The world has become less peaceful over the past decade, according to the latest Global Peace Index, now in its tenth year. Though levels of terrorism and conflict have increased across the globe, the Middle East and North Africa suffered the brunt of this deterioration.
The Global Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, is the world's leading measure of peacefulness. It gauges on-going domestic and international conflict, safety and security in society, and the degree of militarisation in 163 countries and territories. The latest edition, released last month, analyses these trends over the past ten years. Iceland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, and Portugal top the ranks as the world's five most peaceful countries. Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia are at the bottom of the ranking.
The Middle East and North Africa was the least peaceful region, a trend going back to 2014. Three-quarters of the countries in the region are involved in conflict in some capacity. This year, 11 Middle-Eastern and North African states ranked among the world's 30 least peaceful countries, which is the worst performance for a region in the history of the Index. In contrast, a decade ago only six countries from the region were among the least peaceful. In fact, three of the five biggest declines in peace in 2015, according to the Index, were in Yemen and Libya, which are both dealing with conflict at home, and Bahrain, where attacks have increased amid Shia-Sunni tensions. The overall decline in the region reflects the spill-over of conflict across borders in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Middle East and North Africa was the least peaceful region.
The consequences of this spill-over is seen in the growing number of refugees and internally displaced people around the world. The majority of refugees from conflict in the Middle East and North Africa are hosted in nearby countries. Turkey hosts nearly two million Syrian refugees whilst Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran host more than one million people each who are fleeing from conflict in Afghanistan or Syria.
The spread of terrorist violence is another consequence, and not just in the Middle East and North Africa. From 2000 to 2013 Cameroon recorded no deaths from terrorism, but in 2014 the African nation suffered at least 530 deaths in violence from Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Similarly, Iraq and Turkey have seen dramatic increases in terrorism in the last few years due, in part, to groups active in the Syrian civil war.
The least peaceful countries in the world are also all embroiled in conflicts with increasing involvement from external actors. Syria, where a civil war has been raging since 2011, has been the least peaceful country in the Index for the past four years. Syria's conflict continues to be the world's deadliest, with at least 470,000 deaths since the start of the war, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research. It has also been the source of the vast majority of refugees and internally displaced people. In 2007, 0.1 per cent of the Syrian population was classified as refugees or internally displaced; in 2015 that figure was 60 per cent. Most were internally displaced, but more and more have begun to leave the country, triggering the so-called European refugee crisis.
South Sudan was the second least peaceful country last year, according to the Index. The civil war, which began in 2013 over political tensions that deteriorated into ethnic violence, caused an estimated 3,500 battle-related deaths. More than two million were displaced. A recent surge in violence in the capital Juba has put paid to hopes for long-term peace following the signing of a peace deal last year.
Iraq is the country where terrorism has had the highest impact since 2004.
Iraq, meanwhile, continues to see political instability and internal conflict, with a six per cent deterioration in peace since 2008, the Index found. In 2014 Iraq saw around 14,000 battle-related deaths from conflict between Iraq's government and ISIS. Iraq also suffered the world's highest death toll from terrorism, with around 10,000 fatalities in 2014. ISIS was responsible for the majority of these. Iraq is the country where terrorism has had the highest impact since 2004, according to our findings. Deaths from terrorism in Iraq started to increase at the time of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The fatalities from terrorism in Iraq between 1998 and 2002 were a fifth of the total death toll from terrorism in the country in 2003, according to figures from the Global Terrorism Database.
The world represented in the findings of the tenth edition of the Global Peace Index is more fractured and less secure than it was ten years ago. But it is still a world that struggles to elevate prevention and the drivers of peace. There is a clear incentive to prevent conflicts from escalating. Increased spending on prevention also makes economic sense. Last year, spending on peacebuilding and peacekeeping was equivalent to only two per cent of the more than 742 billion dollars of economic loss caused by conflict. If only a fraction of these losses were averted through prevention, we would see considerable dividends.