Data needs for the Peace and Security agenda

Written by Daniel Hyslop, Research Manager at the Institute for Economics and Peace.

This is the 13th post in our blog series on What kind of ‘data revolution’ do we need for post-2015?’.

Incorporating violence and security in the post-2015 agenda will be an important step in broadening the meaning of development beyond poverty alleviation. Well established trends in violent conflict provide important cues for future data generation priorities, and guidance for what targets and indicators could look like. But measuring violence and security is only one part of a more ambitious post-2015 agreement. It is also important to acknowledge the concept of positive peace – the positive processes and conditions which increase resilience and wellbeing.

The inclusion of peace and security in a post-2015 agenda faces well known, political, semantic and practical challenges. Putting aside the immediate political challenges, the semantic and practical questions are intimately tied to the question of data.

Perhaps the greatest of all semantic issues for the peace and security agenda is the question of what do we mean by peace? Peace can mean many things to many people; Johan Galtung’s simple formulation of negative peace and positive peace provides a useful taxonomy.

Negative peace refers to the absence of violence and fear of violence (the definition of peace that underpins the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index) and can be captured using measurable indicators such as the homicide rate, incidence of rape and perceptions of insecurity. These “outcome indicators” clearly indicate progress, or the lack thereof, on physical security. They are also closely correlated with other key indicators of development.

Trends in violence tell us much about the kind of negative peace indicators we need to collect. We know that the majority of violent deaths are due to criminal and non-state violence. According to the Geneva Declaration, out of 740,000 deaths from armed violence, approximately 490,000 occur outside of conflicts. This trend needs to be reflected in data generation efforts, as we need to understand better patterns of criminal violence, organised crime and terrorism.

A key baseline measure for negative peace is violent deaths and homicides, however, three out of four fragile states do not have adequate data available for these indicators. Moreover for the countries where it is available, much of the data is not comparable over time and yearly time series are not available. To illustrate, most of sub-Saharan Africa does not have comparable homicide data over time, with fewer than 20 per cent of sub-Saharan African countries self-reporting necessary data to UN-CTS.

In order to facilitate meaningful comparisons between countries it will be necessary to standardize definitions to provide important situational information such as whether a homicide is related to organized crime, robbery or an intimate partner. Similarly, information on the mechanism involved in a violent death ought to be recorded, such as whether a death is caused by a firearm, for instance.

Such standardization practises also need to incorporate data that can be disaggregated along gender, ethnic, religious and caste lines to enable better understanding of processes of victimization. These data can provide important clues on the nature of horizontal inequalities in a country or region, which can be important harbingers of vicious cycles of violence.

Then there is the need for data to be more spatially detailed, as national averages can naturally elide much information about large differences within a country. This was clearly illustrated with IEP’s Mexico Peace Index: the state of Yucatan had a homicide rate of 10.7 per 100,000, compared to Guerrero on the west coast, with a homicide rate of 78.7 per 100,000 in 2012. Differences can be starker at the urban level, i.e. the city of Juarez located on the US-Mexican border recorded a homicide rate 28 times higher than Yucatan state, at over 280 in 2010. Given more than three billion people live in urban centres, a number that is expected to rise to five billion by 2050,  there is a clear need to ensure that violence data are collected at sub-national and city levels.

More ambitious and potentially more important, however, are indicators of positive peace – in other words, the institutions and attitudes associated with more peaceful societies. Positive peace measures would cover indicators of good governance identified in the High Level Panel’s fourth ‘transformational shift’  and go further to include informal institutions such as levels of trust and tolerance in society. These tend to be input and output indicators and could help orient the post-2015 agenda to more preventative aims rather than the standard focus on the after-the-fact consequences.

An ambitious positive peace agenda would go further to incorporate data on whether people accept the rights of others, their attitudes towards human rights, perceptions of corruption, and levels of social inclusion. These are important goals and based on the evidence available, are associated with less violent environments which are more resilient to shocks and have greater societal wellbeing.

While developing adequate universal measures of negative peace is an important priority to track progress, violence measures tend to only have an instrumental relationship with poverty:  when they intensify or get worse, it’s often too late. By monitoring positive peace indicators, it may be possible to identify key formal and informal institutions which work towards violence prevention while also contributing positively to poverty alleviation.

The promise of the High Level Panel report and consultations carried out thus far is the continued support to incorporate security and violence as key goals underpinning the broader development agenda. This acknowledges what civil society, practitioners and development professionals have said for a long time; with conflict, there can be little development. But if conflict is to be prevented then it will be necessary to go further than just measuring its presence, but to look to building the attitudes, institutions and structures which sustain peace.

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