In 2019, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded 29,499 deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons around the world, as reported in English language media. Civilians continued to bear the burden of harm, accounting for 66% (or 19,407) of total casualties (killed and injured).
For the ninth consecutive year, when explosive weapons were used in populated areas, over 90% of those killed and injured were civilians. 17,904 civilian casualties were recorded in populated areas, whereas 1,503 civilian casualties were killed in injured in areas not reported as populated.
Whilst civilian casualties continued to fall, with a 13% decrease in civilian casualties from explosive weapons in 2019 compared to 2018, some countries saw sharp rises. Afghanistan saw a 9% rise in civilian harm (with 4,268 civilian casualties in 2018 to 4,638 in 2019); Somalia saw a 14% rise (with 832 in 2018 and 945 in 2019); and Libya saw a 131% rise (with 392 in 2018 to 900 in 2019).
Sri Lanka, India, Philippines, Turkey, Gaza, Egypt, Colombia and Myanmar were also among some of the most impacted countries and territories that saw a growth in civilian harm from explosive weapons.
The number of incidents recorded in Afghanistan is the highest since AOAV began recording such data in 2011, with 822 incidents of explosive violence recorded last year. The rise in Afghanistan was part of a continued surge in violence seen in the country over the last few years. While in 2018 this had been attributed to an increasing ISIS presence, last year saw a notable rise in Taliban violence. There was an increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan from all of the main weapon types recorded, including airstrikes. Nevertheless, the increase appears largely to be down to Taliban explosive violence, with a 187% increase in civilian casualties from their use of explosive weapons (from 661 civilian casualties in 2018 to 1,896 in 2019). Total casualties from Taliban explosive violence increased by 204%. However, as in 2018, last year saw many instances where the perpetrator in Afghanistan was unknown. 1,535 civilian casualties were due to non-state actor use of explosive weapons where the perpetrator was unknown, as it is often challenging to ascertain whether violence was committed by ISIS or the Taliban.
In Somalia, the rise in civilian harm is due to increased harm from attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs). After a 47% decrease in total civilian casualties in Somalia between 2017 and 2018, the 14% rise last year is concerning. Of note, though, is that while the number of civilian casualties has increased, the number of attacks has actually decreased. This may reflect a change in Al Shabaab’s tactics, with a greater proportion of attacks occurring in populated areas.
In Libya, it is the rise in airstrikes and shelling that account for the rise in civilian casualties. Airstrikes accounted for 72% of civilian casualties in 2019 and shelling for 19%. The levels of casualties in Libya have been increasing since Haftar’s forces launched an offensive to seize the capital early last year.
The 125 incidents recorded in Libya in 2019 is the highest since 2011, when 134 were recorded.
Whilst Syria remained the country worst impacted by explosive weapons last year, casualties decreased by about one quarter, compared to the previous year; with 9,587 civilian casualties recorded in 2018 to 7,268 last year. Despite the fall in casualties, the number of incidents recorded (1,481) is the second highest year since AOAV began recording in 2011. While there was a spike in casualties over June and July, casualties appeared to be decreasing in general across the country. However, the US withdrawal in October and subsequent Turkish offensive sparked a rise in casualties over the last few months of the year. Having seen civilian casualties decrease to 145 in September 2019, October and November saw over 750 civilian casualties per month, while December fell to 617. Civilian casualties from Russian and regime airstrikes also increased over this period.
In total, manufactured weapons caused 51% of global civilian harm from explosive weapons, while improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused 49%. (This calculation does not include civilian casualties from landmines, as these may in some case include improvised landmines where the nature of the mine is not clear, or attacks that used multiple types of explosive weapons, though the large majority of these are likely to be manufactured weapons.) When manufactured weapon harm is broken down further, airstrikes caused 29% of total civilian casualties, ground-launched explosives caused 20%.
The number of incidents recorded for airstrikes last year (1,305) was the second highest since AOAV began recording in 2011, only beaten by 2017 (1,647). 2019 also saw the highest number of ground-launched incidents (1,067) since AOAV data began. There were 133 suicide attacks in 2019, causing the majority of IED harm, killing or injuring some 5,131 people.
58 countries and territories around the world saw incidents of explosive violence. This is six less than recorded the previous year.
- AOAV recorded 29,499 deaths and injuries by explosive weapons in 3,814 incidents in 2019. Of these, 19,407 were civilians – 66% of total casualties.
- When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 91% of those killed and injured were civilians. This compares to 15% in other areas.
- Civilian deaths and injuries in populated areas represented 92% of all reported civilian deaths and injuries.
- Overall, reported casualties from explosive violence are decreasing, with a 13% fall in civilian casualties; from 19,407 civilian casualties recorded in 2019, compared to 22,350 the previous year.
- Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya saw the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries in 2019.
- Eight countries and territories saw over 500 civilian deaths and injuries in 2019 – one more than the previous year.
- Syria saw over 8,797 deaths and injuries – of which 83% were civilians.
- Some of the most impacted countries saw a significant rise in civilian deaths and injuries as a result of explosive weapons compared to the year before: Afghanistan (with a 9% rise), Somalia (with a 14% rise) and Libya (with a 131% rise).
- Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, Turkey, Gaza, Egypt, Colombia and Myanmar were also among some of the most impacted countries and territories that saw a growth in civilian harm from explosive weapons. Incidents were recorded in 58 countries and territories around the world; six less than in 2018.
Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), said of the findings: “While the general shift is towards a reduction in explosive harm globally, some countries are seeing concerning increases in violence. As 2020 shows a real potential for renewed war in the Middle East, 2019 reminds us how fragile any peace can be.”
More detailed 2019 data will be published later in the year.
AOAV is a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), a coalition of NGOs working to prevent the suffering caused by explosive weapons. UK based organisations Oxfam International and Save the Children are also members.
For more information on this report, please contact Iain Overton, AOAV’s Executive Director on +44 (0) 7984 645 145 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors:
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) is a London-based charity that has a central mission: to carry out research and advocacy in order to reduce the incidence and impact of global armed violence. We seek to strengthen international laws and standards on the availability and use of conventional and improvised weapons, to build recognition of the rights of victims and survivors of armed violence, and to research the root causes and consequences of armed violence in affected countries.