If the world seems a more violent place to you than it was five years ago, you may be right. In a new report, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) writes that global peace has declined 5 percent since 2008, mostly because of the growing number and intensity of internal conflicts around the world.
According to the institute's Global Peace Index 2013, the least peaceful country in the world last year was Afghanistan. Though the drawdown of NATO forces continues and civilian casualties have fallen compared to 2011, the country's peacefulness score fell to its lowest level ever.
The GPI tracks the prevalence of peace in 162 countries through 22 different qualitative and quantitative factors. In general, a country's peacefulness rating is based on the degree of militarization, the presence of domestic and international conflict, and the safety and security of its civil society.
According to the report, Afghanistan's declining ranking was driven by rising levels of political instability, terrorist activity, and expenditures on Afghanistan's national army, which has ballooned to almost 200,000 strong. Michelle Breslauer, the U.S. Program Manager for IEP, told The Huffington Post that it was "not surprising" to see military expenditures rise in Afghanistan given the persistent threat of violence in the country during recent years.
Syria saw the largest annual decrease in peacefulness in the seven-year history of the GPI. Over the past five years, the war-torn country's GPI score has fallen an unprecedented 70 percent. Just two years ago, Syria was ranked 108th out of 153 countries, more peaceful than all of its neighbors except Jordan.
Somalia fell from the least peaceful country in 2012's index to the second least peaceful this year. Though the country's coastline has seen a precipitous drop in pirate attacks, the conflict between the Transitional Federal Government and terrorist group al-Shabaab remains a serious threat to social and political stability in the horn of Africa.
Perhaps most strikingly, the Global Peace Index 2013 found that $9.46 trillion was spent last year containing violence worldwide, equal to 11% of the gross world product. If only half of that amount could be saved, the study found, that would suffice to repay the entire debt of the developing world.
The report admits that "it is a utopian vision to expect a world free of violence," and major components of the cost of violence like military and police expenditures cannot be eliminated completely. However, IEP calculates that a mere 1 percent reduction in the cost of violence would free up enough money to provide full funding for the UN's anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals.
The GPI report identifies eight conditions that are conducive to peaceful societies, including equitable distribution of resources, stable government, and low levels of corruption. According to Breslauer, making peace a priority requires taking a holistic approach that considers all of these factors at once. While she admits that the Global Peace Index has not been around long enough to identify specific policy solutions, Breslauer says it is helpful to see peace as the product of institutions and structures, not merely as the absence of violence.
Below is a map showing the 2013 Global Peace Index, of which an incredible interactive version can be found here.
Check out the ten least peaceful countries in the world in 2012 below:
This picture taken on March 30, 2013 shows armed Seleka rebels on a pick-up truck during a meeting of the rebel strongman who seized power in the Central African Republic last month, Michel Djotodia, in Bangui. (SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Monday, March 11, 2013 file photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third left, looks at South's western border island of Baengnyeong during his visit to the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, North Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS, File)
In this photo taken on Friday, March 15, 2013, members of a pro-Kremlin youth group upturn the car that belongs to pushers of spice, a synthetic drug, in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr)
M23 rebels withdraw from the eastern Congo town of Goma, Saturday Dec. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A Pakistani boy cries next to the site of a bomb blast outside a polling station in Peshawar, Pakistan, Saturday, May 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
In this photo released by the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Attahi Mohammed Sigit, sheik of Sigili village, North Darfur, shows to UNAMID staff members the destruction occurred in the village last Friday, 2nd November, when he lost his 18-year-old son along with other several community members shot and killed by an armed force, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Albert González Farran, UNAMID)
In this file photo taken on Monday, May 20, 2013, an Iraqi woman passes by the scene of a car bomb attack in the Kamaliyah neighborhood, a predominantly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo /Hadi Mizban, File)
Free Syrian Army fighters, take their positions as they observe the Syrian army forces base of Wadi al-Deif, at the front line of Maarat al-Nuaman town, in Idlib province, Syria, Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 file photo, masked Somali pirate Hassan stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)
Afghan Army soldiers train for a house-to-house search at a training facility in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)