Peace is in serious danger in the world today. This is the finding of the latest report of the Global Peace Index released by the international think-tank, Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP). According to the report, peacefulness declined to the lowest level in 15 years fuelled by post-COVID economic uncertainty and the Ukraine conflict.
The 16th edition of the annual Global Peace Index (GPI) reveals that the average level of global peacefulness deteriorated by 0.3% in 2021, marking the eleventh deterioration in peacefulness in the last fourteen years, with 90 countries improving, and 71 deteriorating.
As in previous years, Iceland was found to be the most peaceful country in 2021. It is followed by New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark and Austria. For the fifth consecutive year, Afghanistan is the least peaceful country, followed by Yemen, Syria, Russia and South Sudan. Seven of the ten countries at the top of the GPI are in Europe. Two of the five countries with the largest deteriorations in peacefulness were Russia and the Ukraine followed by Guinea, Burkina Faso and Haiti. All these deteriorations were due to the ongoing conflict.
Of the 23 indicators in the GPI, the largest deteriorations were recorded in neighbouring country relations, intensity of internal conflict, refugees and IDPs, political terror scale and political instability. Twenty-eight countries have high levels of instability, and ten countries recorded the worst possible political terror score. On the other hand, the global inequality in peacefulness increased in 2021. Since 2008, the 25 least peaceful countries deteriorated on average by 16%, while the 25 most peaceful countries improved by 5.1%.
The shrinking space for peace was accompanied by rising violence whose cost to the global economy in 2021 was $16.5 trillion, or 10.9% of global GDP, which is the equivalent to $2,117 per person. For the ten countries most affected by violence, the average economic impact was equivalent to 34% of GDP, compared to 3.6% in the countries least affected.
However, there were substantial improvements for several indicators, including terrorism impact, nuclear and heavy weapons, deaths from internal conflict and military expenditure. On the positive side, military spending as a percentage of GDP decreased in 94 countries. However, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and the potential increase in military spending by NATO countries to 2% of GDP, may lead to deterioration in future years.
Although the full impact of the Ukraine-Russia war is still being felt, it has had a significant effect on the index. Many European nations near Russia have seen scores deteriorate for relations with neighbours, including Finland, Sweden, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova.
The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the prospects of peace in the world. Countries that had become more peaceful experienced outbreaks of protests and violence aimed at governments’ handling of the pandemic. The intensity of violent demonstrations has increased by 49% since 2008, with 126 of the 163 countries in the index deteriorating. This is a global trend, affecting all regions of the world.
South Asia was the region with the highest frequency and intensity of violent demonstrations where India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan recorded their highest levels since the inception of the GPI. In Europe, there were widespread anti-lockdown protests, especially in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Croatia and the UK, with similar developments in North America.
According to the peace index, the number of countries experiencing violent internal conflict rose from 29 to 38, but the number of people killed in internal conflicts has fallen since 2017. The number of forcibly displaced people around the world increased from 31 million in 2008, to over 88 million in 2022. In 17 countries at least 5% of the population are either refugees or internally displaced. South Sudan has over 35% of its population displaced, while Somalia and the Central African Republic have more than 20%.
Russia and Eurasia experienced the largest deterioration in peacefulness, driven by deteriorations in conflict deaths, refugees and IDPs, political instability and political terror. Asia-Pacific recorded an increase in peacefulness, driven by improvements in all three GPI domains with the largest occurring in Safety and Security. In North America, the US had the lowest level of peacefulness since 2008, with civil unrest spiking progressively.
Violent crime increased in Central America and the Caribbean by 4.4% in 2021 to reach the highest level since 2008. Haiti had the largest deterioration in the region. MENA recorded the second biggest improvement globally. Yemen is the least peaceful country in the region for the second consecutive year. Libya recorded the largest improvement in peacefulness globally. Sub-Saharan Africa recorded a 1% deterioration. South Sudan remains the least peaceful country in the region, despite an overall improvement.