Containing global violence costs nearly $10 trillion a year | 

A U.S. Army Soldier from Alpha Company, 13th Psychological Operations Battalion pulls security from a humvee at a vehicle control point in the village of Kapisa, Afghanistan
A U.S. Army Soldier from Alpha Company, 13th Psychological Operations Battalion pulls security from a humvee at a vehicle control point in the village of Kapisa, Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Michael L. Casteel

The price of insecurity is quite high. The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that the world spent $9.46 trillion to contain violence, in 2012. That accounted for some 11% of the global economy.

“Were the world to reduce its expenditure on violence by fifteen percent it would be enough to provide the necessary money for the European Stability Fund, repay Greece’s debt and cover the increase in funding required to achieve the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals,” says the Institute for Economics and Peace.

The estimate is a part of a new report from the group that calls attention to the economic impact of violence. While the human cost is well documented, this is one of the first reports that accounts for the money spent on containing violence and the money lost due to it happening. A marginal decrease in violence could have a major impact.

Military spending eats up half of the cost, followed by the impact of homicides and then internal security (ie. police officers). The countries that spend a large portion of their GDP on violence containment come as little surprise: North Korea, Libya, Syria and the US. One slightly surprising entry is development darling Liberia. The country is still emerging from the damage caused by a pair of nearly successive civil wars spanning from 1989 to 2003.

I spoke with Michelle Breslauer, the Americas Program Manager for the Institute for Economics and Peace, about why Liberia is so high on the list and what can be learned from the study.

I found it surprising that Liberia was so high on the list. Why is violence still such a problem in a country that is lauded for its post-civil war advances, including a Nobel Peace Prize?

Despite Liberia’s notable advances, it is a country that still feels the effect of conflict. The methodology of this analysis attempts to measure the full space devoted to violence containment in a country. The majority of Liberia’s violence containment spending is a result of the UN Peacekeeping mission presence, which is operating partially to compensate for weak peace-supporting institutions. In the 2013 Global Peace Index, IEP compared levels of peacefulness with a country’s peace-supporting institutions. Liberia has a ‘peace deficit’ which suggests that the level of peace the country experience is not matched by the strength of its institutions. Continue reading

Ground zero for the next potential genocide: Central African Republic | 

Doctors Without Borders tried to once again call attention to the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic. The organization has treated tens of thousands of people for injuries from grenades, machetes and more, since December. It said that the world was not doing enough to address a problem that has continued to deteriorate since the overthrow of the government last March.

This week, I speak with Muriel Tschopp, International Rescue Committees’ Emergency Field Programme Coordinator.  She is on the ground in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, where much of the international response to the crisis is focused. Bottom line is that this crisis can likely be averted, before it gets worse with the rainy season, simply by beefing up the peacekeeping presence. Says Tschopp:

“The majority of the people are trapped in the middle” between Muslim and Christian extremist militias, explains Tschopp. Much of the  fighting may be drawn across religious lines, but current tensions are not deep rooted. There’s a long history of the two sides getting along just fine, with lots of intermarriage and little bloodshed.

The opportunity to change the course of violence and restore order to the Central African Republic is there, but security is sorely needed. Tschopp’s sentiments reflect that of many humanitarian organizations working in response to the crisis, including the UN.

In the headlines portion, Tom Murphy and I discuss an interesting new study on savings and loans groups in Uganda. After the NGOs left, people started forming their own group, to the surprise of the researchers. We also heard from Tom about his new series, Migration Matters. He explains why he is interested in the issue of immigration and brain drain.

Want to hear more podcasts? Subscribe and rate us on iTunes.

The great* Iraq death toll debate: Putting war on the global health agenda | 

Editor’s note: *meaning not so great

It would look pretty odd – or outrageous – if medical research organizations, public health scientists, health advocacy organizations and others devoted to saving lives and preventing death decided not to try to determine how many people get killed every year from a select cause like, say, AIDS or heart disease or traffic accidents or drug abuse or any particular leading cause of death and disability.

Iraq Death Tollchart

Yet that is the standard approach when it comes to warfare.

Officially, the U.S. government and leading research organizations like the National Institutes of Health do not support studies aimed at determining how many people we kill – or can be predicted to die – when we enter into a military conflict.

“You’d think we’d want to know that, wouldn’t you?” said Amy Hagopian, a global health professor at the University of Washington.

Hagopian is lead author of a report this week in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine (Public Libarary of Science) that, through a number of analytical methods, estimated that nearly half a million Iraqis – men, women and children – died between 2003 and 2011 as a result of the war and its broader corrosive effects on infrastructure. Continue reading

Five reasons why you might be confused about Congo | 

Flickr, dag

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

Congo makes a lot of people feel like the hapless Mr. Jones in Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man:

“You know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is.”

For example:

The news today out of Congo is that the Rwandan-backed rebels  — known either as M23 or the Congolese Revolutionary Army, who have been fighting with the official (non-revolutionary) Congolese Army and against other militias made up of Rwandans who years ago fled to Congo during the genocide — have decided not to withdraw from the city of Goma.  As the AP reports:

The delay raises the possibility that the M23 rebels don’t intend to leave the city they seized last week, giving credence to a U.N. expert report that says neighboring Rwanda is using the rebels as a proxy to annex territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo.


UN peacekeepers evacuate children from Goma, Congo

One thing that’s fairly safe to predict when it comes to these chronic conflicts in the eastern provinces of DR Congo (the ‘DR’ now perhaps standing for Destructively Repetitious as opposed to Democratic Republic) is that the players there almost never do what they say they’re going to do and whatever they report to outsiders is such a house-of-mirrors they could work for Congress.

So, I have decided to prepare a list of key points to keep in mind when reading about conflict in the Congo. Continue reading

Rwandan-backed rebels take Congo city Goma | 

A rebel army widely believed to be backed by the Rwandan government has taken over Goma, a city in eastern DR Congo bordering Rwanda. Many are concerned that this action could spark a much larger regional war.

Flickr, Pan-African News Wire

Col. Sultani Makenga of the rebel forces formerly known as M23, now the Congolese Revolutionary Army.

This is a big deal folks. Remember the last time you didn’t pay attention to what was happening in this neck of the woods? Remember that movie, Hotel Rwanda? Rwandan President Paul Kagame is a darling of the west, but he also seems to be backing this illegal military invasion of a neighboring country. How will the world respond? See news reports listed below: Continue reading