohesion.
  • on psychological health and well-being.

All of these factors can negatively affect the prospects for post-conflict peace-building.

Understanding the geographical and demographic patterns of indirect conflict death rates is crucial, not only to enable practitioners to design adequate humanitarian responses, but also to promote meaningful strategies for the reconciliation of war-torn societies.


Small Arms Survey Publications

  • Beyond the Battlefield: Towards a Better Assessment of the Human Cost of Armed Conflict, by Erik Alda and Claire Mc Evoy. Briefing Paper, September 2017.

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  • Tackling Violence against Women: From Knowledge to Practical Initiatives, by Jennifer Milliken with Elisabeth Gilgen and Jasna Lazaravic, published by the Geneva Declaration Secretariat, June 2011. 

  • Global Burden of Armed Violence 2008, by the Geneva Declaration Secretariat, September 2008.

  • Armed Violence Prevention and Reduction: A Challenge for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, by Keith Krause and Robert Muggah, June 2008

  • Armed and Aimless: Armed Groups, Guns, and Human Security in the ECOWAS Region, edited by Nicolas Florquin and Eric G. Berman, May 2005 (also available in French).

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Other Publications

  • Human Security Report Project. 2010. Human Security Report 2009/2010: The Causes of Peace and the Shrinking Costs of War. New York: Oxford University Press.

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  • Guha-Sapir, Debarati and Olivier Degomme. 2006. Counting the Deaths in Darfur, estimating mortality from multiple survey data. Households in Conflict Network Working Paper. Brighton: Households in Conflict Network.

  • Checchi, Francesco and Les Roberts. 2005. Interpreting and using mortality data in humanitarian emergencies: A primer for non-epidemiologists. Network Paper No. 52. London: Humanitarian Practice Network.

  • Mathers, Colin D., et al. 2005. Counting the Dead and What They Died From: An Assessment of the Global Status of Cause of Death Data. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Vol. 83, No. 3. March, pp. 171-180.

  • Human Security Centre. 2005. Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

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  • Li, Quan and Ming Wen. 2005. The Immediate and Lingering Effects of Armed Conflict on Adult Mortality: A Time-Series Cross-National Analysis. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 42, No. 4. Pp. 471–492.

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  • Ghobarah, Hazem, Paul Huth, and Bruce Russett. 2002. Civil Wars Kill and Maim People—Long After the Shooting Stops. Leitner Working Paper 2002-10. New Haven: Leitner Program.

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