/ 13 June 2010

Drop in wars doesn’t make the world any safer

The world has become less peaceful than last year, despite a drop in the number of armed conflicts, according to this year’s Global Peace Index.

The index shows that homicide rates and violent crime have increased around the world, particularly in Latin America, where levels of peacefulness showed the biggest slip in the past 12 months.

Figures show that Africa has become the most improved region over the past four years. The continent has experienced fewer conflicts, less military spending and improved cross-border relations.

But sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the planet’s least peaceful areas, with nine states featuring in the bottom 20 of the 149 countries listed. In the sub-Saharan region South Africa was ranked at 25, in the bottom 10 of the 35 listed. In the global rankings, it showed a marginal improvement, at 121, up two places from last year’s index.

The index has been published annually for the past four years by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think-tank that researches the relationship between economics, business and peace. The rankings, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, are calculated using 23 indicators, including violent crime, political stability and military expenditure, correlated against a number of social development indicators such as corruption, freedom of the press, respect for human rights and school enrolment rates.

The Middle East showed improvement in its levels of peacefulness since 2006, largely through decreasing military spending and improved relations between states.

South Asia has become the most volatile area, owing to increased involvement in conflicts and human rights abuses. This year Pakistan was ranked 145 out of the 149 states listed and India 129 — evidence, said Steve Killelea, founder of the index, of the impact of the war on terror.

For the second year running New Zealand is rated the world’s most peaceful country, with Iceland climbing back to second place after dropping from the top slot in 2008 to fourth place last year. Japan ranks third. Fifteen of the top 20 countries are Western or central European states and all Scandinavian countries are listed in the top 10, suggesting that small, stable, democratic countries are the most peaceful.

The US dropped two places to 85, largely because of its military expenditure, high prison population and increasing rates of violent crime and homicide. For the fourth year running, Iraq was found to be the least peaceful country, followed by Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan. Russia ranks 143.

The highest ranked country in Africa is Botswana, at 33. Killelea said Africa had experienced significant economic growth in the past decade, resulting in improved GDP across the continent, a drop in armed conflict and improvement in child mortality and education rates. But the continent still has a long way to go. “We don’t want to lose sight that Africa is the most violent region in the world,” he said.

The index authors estimated that the total economic impact of an end to violence could have been $28,2-trillion between 2006 and 2009. A 25% reduction in global violence would add an annual $1.85-trillion to the global economy. -­