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The geography of conflict - Conflict today

The geography of conflict

This lesson looks at the difference between war and conflict and where conflict is happenig in the world.

Key questions

  • What is conflict?
  • What conflicts am I aware of?
  • What is the pattern of conflict in the world today?

Key concepts

  • Place
  • Space
  • Scale

What is the difference between a conflict and a war? Does it matter and do we need to distinguish between the two?

Conflict can be defined as a state of discord caused by the actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests. War is a conflict among political groups involving hostilities of considerable duration and magnitude. In addition, the UN defines ‘major wars' as conflicts inflicting over 1000 battle deaths in a year. Therefore war can also be described as a conflict but conflict may not necessarily be described as a war. These definitions suggest that war is on a larger scale to conflict, both in terms of casualties, area involved and time engaged. Whilst it may not matter superficially whether a conflict is termed a conflict or a war, it is obviously more politically advantageous to be on the losing side of a conflict than on the losing side of a war.

The pattern of conflict in the world is uneven. As of mid 2005 there were eight major wars in the world (a reduction from 15 in 2003) and approximately 24 other conflicts of varying degrees of intensity. Most of these are civil wars where the victims are mostly civilians. In World War One less than five per cent of the casualties were civilians however, today the figure is nearer 75%. Most wars today are concentrated in Africa, the continent has seen over 20 civil wars since 1960.

For further information and full reports and PowerPoints covering a number of different conflicts, visit the World Conflicts Today website. Alternatively, a map showing current conflict in the world can be viewed on the Global Security website.





Definitions of conflict and war

What do you think the words conflict and war mean? Is there is a difference between the two terms?

Write your own definitions of the two words, then join up with another person and see how your answers compare. Come up with a joint definition which you can then share with another pair.

Share your ideas with the rest of the class.

The definitions of conflict PowerPoint presentation gives some definitions of the two terms. How did you answers compare?

Now complete the first two sections of the KWL grid. It asks you to write down what you already know about conflict, and what you would like to learn during the course of this unit. At the end of the unit, you will complete the final section with things that you have learnt.



What conflicts have I heard of?

In the interactive activity your task is to sort different conflicts into those that you have heard of, and those that you have not. You will also get the opportunity to find out a bit more about the conflicts, and then to sort them chronologically, i.e. in order of how recently they occurred.

Patterns of conflict today

The patterns of conflict table provides you with information about conflicts around the world today, including their location, when they started, and the number of casualties to date. How could you display this information on a map?

Design and create your own map to show this information. You can base it on a blank outline map of the world (download one for free from the Maps International website), or create your own map from scratch.

The modelling a map PowerPoint presentation might give you some ideas for designing your map.

  • Is the map shown a good map?
  • What is good about it?
  • What could be improved?



Describing patterns on a map

On the describing patterns on a map sheet describe the patterns that your map shows. The accompanying PowerPoint will give you some tips for how to do this.

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