Financial crisis fuels unrest, crime but eases war risk


The global financial crisis has made the world less peaceful by fuelling crime and civil unrest, a worldwide study released today shows, but the risk of outright armed conflict appears to be falling. Africa is also becoming safer, the study adds.

The 2010 Global Peace Index – which

examines several dozen indicators from the crime rate to defence spending, conflicts with neighbouring states and respect for human rights — showed an overall reduction in the level of peacefulness, Reuters reports. The key drivers were a five percent rise in homicide, more violent demonstrations and a perceived greater fear of crime.
“We have seen what looks like a direct impact from the crisis,” Steve Killelea, the Australian entrepreneur behind the index, told Reuters. “At least some unrest is probably unavoidable but the important thing is to target measures to keep it to a minimum.” That could mean ensuring any economic pain was equitably shared across society, he said, to maintain social cohesion.

Perhaps as a result of the more cash-strapped times, defence spending as a percentage of gross domestic product was down to its lowest in four years with countries also showing generally better relations with their neighbours. “In most areas of the world, war risk seems to be declining,” he said. “That is very important.”

The index is compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace based on data from the Economist Intelligence Unit. They estimate violence costs the global economy $7 trillion a year. A 25 percent reduction in violence would save about $1.7 trillion a year, enough to pay off Greece’s debt, fund the United Nations millennium development goals and pay for the European Union to reach its 2020 climate and carbon targets.
“There are such clear economic benefits to peace and it is something investors are now looking at much more closely,” he said, adding that some were using the index alongside the World Bank governance indicators and other key rating systems to inform investment decisions.
Africa getting safer

The struggling euro zone economies of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain showed a particular rise in unrest risks, while Africa and the Middle East were the only two regions to have become safer since the survey began in 2007. Africa had seen a drastic fall in the number of armed conflicts and an improvement in relations between neighbours, he said, overshadowing the impact of greater crime. Better ratings for the Middle East and North Africa came primarily from improving relations between nations.

The picture was still mixed for both regions. Ethiopia topped the list of “most improved” countries in 2010 while the world’s least peaceful countries were listed as Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan. New Zealand was listed as the world’s most peaceful country, followed by Iceland and Japan. South Africa ranked 121st out of 149 countries measured (there are about 200 nations). Namibia is 59th, Botswana 33rd, Zimbabwe 135th, Mozambique 47th and Angola 86th. The United States was 85th and Mexico, in the throws of a vicious drug war, 107th.

The worst performing region since 2007 has been South Asia, with conflict in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India hitting ratings, the study says. Russia’s rating was reduced by ongoing tensions with Georgia after their short war in 2008, while China was undermined by a rising risk of social unrest and increased defence spending, up some 15 percent in the last year. The United States accounted for 54 percent of global military spending, he said, with its conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere a potentially damaging distraction.
“You can easily make a case that if the United States had not been so be occupied with war in recent years they could have put much more energy and thought into the economy,” Killelea said.” Then we might not be where we are today.”

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