Global Peace Index Offers Critical Poverty Insights
The Institute for Economics and Peace, or IEP—a think tank with offices in New York, Mexico City and Sydney—has released the ninth edition of their Global Peace Index. The Index makes use of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators in an effort to illustrate the levels of peace around the world, highlight trends and inform policymakers.

Safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict, and the degree of militarization are the three facets that the IEP uses to gauge where global peace stands.

IEP views peace as a prerequisite to solving the major issues facing humanity. “It is a cross-cutting facilitator of progress, making it easier for individuals to produce, businesses to sell, entrepreneurs and scientists to innovate and governments to effectively regulate.”

Therefore, they study what makes societies peaceful in order to contribute to the debate on meeting the challenges facing a 21st century world.

They have identified eight pillars that are hallmarks of peaceful societies. A sound business environment, good relations with neighbors, high levels of human capital, acceptance of the rights of others, low levels of corruption, good governance, free flow of information and an equitable distribution of resources all help to establish peaceful societies. These pillars have complex interactions and “are both interdependent and mutually reinforcing, such that improvements in one factor would tend to strengthen others and vice versa.”

So, how is the world doing? The overall trend since the first edition, in 2008, has been a downward one. Although external conflict has significantly dropped, refugees and internally displaced persons, internal conflict, terrorism and violent demonstrations have more than taken up the slack, setting the stage for a less peaceful world.

Since last year, 81 countries have become more peaceful while 78 states have slipped. European countries continued their peaceful trajectory, while peace levels in the Middle East and North Africa have deteriorated significantly. The United States ranks 94 behind 21 African nations, and Iceland is the most peaceful country.

What is more shocking is that, by IEP calculations, violence cost the world $14.3 trillion in 2014, or 13.4 percent of global GDP. This cost has increased by 15.3 percent since 2008.

If the world was able to decrease violence by a meager 10 percent, enough money would be freed up to decuple (multiply by 10) the current level of official development assistance. This is important because IEP has also identified how closely aligned the Sustainable Development Goals are with the eight pillars of peace, implying that an increase in official development assistance would further reduce violence, putting into motion a virtuous cycle.

Although the idea that peace is beneficial for societies does not offer a radical new insight, IEP and their reports help quantify and illustrate just what type of violence is happening where, and why that may be.

For instance, IEP has found that high income inequality is associated with an increase in violence in urban environments, and that murder rates and urbanization are inversely correlated. These findings lay out a roadmap for policymakers to properly respond to and develop interventions that can help make the world a safer place.

John Wachter

Sources: Vision of Humanity 1, Vision of Humanity 2
Photo: Visionofhumanity

cost of violence
The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) released its 2014 estimates about the costs of wars and violence this June, and the numbers continue to disappoint. The think tank’s report, called the Global Peace Index (GPI,) found that the world spent $9.8 trillion on resolving violent conflicts. This number is up from the 2013 expenses of $9.46 trillion, and the GPI has reported rising costs since 2008.

$9.8 trillion, written as $9,800,000,000,000, is an enormous amount of money. To put this number in context, IEP founder Steve Killelea noted that “increases in the global economic impact of violence and its containment are equivalent to 19 percent of global economic growth from 2012 to 2013” and that the cost of violence for 2014 is “around $1,350 per person.” $9.8 trillion is 11.3 percent of the entire world’s GDP.

What is causing such large increases in violence and its economic impact? Internal strife and civil wars account for most of the problem. Furthermore, Europe, North America and most of Asia do not experience much conflict; violence seems to be localized in specific countries. According to the report, Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan were the countries most affected by violence, while Iraq, Pakistan, Russia and North Korea also were ranked highly.

While countries with more violence are not centered in a specific region, they all have high rates of poverty. Of the 500 million people living in countries with high rates of conflict, 200 million live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $2 per day. Poverty and conflict are closely linked, and strategies to reduce the global impact of war must also help the poor.

Despite the need to fight poverty as part of conflict resolution, the United States spends significantly more on its military than it does on international development. In 2014, USAID’s total budget was $47.8 billion. While this may seem large, the military’s budget request for 2014 was more than 10 times that amount, at $526.6 billion. The U.S. has the economic ability to fight poverty and reduce the amount it would need to spend on its military, but it prioritizes the military over foreign aid in international affairs.

The international development budget itself is not completely devoted to fighting poverty directly. USAID has allocated $8.6 billion to bolstering security forces abroad and has separate multi-billion dollar funds for funding the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the Feed the Future initiative, which works to eradicate hunger and root causes of extreme poverty, only gets $1.1 billion. The FAO estimates that the world must provide $30 billion per year to completely eliminate hunger; while this is affordable to the USAID even without redirecting military spending, it is not being done.

Although international conflict has greatly decreased in the last few decades, the rise of civil unrest has made violence more prevalent in certain countries and more costly to the whole world. Spending extra money to eliminate poverty may prove to be a strong long-term investment: as poverty decreases, expensive wars happen less often. The U.S. in particular can afford to shift some of its military budget to efforts to feed the hungry and fight poverty. In doing so, it can ultimately reduce both its military and foreign aid spending in the future.

 — Ted Rappleye

Sources: The Guardian, FAO, USAID, US Department of Defense
Photo: USAID