From Guns to Ploughshares: Reducing armed violence

Today’s post is from Sarah Cramer and Erwin van Veen of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF)

Film fans may be aware that Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond has the highest body count of any Bond ever (an average of 33.9 kills per film). But in the real world, few of us have such an accurate picture of armed violence. For instance, many would be surprised to learn that El Salvador has been the deadliest country in recent history. In fact, between 2004 and 2009 more people per capita were killed in El Salvador than in Iraq. Jamaica follows closely in third place, according to the Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011.

While casualties of war often grab headlines, they only represent 10% of the 526,000 lives lost annually as the direct result of armed violence around the world. Crime is the biggest driver of violent killing, and armed violence in post-conflict settings, such as El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, can sometimes surpass levels seen during actual periods of conflict.

Surprising facts about armed violence and linkages to poverty were on dramatic display in a photo exhibit last week in the OECD Conference Centre. The photographs were drawn from the Visions of Hope collection compiled by the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, a diplomatic initiative aimed at addressing the interrelations between armed violence and development.

Click on the photo to see the exhibition

Violence and insecurity take a high toll on society. Apart from human suffering, violence leads to increased public and private security costs, and decreased productivity and investment. The global cost of homicidal violence is $95-160 billion each year, and the burden is much higher in developing countries, where 10-15% of GDP is spent on law enforcement, compared with 5% in developed countries.

The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recognises that reducing violence and insecurity is a pre-requisite to realising development outcomes such as the MDGs. No low-income fragile states are expected to achieve a single MDG by 2015. Understanding the dynamics of armed violence and what can be done about it is an important first step. Through the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF), the DAC is gathering evidence, filling analytical gaps and providing practical recommendations for strengthening support for core peacebuilding and statebuilding functions, notably security and justice, that can reduce armed violence.

Evidence suggests that armed violence can be successfully addressed, reducing human suffering, psychological trauma and negative spill-over effects at regional and global level. Good interventions share six common characteristics.

  1. A good evidence base, including a nuanced understanding of the context. For example, in Sudan, UNDP’s Threat and Risk Mapping and Analysis Project works with local communities to map security threats and socio-economic risks. Collected data is pooled with information about basic rainfall patterns, suspected oil and mineral extraction sites, service provision, livestock migration routes and other issues. This approach provides a robust understanding of the context to inform programming decisions.
  2. Engagement of municipalities and non-state groups, actors that are well-placed to influence armed violence. This can be done by working through NGOs and decentralised development agencies. Providers of development assistance – who tend to work most with the state’s central executive – need to consider what changes might be required in their approaches, staffing and networks to engage effectively at such critical sub-national levels.
  3. A flexible mix of perspectives and methods, bringing together a range of experience in areas that have proven to be effective at reducing armed violence, such as public health, law enforcement, urban planning, community services and job creation. For example, in Bangladesh, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (an NGO) used a public health approach to map the risk factors that render children and youth vulnerable to recruitment by armed criminal gangs and as potential future soldiers.
  4. Combining local with global action, as drivers of violence originate from all levels. All too often, country-specific strategies guide interventions without paying adequate attention to necessary complementary regional and global factors.
  5. Sufficient time, balancing the need to show short-term results with the time and patience needed to yield real success. For example, it took Viva Rio, a local NGO operating in Rio de Janeiro, ten years to contribute toward a drop in the annual rate of gun deaths. Activities needed to be structured and funded on a long-term and flexible basis to achieve sustainable success.
  6. Integration of armed violence reduction within development strategies, as reducing violence is a pre-requisite for achieving other development outcomes.

Useful links

OECD work on armed violence reduction

Armed Violence Reduction: Enabling Development

Conflict – the enemy of development

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