World becoming more peaceful for the first time in five years


The average level of global peacefulness improved for the first time in five years, with large improvements shown by Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda and Ukraine, but the world remains considerably less peaceful now than a decade ago.

This is according to the thirteenth annual edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI), published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). The Institute found that 86 countries around the world improved their levels of peacefulness, and 76 recorded deteriorations.

“The 2019 GPI reveals a world in which the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, but new tensions within and between nations have emerged.”

Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark.

Afghanistan is now the least peaceful country in the world, replacing Syria, which is now the second least peaceful, the report found. South Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq comprise the remaining five least peaceful countries. This is the first year since the inception of the index that Yemen has been ranked amongst the five least peaceful countries, the Institute for Economics and Peace said.

Four of the nine regions in the world became more peaceful over the past year. The greatest increase in peacefulness occurred in the Russia and Eurasia region, followed by the Middle East and North Africa. In both of these regions, the number of deaths from conflict declined, owing to the de-escalation of violence in Ukraine and Syria respectively. The fall in conflict deaths has been mirrored by a fall in deaths from terrorism. All three regions in the Americas recorded a deterioration in peacefulness in the 2019 GPI.

“The trend in peacefulness since 2008 shows that global peacefulness has deteriorated by 3.78 per cent, with 81 GPI countries recording a deterioration, and 81 improving, highlighting that deteriorations in peacefulness are generally larger than improvements. The index has deteriorated for eight of the last twelve years, with the last improvement in peacefulness before 2019 occurring in 2014,” the IEP found.

Terrorism and internal conflict have been the greatest contributors to the global deterioration in peacefulness. One hundred and four countries recorded increased terrorist activity, while only 38 improved, and the total number of conflict deaths increased by 140 per cent between 2006 and 2017.

The report notes that contrary to public perception, the militarisation domain has recorded a 2.6 per cent improvement since 2008. The number of armed services personnel per 100,000 people has fallen in 117 countries, and military expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell in 98 countries, with only 63 countries increasing their spending.

The report said the economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2018 was $14.1 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. This figure is equivalent to 11.2 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product) or $1,853 for every person. The economic impact of violence improved by 3.3 per cent during 2018. The greatest improvement was in Armed Conflict, which decreased by 29 per cent to $672 billion, owing to a fall in the intensity of conflict in Syria, Colombia and Ukraine. There was also a substantial reduction in the economic impact of terrorism, which fell by 48 per cent from 2017 to 2018.

Middle East and North Africa

The Institute for Economics and Peace noted that peace in the Middle East and Africa improved marginally last year, based on improvements in 11 countries. There were regional reductions in population displacement, political terror, terrorism, deaths from internal and external armed conflicts, military spending, and armed services personnel. The 2019 GPI measurement year ended strongly with the military defeat of Islamic State.

Sudan recorded the largest improvement in the region, and second largest in the 2019 GPI overall, based on improvements in many indicators. Sudanese citizens ended the GPI year (March 2018 to March 2019) with four months of protests that were sparked by rising food prices and culminated in calls for the resignation of President Omar al-Bashir, who was eventually removed from power by the military on 11 April. While military leaders initially announced a two-year transition to civilian rule, protestors maintained a sit-in in the capital and General Ibn Auf, head of the military council, relinquished his leadership. At the time of writing the report, the transition was expected to proceed more swiftly in order to quell the unrest and restart the economy.

Egypt made the next largest improvement, the IEP said. The intensity of internal conflict and deaths from internal conflict both improved significantly, with the latter falling by half. However, the number and duration of both internal and external armed conflicts worsened. The likelihood of violent demonstrations abated, as did the impact of terrorism, and political stability also improved. However, political terror increased in the country. The country increased its UN peacekeeping funding and reduced its military expenditure (% GDP) and nuclear and heavy weapons capabilities. But weapons trading increased, with deteriorations in the scores for both weapons imports and weapons exports.

Qatar and Jordan made improvements whilst Yemen recorded the second largest deterioration, deteriorating. Yemen remains the site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Over 24 million people, or 80 per cent of the population, are in need of protection and assistance, while aid has been repeatedly blocked. Four years of military stalemate between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed and US armed Yemeni government continued into 2019.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Results in sub-Saharan Africa were mixed last year across both indicators and countries, the GPI report found. Twenty-seven of the region’s 44 countries deteriorated in peacefulness, leading to a weakening of all three domains of the GPI, while 12 of the region’s 23 indicators improved and eight deteriorated.

The region’s five largest country improvements were in Rwanda, The Gambia, Djibouti, Eswatini and Somalia. An improvement in internal conflicts fought boosted Somalia by one place in the 2019 GPI to rank 158, lifting it out of the five least peaceful countries in the world. The five worst deteriorations occurred in Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Togo, Sierra Leone and Namibia.

Militarisation was the region’s most peaceful domain, and the only one in which it outperforms the global average, although it deteriorated slightly last year because of reductions in UN peacekeeping funding and increases in nuclear and heavy weapons and the armed services personnel rate. On average, military expenditure (% GDP) and weapons imports improved, the report said.

Ongoing Conflict deteriorated on average in the region, based on deteriorations in 25 countries. Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Mali and Central African Republic had the worst escalations. Civil unrest flared in Zimbabwe at the start of the year, while 14 provinces in Burkina Faso are now under a state of emergency due to a growing number of militant attacks, including those bordering Mali. Promisingly, however, six armed groups in Central African Republic signed a peace agreement on 9 April, intending to put an end to more than six years of armed conflict in the country, the IEP said.

Improvements in Ongoing Conflict scores were recorded in five sub-Saharan African countries. In Ethiopia, deaths from internal conflict and internal conflicts fought improved even while external conflicts fought escalated. Eritrea saw its standing improve based on better relations with neighbouring countries: in the wake of the peace deal signed with Ethiopia and improved relations with the wider international community, the UN has lifted sanctions, including an arms embargo. However, tensions between the two countries remain.

Intensity of internal conflict improved significantly in The Gambia last year, reflecting the fact that there have been no instances of ethnic violence, which had been common in the past. A new President, Adama Barrow, was elected in 2019.

Nigeria’s improvement was based on a reduction in deaths from internal conflict. However, external conflicts fought escalated because of the government’s engagements in Mali and Somalia. Rwanda continued to improve, with the number and duration of internal conflicts declining.

Safety and Security was sub-Saharan Africa’s least peaceful domain and recorded the largest deterioration last year. While 18 countries improved, 24 deteriorated. The likelihood of violent demonstrations deteriorated most significantly, followed by the impact of terrorism. The incarceration rate rose on average last year, as did the homicide rate and perceptions of criminality. However, the expert assessment of the level of violent crime, improved on average, the IEP said.

Climate change

For the first time, the report analyses the security risks posed by climate change. An estimated 971 million people live in areas with high or very high climate change exposure. Of this number, 400 million (41 per cent) reside in countries which already have low levels of peacefulness. Climate change can indirectly increase the likelihood of violent conflict through its impacts on resource availability, livelihood, security and migration. In order to address these challenges, there will need to be much greater cooperation both within and between countries. Countries with high levels of Positive Peace are better able to manage climate-induced shocks and tend to have higher environmental performance than those with lower levels of Positive Peace, the Institute for Economics and Peace said.

“Going forward, climate change is going to be a substantial problem,” Steve Killelea, executive chairman of the IEP, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We can actually get a much better idea of which countries are most at risk, what are the types of risk and what would be the level of impact before it leads to a break or an implosion within the country.”

The effects of climate change can create a “tipping point”, exacerbating tensions until a breaking point is reached, particularly in countries that are already struggling, said Killelea.

Tackling entrenched conflicts may also help countries cooperate better on global warming, he said.

“Unless we have a world which is basically peaceful, it will be impossible to get the levels of trust and cooperation necessary to solve these problems,” he said.

Experts at global research organization the World Resources Institute praised the inclusion of climate change as a factor in conflict risk.

“We know that environmental degradation and water stress can lead to hunger, famine and displacement, and combined with economic and political instability, can lead to migration and conflict,” said Manish Bapna, managing director of the WRI.

“The fact that climate change is now part of the Global Peace Index underscores how multi-faceted this threat is and how quickly we need to act.”