Conflict And Terrorism Cost The World Trillions, Says Peace Index

By Sam Jones | Global peace index, which ranks Syria bottom and Iceland top, says political instability, terrorism and conflict cost the global economy $13.6tn last year.

The world’s expensive slide into violence and unrest continued last year, with conflict, terrorism and political instability costing the global economy $13.6tn (£9.3tn), according to the annual global peace index.

The 2016 index, which analysed 163 countries and territories, rates Syria the least peaceful country, followed by South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The world’s most peaceful countries are Iceland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and Portugal.

While levels of peace improved in 81 countries, the gains were undermined by larger deteriorations in another 79, meaning that peace declined at a faster rate than in the previous year. Among the greatest destabilising factors were terrorism, political turmoil, and the intensification and persistence of wars in Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic and Libya.

The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) is once again the least peaceful region. Three of the five biggest declines in peace occurred in the region – Yemen, Libya and Bahrain – and violence and conflict in Mena are so fierce that, when considered separately, peace in the rest of the world improved.

“The historic 10-year deterioration in peace has largely been driven by the intensifying conflicts in the Mena region,” says the report. “Terrorism is also at an all-time high, battle deaths from conflict are at a 25-year high, and the number of refugees and displaced people are at a level not seen in 60 years.

“Notably, the sources for these three dynamics are intertwined and driven by a small number of countries, demonstrating the global repercussions of breakdowns in peacefulness.”

Steve Killelea, the founder and executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) thinktank, which produces the index, said the consequences of conflicts in Middle Eastern and north African countries are being felt well beyond their borders.

“As internal conflicts in Mena become more entrenched, external parties are increasingly becoming more involved and the potential for indirect or ‘war by proxy’ between nation states is rising,” he said.

The effects of violence have manifested themselves in the numbers of refugees and internally displaced people: by the beginning of 2015, a record 59.5 million people – one in every 122 humans – were either refugees, internally displaced or seeking asylum.

According to the index, nine countries now have more than 10% of their population displaced. In South Sudan and Somalia, 20% have fled their homes. In Syria, the proportion is more than 60%.

A man walks through the rubble following airstrikes by government forces on the Shaar neighbourhood of the Syrian city of Aleppo in March 2015. Photograph: Zein Al-Rifai/AFP/Getty
A man walks through the rubble following airstrikes by government forces on the Shaar neighbourhood of the Syrian city of Aleppo in March 2015.
Photograph: Zein Al-Rifai/AFP/Getty

The report notes that although most terrorist activity is concentrated in five countries – Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan – the global impact is increasing.

“Deaths from terrorism increased by 80% from last year’s report, with only 69 countries not recording a terrorist incident,” says the index. “The intensity of terrorism also increased with the number of countries suffering more than 500 deaths from terrorist acts more than doubling, up from five to 11.”

South Asia remains the second least peaceful region, with deteriorations in Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and India, but modest improvements in Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The picture in sub-Saharan Africa is mixed: although Chad, Mauritania and Niger have all improved their relations with neighbouring countries, Islamist terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and continuing violence in South Sudan have damaged efforts to bring peace and stability.

The sums lost through conflict are huge. The IEP said the $13.6tn cost of violence last year represented 13.3% of gross world product – or $1,876 per person – and was equivalent to 11 times the amount spent on foreign direct investment.

The UN expects to spend $8bn (£5.5bn) on peacekeeping this year – an increase of 17% on 2015. But Killelea argues that the sums spent on building and keeping peace are small in comparison with the economic impact of violence, and represent only 2% of worldwide losses from armed conflict.

“Addressing the global disparity in peace and achieving an overall 10% decrease in the economic impact of violence would produce a peace dividend of $1.36tn,” he said. “This is approximately equivalent to the size of world food exports.”

As well as calling on the international community to promote peace, the report urges it to monitor peacefulness through the sustainable development goal on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies. Its audit of the existing data for goal 16 finds that while there is enough data to measure progress, more work needs to be done on data availability, disaggregation, reliability, timeliness and objectivity.

“It will take significant time and investment for countries to develop the necessary capacities to measure goal 16,” concludes the index.

First published in 2008, the GPI ranks nations by gauging peace according to safety and security in society, levels of domestic and international conflict, and militarisation.



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