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Adding up the cost of conflict – the price of extremism around the world

October 19, 2014 | Nick Taylor

Adding up the cost of conflict – the price of extremism around the world

Contributed by Emma Canterbury(*)

Access any news outlet these days and you will immediately observe the very obvious human cost of global conflict. Coverage of Islamic State sponsored kidnappings and murders demonstrate the high price paid by people like British aid worker Alan Henning[i] whose lives are threatened in such a barbaric way as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These harrowing images paint in stark contrast the human cost of the advance of extremism around the world versus the challenge of peace building interventions. While the focus in these news stories is the individual whose life is at risk, it is important to acknowledge the broader costs of conflict. Here we examine in more detail how extremism and peace building tally up in financial and societal terms and look at options for funding peace building initiatives including governmental, commercial and charitable contributions.

Global violence – the bottom line

According to the 2014 Global Peace Index, completed by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) the financial cost of containing violence around the world last year was a staggering $9.8 trillion[ii]. This figure, which equates to $1350 for every person living on the planet, represented an increase of 3.8 percent from 2012. While the analysis includes a range of different types of violence from domestic abuse to homicide, key contributors to the deteriorating levels of global peacefulness were highlighted as being terrorist activity, the rise in refugees and displaced persons, and more conflicts all over the world[iii]. This further deterioration is particularly worrying as it is the seventh occasion in the last eight years when the index has noted a decline in peacefulness levels. This is a significant reversal of fortunes in comparison with the trend for the decades immediately after World War II signalling that the world is currently experiencing an extremely unstable period.

The path of peace

When faced with the challenge of global violence and extremism, it is clear that building peace is the right thing to do- but it is a complex process and not a quick fix. Guidance produced by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that there are four broad areas of intervention[iv]:

–          Socio-economic development based on equality

–          Fair governmental structures

–          Review and reform of justice and security services

–          Mechanisms for truth and reconciliation.

The dual aims of conflict resolution and peace building are to avert the outbreak or revival of violence, and to promote a culture of ongoing peace. Countries which experience a significant period of violent struggle often require a holistic societal approach in order to transform attitudes, behaviours, structures and relationships. Even with a multi-dimensional peace building method, the course of transformation may not run smooth.

The price of peace

While it is difficult to obtain global costs of peace building programmes, it is estimated that the European Commission alone has spent €7.7 billion on peace building and conflict prevention since 2001[v]. This is more than any other government or international organization and equates to some ten percent of its total spend on external aid. This is a significant amount of money when considered in its entirety though does rather pale in comparison to the IET conflict costs.

Much of the European peace building money is channelled through voluntary organisations who receive a cocktail of funding from national governments, philanthropic associations and charitable donations. These organisations deliver projects which must meet key aims and satisfy specific criteria. In Northern Ireland for example, an EU funded Peace Programme[vi], now in its third iteration, supports projects which prioritise reconciling communities and contributing to a shared society. Historically, while welcome, European money is accompanied by high levels of bureaucracy which many smaller organisations struggle to cope with.

A potentially more flexible source of support could be the private sector. Multinational corporations across the world are taking a fresh although perhaps overdue interest in peace. Given the strong links between poverty and war (a large number of the globe’s 49 poorest nations have endured lengthy periods of conflict) it is clear that business could hold the levers to addressing underlying socio-economic issues.

As part of Peace Day, celebrated around the world on 21st September[vii], commercial big hitters such as Coca-Cola and Unilever partnered with peace building organization, Peace One Day, to highlight the economic benefits of non-violence[viii]. The call on the day itself, made through advertising and high profile events, was for the world to put down its weapons for a 24 hour period. The input of business was clear but it is encouraging to realize that many are also into peace building for the long haul. Longer term initiatives backed by international business in war torn countries include supporting training opportunities for demobilized fighters in Colombia. Lush, a well known UK retailer focuses its efforts on developing trading relationships with social enterprises such as olive oil producer Sindyanna and a Colombian cocoa bean co-operative, which also encapsulate peace building within their objectives.

Building lasting and sustainable peace is something which requires commitment across all sources of support[ix] over a long term period. As John F. Kennedy once said,

“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”

(*) Emma Canterbury – is a business and finance writer.  After working for several medium sized businesses, motherhood saw her switch to freelance writing.  The content that I Emma has produced for the Foundation for Peace has been donated at no cost and is exclusively reproduced on this site.
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