Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Paris — The number of refugees fleeing conflicts ballooned to 1% of the global population, the highest level in modern history, according to a report showing the world is less peaceful now than at any time in the past 10 years.

Terrorism and internal conflict were the two biggest contributors pushing down the 2018 Global Peace Index, its fourth consecutive annual drop, according to a report published by the Institute of Economics and Peace. Iceland retained the top spot as the world’s most peaceful country while Syria was the least peaceful for the fifth consecutive year.

"Increased numbers of refugees, terrorism, and heightened political tensions were behind the deterioration," Steve Killelea, the institute’s founder, said in an interview. "Refugees on their own would make one of the world’s biggest nations."

There were 65.6-million refugees, or internally displaced people, at the end of 2016, or about 0.9% of the world population. More than 55% of them come from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees, whose data was used in the report. While most refugees are housed in neighbouring countries, the flow of people fleeing conflicts or poverty in Africa or the Middle East to Europe has empowered nationalist parties across the continent.

The five most peaceful nations in the world in 2017 were Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal and Denmark, unchanged from the previous year. There was also no change in the bottom slots held by Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq and Somalia. There were 92 countries whose ranking deteriorated and 71 that improved.

Worldwide, the economic impact of violence was estimated at $14.8-trillion in 2017, up 2% from the previous year and equal to 12.4% of global output or about $2,000 a person.

"Peace is not just about ending human suffering, but also economic opportunity," Killelea said. "Countries at the bottom of the list get caught in a terrible downward cycle."