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Study ranks Afghanistan as world’s least peaceful country, points to ‘de-escalation’ in Ukraine

A mushroom cloud rises into the air following an airstrike on confirmed enemy positions during a patrol near Forward Operating Base Shir Ghazi, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2013. (Cpl. Paul Peterson/U.S. Marine Corps)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

According to a new study, the world became “very slightly” more peaceful for the first time in five years, but remains “considerably less peaceful now” than a decade ago due to conflicts in the Middle East, a rise in terrorism, increasing numbers of refugees, and other factors.

The Institute for Economics and Peace’s annual Global Peace Index published on June 12 ranked Iceland as the world’s most peaceful country for the 11th year in a row.

The country is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark.

Afghanistan is at the bottom of the index, replacing Syria, which is now the second-least peaceful country in the world, according to the Australia-based think tank. They are followed by South Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq.

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In Afghanistan, the Taliban and other militant groups continue to launch near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces, government forces, and civilians, even as peace efforts have been gaining momentum to put an end to the almost 18-year-long war.

Mohib Iqbal, a research fellow at the institute, told RFE/RL that Afghanistan “is now the world’s most violent conflict with the highest number of deaths from war and terrorism” after Syria “experienced a decrease in violence after the defeat of [the extremist group Islamic State] and the localization of the ongoing conflict in the country.”

The Institute for Economics and Peace said the greatest increase in peacefulness occurred in the Russia and Eurasia region, where “the number of deaths from conflict declined, owing to the de-escalation of violence in Ukraine,” which rose two places to rank 150th out of 163 countries in the 2019 Global Peace Index.

Since April 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists who control parts of Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk peace accords have contributed to a decrease in fighting but have failed to hold.

Last year, Ukraine “had the third-largest reduction in internal-conflict deaths,” Iqbal said.

He also cited “reductions in population displacement, incarceration, the impact of terrorism and especially, political terror,” but added that “these improvements were partially offset by a deterioration in political instability, reflecting uncertainty about the 2019 elections.”

Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected president with more than 70 percent of the vote in an April runoff election.

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“Providing his lack of political experience does not undermine his policymaking, he may be able to improve unity and stability in the country,” according to Iqbal.

The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2018 represented 11.2 percent of the gross world product, according to the study.

The index is based on 23 indicators that included internal and external conflicts, military spending, terrorism, murder, and other crime rates.