Published on Data Blog

Obstacles to development: what data are available on fragility, conflict and violence?


This is part of a series of blogs focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and data from the 2016 Edition of World Development Indicators.

Over half a million people were killed by intentional homicide in 2012, while in 2014 there were more than one hundred thousand battle-related deaths. Episodes of such violence and unrest can reverse development efforts and rapidly dismantle achievements built over a long time, along social, political economy, and physical dimensions.

Around a fifth of the world’s population is estimated to be in a fragile, conflict, or violent situation, spanning the 35 countries on the the World Bank’s Harmonized List of Fragile Situations as well as pockets of violence in other countries. In these areas achieving the aims and aspirations of all the Sustainable Development Goals will be a significant challenge. Non-violent nations governed with fairness and transparency provide the optimal platforms for implementing development strategies and programs and SDG 16 looks to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” While it can be difficult to directly monitor progress towards this, data and estimates are available on those killed or otherwise affected by violence and conflict in regions around the world and the fragility that exists alongside.

The homicide rate is highest in Latin America 

Protecting the lives of people is one of the most important obligations of states. Targets 16.1 and 16.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals focus on reducing or eliminating different forms of violence. Intentional homicide occurs in every country but rates vary widely among different regions. Regionally, data from 2012 show Latin America & Caribbean had the highest homicide rate, averaging 23 per 100,000 people per year – almost four times higher than the global average. East Asia and the Pacific had the lowest rate of just 2 homicides per 100,000 people.

In 2014 the number of battle-related deaths was highest since 1989 

Conflict-related deaths are also under consideration as a measure of peace (or its absence). Since the end of World War II there has been a downward trend in such deaths except in the year 2000 when the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea alone caused 50,000 deaths. However in 2014, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, an escalation of several conflicts, coupled with the extreme violence in Syria, resulted in the highest number of battle-related deaths since 1989.

In Syria more than 54,000 people were killed in battle-related deaths in 2014. Iraq and Afghanistan also saw the deaths of around 12,000 people each. These are explicitly conservative numbers and relate only to direct battle deaths, not indirect deaths resulting from the conflict, for example due to a reduction in access to health care. Further, a focus on battle-related deaths overlooks other negative results from conflict, including personal injury.

Sixty million people estimated as “forcibly displaced” 

In fragile, conflict and violent situations, individuals and their daily lives are threatened and their surroundings become dangerous. The number of people forcibly displaced through fleeing such environments —which includes internally displaced people, refugees, and asylum seekers—is estimated to be 60 million, the highest since World War II. In 2014 refugees were predominantly from fragile regions: 4.5 million of them from the Middle East and North Africa and 4.4 million of them from Sub-Saharan Africa. These two regions also lead the world in granting asylum to refugees.

Seeking data on the impact of justice

Trust between citizens and governments is eroded and human rights fail in regions affected by conflict and where violence is rife. Shadow economies tend to flourish and mineral and natural resources can be exploited, which may fuel and finance further conflict. Target 16.3 of the SDGs looks to countries to promote strong justice and rule of law systems which may provide mechanisms for resolving land and resource disputes, keep governments accountable, and give businesses the confidence to enter into and enforce contracts. One monitoring tool is the proportion of the population that has experienced a dispute; accessed a formal, informal, alternative or traditional dispute resolution mechanism; and feels the process was just. While global coverage is not yet available, appropriate survey methodology has been developed over the past two decades and has been used by national statistical offices in more than 25 countries across all regions.


Edie Purdie

Consultant, Development Data Group (DECDG), World Bank

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