The cost of the economic impact of violence on the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the last years was $9 trillion dollars, Michael Shank, Vice-President of the Institute for Economics and Peace, told correspondents today at Headquarters.

    Mr. Shank, who was addressing a press conference to mark the launch of the Global Peace Index for the year 2012, said, if that figure was reduced by 25 per cent, the world would save $2.25 trillion, of which $500 billion would be the share of the United States.  The cost had been arrived at by looking at the direct and dynamic costs of violence.  The direct cost covered such things as medical, judicial, and police expenditures while the dynamic long-term costs related to lost productivity that resulted from the acts of violence.

    Mr. Shank was joined at the press conference by Robert Powell, Senior Editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit and Daniel Hyslop, Research Manager of the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international non-profit research organization dedicated to shifting the world’s focus to peace as a positive achievable and tangible measure of human well-being and progress.

    Mr. Shank told reporters that this year the Global Peace Index, for the first time since its launch six years ago, included a positive peace index, which looks at attitudes, institutions and structures that, when strengthened, improved a country’s peacefulness.

    Notable findings in this years report included that the world had become slightly more peaceful, stopping a two-year downhill trend of becoming less peaceful, he went on.  The cost of violence, however, still remained quite high.

    Other positive trends included a reduction in political terror and political intimidation or repression of political rights and improved inclusion in the political process; fewer terrorist acts; less spending on military expenditure as a proportion of GDP; less spending on military sophistication and weaponization; and fewer heavy weapons.

There had also been negative trends, which were disconcerting and more domestic, including a rise in the perception of criminality in society; a rise in the likelihood of a violent demonstration; a rise in crime; a rise in homicide; and a rise in organized conflict.  Over the past 5 to 10 years, there had been a trend away from war between countries towards conflict between citizens and their own Governments.

    He explained that the Peace Index looked at eight factors that strongly correlated to more peaceful societies:  a well-functioning government; a sound business environment; equitable distribution of resources; free flow of information; acceptance of the rights of others; relations with neighbours; low corruption; and high education.  Countries that did well on those factors tended to be more peaceful.  An example was Iceland, which ranked number one on the Index for the second year in a row.  That was notable, because it also ranked high in the positive peace index, confirming that if a country did well in those eight factors, it was more resilient as a country to shocks.   Japan also ranked quite high and had been able to endure the tsunami and earthquake shocks.

    Mr. Shank said that the institute tried to provide a new understanding of the key drivers and measures related to peace, illuminating the increased benefits that came with improved peacefulness.

    In response to a question, Mr. Shank said that there was a strong correlation between mean years of schooling, infant mortality and life expectancy and peace.  Countries that were more peaceful had had more mean years of schooling, lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy.  In that regard, cuts in education and health were potentially problematic, moving a country towards violence and away from peace.  For every 10 slots that a country improved on the Global Peace Index, an improvement in GDP of $3,100 per capita was observed, on average.  Thus, there was a correlation between economics and peacefulness.

Mr. Hyslop added that the report did not go into the area of causality, but that a correlation had been established.

    Mr. Shank said that the Global Peace Index looked at 23 indicators, most of which had to do with violence and perception of violence.  Five had to do with ongoing conflict and deaths from those conflicts, while 10 had to do with safety and security in society.  The remaining eight had to do with militarization and military sophistication.

    He said that, on a regional basis, sub-Saharan Africa, for the first time, was not at the bottom, but had been replaced by the Middle East and North Africa.  Relations with neighbours had improved the most in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America, whereas in the Middle East, North Africa and North America, it had decreased substantially.

Mr. Hyslop said that Latin America did improve on the Global Peace Index, but that the greatest decrease was seen in Mexico, which had almost 30,000 deaths in 2011 from organized internal conflict.  There was, however, a reduction in terrorism in the region.

Mr. Hyslop added that the data used for the Index came mostly from publicly available sources and those provided by the Economic Intelligence Unit.   Colombia had a slight improvement in peace and in relations with neighbours, but was still the least peaceful country in Latin America.

    In terms of dramatic improvements on the Global Peace Index, Mr. Shank said that Sri Lanka went up 27 spots, making it the biggest riser, while Zimbabwe was the second.   Myanmar also saw strong improvements.

Mr. Hyslop said that countries that witnessed a drop were those that descended into conflict, including Syria, Egypt, Oman and Malawi.

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