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The World’s Most And Least Violent Countries, Mapped

About half the world is becoming more peaceful–and leaving the unlucky half behind.

The World’s Most And Least Violent Countries, Mapped
Syrian firefighters try to extinguish a fire at a bakery after it was hit by a barrel bomb dropped by Syrian regime forces in Ansari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on June 09, 2015 [Top Photo: Mamun Ebu Omer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Humanity may be more peaceful today than it ever has been, or so says writer and psychologist Steven Pinker. But it depends where you live. While some countries have reached historic levels of peace, others are becoming more violent.

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“It’s very much a story of inequality,” says Aubrey Fox, executive director of the U.S. office of the Institute for Economics and Peace, which recently released the 2015 Global Peace Index that maps out peace and violence around the world. “This is our ninth edition, and the scores at the top and bottom ten are either getting much better or much worse. It’s hugely concerning.”

It’s almost an even split: 81 countries became more peaceful over the last eight years, while 78 others–from Iraq and Syria to South Sudan–became less peaceful. The downward trend for those countries may be likely to continue. “If you look at these huge problems, like refugees and internally displaced people, terrorism, and the toll of internal conflicts, those tend to be very concentrated,” says Fox. “So you find countries just getting trapped in vicious cycles that are just very hard to pull themselves out of.”

The U.S., while not quite on the bottom half of the list, is one of the least peaceful economies of its size, thanks to high murder rates, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, involvement in wars, and shipping weapons overseas. It ranks below countries like Sierra Leone and Argentina.

Globally, violence costs the economy about $14.3 trillion a year, according to the report. “The challenge for the world is whether it can take some of the enormous amounts of money that’s being spent containing violence and invest it in the factors of a more peaceful society,” Fox says. “Right now we’re only spending a tiny fraction on building the factors of positive peace.”

“Positive peace” factors are things like good governance, getting rid of corruption, and equity–basically, the things that it takes to create a stable society. Investing in them creates a virtuous cycle, the researchers say: As violence comes down because of a stronger society, there’s more money available to invest in making things even more peaceful.

The challenge is whether countries will be willing to put up the money needed. It might mean diverting spending not just from something like the military, but perhaps also from less expected sources like disaster relief. “It’s a genuinely difficult challenge,” says Fox. “Even leaving aside the ruinous amounts of money we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you think about dollar flows to humanitarian crises–those crises were preceded by years and years and years of risk. Had the money been invested upstream, maybe there could have been a way to divert that situation into something more positive.”

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Building up a country for peace also takes longer than plunging into violence. “One of the issues for policymakers is that it might take a little while–there’s a time-frame issue,” he says. “There are some interesting questions around how you build support for things that might take longer.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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