Ninety per cent of violent deaths are unrelated to wars

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 31 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7061
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. 1London

An estimated 526 000 people die violently every year and only about 10% of those die as a result of armed conflicts, says a report from the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development.

Some 55 000 people are killed in conflicts worldwide, another 396 000 people are murdered for criminal or political reasons, and 54 000 are killed unintentionally, the report says. Although much effort is invested in efforts to end armed conflict, the effects of so called interpersonal violence (criminal and political) on societies and on national development have largely been overlooked, it adds.

The Geneva Declaration is a high level diplomatic initiative, backed by more than 100 countries, to help states recognise and deal with this problem. The report, published ahead of a conference on 31 October and 1 November in Geneva, warns that lethal violence has huge economic consequences and that the wider effects of this kind of armed violence in terms of injuries, lost incomes, and mental health problems have long lasting effects on societies and public health.

Keith Krause, a coauthor of the report, said, “States need to do a lot more to tackle this, but there’s a dramatic lack of large scale resources for it. It’s been treated as something you can’t do anything about.”

El Salvador was the country worst affected by lethal violence in the period studied (2004 to 2009), followed by Iraq and Jamaica. Generally Latin America and central and southern Africa are the regions with the highest levels of violence unrelated to conflict.

Calculations indicate that the economic cost, in terms of lost productivity, of non-conflict violence globally is $95bn (£59bn; €67bn) a year and could reach as much as $163bn.

Alex Blutchart, violence prevention coordinator at the World Health Organization, which collaborated on the report, said that failure to deal with the problem was undermining gains made in terms of reducing infant mortality and infectious diseases in the global effort to meet the United Nations’ millennium development goals by 2015.

“It’s a bit like helping children to become adolescents and then letting them fall victim to a firearm related killing,” he said.

In health terms, the costs to health systems and societies of coping with people left maimed or psychologically scarred (thought to be at least three times as many as those killed) has barely been assessed by most states. One estimate is that on average interpersonal violence costs between 1% and 4% of gross national product and that health services for victims account for 10% of that.

“This kind of violence leaves people disabled and increases alcohol, drug abuse, and smoking—knock-on effects that lead to risk factors for chronic diseases,” Dr Blutchart told the BMJ. “When people start to unpack the consequences across society they could find they could be quite enormous.”

Dr Blutchart warned that lack of attention to this problem could also lead to countries with high levels of violence becoming conflict zones. He said that effort should be made to prevent regions such as Asia becoming more prone to this kind of violence as weapons become more available to countries emerging from poverty to become middle income countries.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7061

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