Preventing violent conflict saves lives and money—up to US$70 billion per year on average, according to a study published today by the World Bank and the United Nations.
The new study, Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, the first report on conflict prevention done jointly by the World Bank and the United Nations, says the world must refocus its attention on preventing violence as a means to achieving peace. The key, they say, is to identify risks early and to work closely with governments to improve response to these risks and reinforce inclusion.
“It’s increasingly clear that violent conflict is one of the biggest obstacles to ending poverty,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Conflict impacts a growing number of people within countries, but it does not confine itself to national borders, and its spillover effects can imperil entire regions and pose risks worldwide. Preventing violent conflict is one of the most critical development challenges of our time, one that requires more resources, innovative approaches, and intensified collaboration among international partners.”
Since 2005, deaths related to battle have increased ten-fold, reaching their highest point in 2015. Between 2010 and 2016 alone, the number of civilian deaths in violent conflicts doubled. Violent conflict has also forced people from their homes in record numbers. Today, an estimated 65.6 million people are either internally displaced or refugees, with children making up more than half of the world’s refugee population.
It is estimated that violent conflict could cost up to US$13.6 trillion per year globally, a figure equivalent to 13.3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). Recovery from conflict can take generations. The Pathways report demonstrates that prevention is cost effective and highlights three cost-saving scenarios ranging from US$5 billion to almost US$70 billion annually.
Currently, spending on prevention represents only a fraction of spending on crisis response and reconstruction efforts. A shift toward investments in inclusive and sustainable development, together with strengthening diplomatic and security efforts and addressing the inequality and exclusion that often leads to conflict, could significantly reduce costs, according to the report.
Violent conflict is a major cause of poverty today—by 2030, more than half of the world’s poor will live in countries affected by high levels of violence. However, the report underscores that conflicts occur in both low- and middle-income countries, and that income and wealth do not guarantee against violence. It therefore offers countries at various income levels a set of policy recommendations and specific steps that they and other actors can take to resolve conflict without violence. These include: addressing risks early, before grievances take hold; fostering the participation of women and youth; and shifting toward more inclusive policies that ensure more equal access to natural resources, basic services, security, and justice.
The Pathways study finds that the most successful countries mobilize a coalition of civil society, women’s groups, the faith-based community, and the private sector to provide incentives for peace and manage tensions. They also undertake reforms to strengthen the foundations and inclusiveness of their institutions.
The report calls for an urgent review of the incentives that national, local, and international stakeholders have to act early and collaboratively to build and sustain peace, noting that preventing violent conflict can only be achieved through the full partnership of domestic, development, diplomatic, and security actors.