WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World peace has deteriorated steadily over the last seven years, with wars, militant attacks and crime reversing six earlier decades of gradual improvement, a global security report said on Wednesday.
Conflict in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Central African Republic in particular helped drag down the annual Global Peace Index, according to research by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).
In particular, rising numbers of people were killed in militant attacks across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa while murder rates rose in the emerging world's growing urban centres. More people also became refugees by fleeing fighting.
Crime and conflict rates in more developed regions, particularly Europe, generally fell, said the report.
The deterioration appeared the most significant fall in 60 years, the IEP said. Estimates of what the index would have been prior to its launch in 2007 showed world peace improving more or less continuously since the end of World War Two.
"There seem to be a range of causes," Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the IEP, told Reuters. "You have the repercussions of the "Arab Spring", the rise of terrorism particularly following the invasion of Iraq and the repercussions of the global financial crisis."
The study examines 22 indicators across 162 countries, including military spending, homicide rates and deaths from conflict, civil disobedience and terrorism.
Over the past seven years, the IEP said its average global peace indicator for all the countries in the world together moved from 1.96 to 2.06, indicating a less peaceful world.
When that figure was adjusted to take into account the different populations of each country, the deterioration was even more marked, from 1.96 to 2.20.
Syria and Afghanistan were rated the least peaceful countries in the world, with South Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine and Egypt showing some of the sharpest falls in security levels.
Iceland held its number one position as most peaceful.
The IEP estimates violence and military spending cost the global economy some $9.8 trillion, which is roughly 11.3 percent of the world's gross domestic product and up $179 billion year-on-year, it said.
While the United States and Western European states are largely cutting defence spending, China, Russia, countries along their borders and most Middle Eastern states are buying more arms as tensions rise.
There was some good news, Killelea said. Overall, measures of human rights from Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department showed improvement.
Deaths classed as being due to terrorism, however, continued to rise in the developing world and particularly countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan and others.
The United States also saw its position deteriorate due to last year's Boston bombing and associated gunfights that killed five including a suspect.
Published using data up to March, the study did not include the latest violence in Iraq and Ukraine.
"There's no doubt that if the data went to now, the picture would be even worse," Killelea said.
Reporting by Peter Apps; Editing by Tom Heneghan