In 1996, there were 22 major armed conflicts worldwide. In 2003, there were 19 such conflicts, the second-lowest annual number since 1990. Yet it is difficult to claim that there has been significant progress in mediating and resolving conflict. For example, today there are 25 million people in 52 countries who are internally displaced by violence and persecution, broadly the same number as in the mid-1990s.
There have been some notable achievements over the last decade. The long-standing conflict in Angola, still active in 1996, has finally been laid to rest. Huge efforts have been made to bring a resolution to conflicts in Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Yet for every step forward – the ongoing peace process in Sudan after two decades of war between the government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, for example – there seems to be a step back, as a new conflict erupts elsewhere or, in the case of Darfur, in a different area of the same country. Far from seeming safer, the world at the beginning of the 21st century appears more riven by conflict and fear – and its dominant political discourse to be one of war.
UNICEF and its partner agencies are dedicating a large proportion of their resources to addressing the social and economic inequalities that can lead to violence. By emphasizing outreach to vulnerable groups, including girls, rural communities and the poor, these programmes combat marginalization, defuse tensions and promote effective social integration. UNICEF’s role in lobbying governments to pursue equitable development policies has expanded over the past decade and is helping to equip communities with the tools they need to resolve issues peaceably.