Tuesday 8 June 2010 12.59 BST
The Global Peace Index records less armed conflict, but increasing rates of homicide and violent crime across the world
The world has become less peaceful over the last year, despite a drop in the number of armed conflicts, according to this year's Global Peace Index (GPI).
Figures published today show homicide rates and violent crime had increased around the world, particularly in Latin America, where levels of peacefulness showed the biggest slip over the past 12 months.
The GPI has been published annually for the last four years by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global thinktank that researches the relationship between economics, business and peace. The rankings, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, are calculated using 23 indicators, such as 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.
Figures show that Africa has become the most improved region of the world for peacefulness over the last four years. The continent has experienced fewer conflicts, less military spending and improved cross-border relations. However, sub-Saharan Africa still remains one of the planet's least peaceful areas, with nine states featuring in the bottom 20 countries listed.
The Middle East has also shown improvements in its levels of peacefulness since 2006, largely through decreasing military spending and improved relations between states.
However, South Asia has become the most volatile area over the last four years, mainly due to increased involvement in conflicts and human rights abuses. This year, Pakistan was ranked 145 out of the 149 states listed and India ranked 129, evidence, says Steve Killelea, founder of the GPI [and an International Trustee of Religions for Peace] , of the impact of the war on terror.
Levels of peace
For the second year running, New Zealand is rated the most peaceful country in the world, with Iceland climbing back up to second place, after dropping from the top slot in 2008 to fourth place last year. Japan ranked 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 UK was ranked 31, one of the few countries to improve positions, while the US dropped two places to 85, largely due to 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 ranked 143.
This year, five extra countries were added to the index Armenia, Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Swaziland, which ranked 113, 63, 99, 53 and 73 respectively.
In a sense, the GPI make a case for peace putting a monetary value on peace in terms of business growth and economic development. The index authors estimate that the total economic impact of an end to violence could have been US$28.2tr between 2006 and 2009. A 25% reduction in global violence would add an annual $1.85tr to the global economy. Killelea said these amounts could pay off Greece's debts, meet the yearly requirements needed to hit the Millennium Development Goals and pay for the EU's carbon reduction programme, and still leave change.
The rankings could provide useful backing to donor governments rethinking their aid strategies. The UK government is currently reviewing the countries to which it gives aid and has set up a National Security Council to pull together plans for development and defence. In a speech last week, the international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, spoke of the importance of building "peaceful and stable societies abroad", with particular reference to Afghanistan.
"It's highly appropriate to look at the index and review how we go about giving aid. In the past, a lot of it was giving on a political whim, to prop up some government," said Killelea. "You need the right resources and approaches to build a well functioning government and make sure resources are spread around the people." A government would also save "hundreds of billions of dollars" in military expenditure.
Africa, he added, had experienced significant economic growth over the last decade, which had resulted in improved GDP across the continent, a drop in armed conflict and improvements in child mortality and education rates. But Killelea the continent still had 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 highest ranked country in Africa is Botswana, at 33. Uganda ranked 100 this year, an improvement on last year. However, Killelea noted that while the country had clearly improved in a number of areas, particularly in terms of economic growth, political instability, a worsening respect for human rights and an increasing number of deaths from organised crime remained major problems.