Global Burden of Armed Violence 2015

Chapter One:
Violence, Security, and the New Global Development Agenda

Introduction & Chapter Summary

The many and complex manifestations of contemporary armed violence have a wide array of negative—and occasionally positive—impacts on the development of states and societies, as well as on the well-being of communities.1 In recent years numerous studies have provided evidence of the linkages between security, violence, and development.2 In addition, various analyses have examined the regional, national, sub-national, and local effects of violence on development.3

Although the evidence is often only partial, it highlights two important conclusions:

  • that the effects of armed violence go well beyond the loss of life and physical injuries;
  • and that the global costs and effects of armed violence are much greater in non-conflict than in conflict settings.

Photo: A school holds holds its classes outside, after its buildings were destroyed during a wave of violence in Maiduguri, Nigeria, August 2009. © Sunday Alamba/AP Photo

The effects—and costs—of armed violence on development include, but are not limited to, spending on public order and internal security (such as police personnel), expenditure on private security by businesses and individuals, and the burden associated with forcibly displaced persons. In 2013 alone, there were an estimated 51.2 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide—the highest figure since comprehensive record keeping began in 1989 (UNHCR, 2014). In economic terms, the welfare cost of collective and interpersonal violence is estimated to represent about 1.63 per cent of global GDP (Hoeffler and Fearon, 2014, p. iii)—or up to USD 1.4 trillion. This report estimates that the cost of homicide in 2010 alone reached USD 171 billion—roughly the equivalent of Finland’s GDP that year (see Chapter Five). Even these estimates do not capture the impact of violence and insecurity in terms of pain and suffering, or the negative impact on people’s behaviour and economic activities. In conflict situations, the destruction of physical capital and infrastructure—roads, buildings, clinics, schools—and loss of human capital—through displacement and migration—represent serious development costs. Even in non-conflict settings, where criminal or interpersonal violence does not cause widespread physical destruction:

it is important not to understate the threat to state capacity, the business environment, and social development that can be posed by chronically high levels of violence, organized crime, and the corruption that sometimes follows it (Soares, 2014, p. 3).

Weakened institutions, poor governance, economic stagnation, and social and economic inequalities are often identified as the drivers—as well as results—of persistent violence (Beswick and Jackson, 2011; Thomas, 2008).

The ‘business case’ for reducing the cost of armed violence is strong. In Latin America, one-third of businesses identify crime as their major challenge; in Mexico, the cost of insecurity and violence to enterprises and businesses is estimated to have reached around USD 7.7 billion in 2011 (World Bank, 2011, p. 5; INEGI, 2012, p. 17). Piracy around the Horn of Africa cost an estimated USD 5.7–6.1 billion in 2012 alone, with costs of military operations and security equipment accounting for almost half of that amount (USD 2.7– 3.2 billion) (OBP, 2013). Meanwhile, the negative impact of violence and insecurity on tourism and travel has been estimated at USD 2.7 billion in losses over the first six months of 2014 in Thailand and USD 2.5 billion from 2011 to 2013 in Egypt (Johanson, 2014; Singh, 2013).

Yet despite the losses associated with unrest, only a tiny fraction of development assistance is devoted to reducing societal violence and crime (Hoeffler and Fearon, 2014); similarly, relatively small sums are spent on conflict prevention, mitigation, and post-conflict peacebuilding. Given the evidence, however, the reduction of violence does not only represent a means of achieving development goals—such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—but also a development goal in itself.

Photo: Subsequent to sectarian violence, Rohingyan refugees live in camps for the internally displaced on the outskirts of Sittwe, Myanmar, November 2012. © Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

This edition of the Global Burden of Armed Violence (GBAV) deepens and strengthens the ‘unified approach’ to armed violence presented in the 2011 edition, drawing on recent advances in our understanding of the interactions between development and violence, as well as on a variety of approaches to the security–development nexus that has emerged from economics, criminology, development studies, conflict studies, and anthropology. The availability of more comprehensive and detailed national-level data on lethal violence allows for enhanced analysis in terms of quality and scope (see Chapter Two). In the same way, sub-national data—with a focus on cities—permits an unpacking of armed violence patterns and trends within states and across borders, in conflict and non-conflict situations (see Chapter Four). New evidence on trends, patterns, and dynamics of lethal violence against women in and beyond conflict zones is highlighted in Chapter Three. In addition, this edition explores some of the latest advances regarding conceptualizations and calculations of the economic costs of violence, providing a solid modelling of costs and development impacts of armed violence (see Chapter Five).

The main finding of this volume is that estimated overall levels of lethal violence have declined slightly (by 3.4 per cent), but with significant variations within different categories and across different regions of the world. A comparison of global lethal violence rates for the periods 2004–09 and 2007–12 shows that deaths due to intentional homicide declined by almost 5 per cent, with the Americas being the only region to witness an increase in homicide rates (about 10 per cent). In stark contrast, conflict-related deaths shot up by 27 per cent (see Chapter Two). Much of this change is accounted for by two factors: an actual decrease in the estimated rate of intentional homicide in Africa, and the mounting conflict death toll in the wake of the Arab uprisings in Syria and Libya. With the exception of the Americas and Asia (especially due to conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria), all regions exhibited significant declines in lethal violence in the period 2007–12. The civil war in Syria stands out as particularly deadly and destructive: more than 80,000 people were killed between March 2011 and December 2013, pushing the figures for conflict deaths up to levels not seen in more than a decade (see Chapter Two).4

In light of these findings, this introductory chapter provides an overview of how and why development and security interact, highlighting why this interaction matters in the context of debates about whether to include a goal for achieving peaceful and inclusive societies in the post-2015 global development framework. The chapter summarizes the state of play (up to late 2014) regarding the integration of such a goal into the post-2015 development agenda and provides an overview of efforts to develop specific goals, targets, and indicators dealing with security, safety, and armed violence. Regardless of the outcome of the post-2015 negotiations, such efforts will be relevant to whatever
new development framework emerges.

The chapter’s main conclusions are:

  • Despite continued debates on the importance and directionality of the links between violence, insecurity, and development processes, there is consensus that the links do exist—and that they are negative and mutually reinforcing.
  • While still limited, agreement is emerging with respect to achieving peaceful and inclusive societies as part of the post-2015 development framework, via a specific goal or goals. While this view is supported by the majority of states and several groups, it is also opposed by some important actors.
  • In most versions of a goal on peaceful and inclusive societies, the measuring and monitoring of ‘lethal violence’ appears as an important and viable indicator for monitoring progress towards peace and security goals and targets.


1 Following usage introduced in the first edition of the Global Burden of Armed Violence (GBAV), this volume defines armed violence generally as ‘the intentional use of illegitimate force (actual or threatened) with arms or explosives, against a person, group, community, or state, that undermines people-centred security and/or sustainable development’ (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2008, p. 2). The definition focuses on the physical use of force and violence; it excludes concepts such as structural, cultural, and psychological violence, however important they may be in other contexts. This volume also follows the ‘unified approach’ to armed violence, its causes, and its consequences, as initiated in the 2011 edition of the GBAV. Its estimates of violent deaths (lethal violence) are presented in an aggregated fashion and reflect data from different sources, covering ‘nonconflict deaths’ (intentional homicide, unintentional homicide, deaths resulting from legal interventions) as well as ‘direct conflict deaths’ (battle deaths, civilian deaths, and deaths resulting from terrorism) (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2011, p. 11). For a full description of the data compiled, see the online methodological annexe at
2 See, for example, UNDP (2013a); UNGA (2009); UNODC (2011); and World Bank (2011).
3 Among others, see Aboal, Campanella, and Lanzilotta (2013); Ajzenman, Galiani, and Seira (2014); CICS (2005); Dupas and Robinson (2012); Justino (2013); Ksoll, Macchiavello, and Morjaria (2011); Livingston et al. (2014); Pino (2011); and World Bank (2012).
4 One recent report suggests that the Syrian conflict claimed more lives during that period, estimating that 92,000 people were killed between March 2011 and March 2013 (Price et al., 2013).