The Burden of Violence

Tasneem Jamal


John Siebert
and Robert Muggah

Published by the Ottawa Citizen

Robert Muggah is research director of the Small Arms Survey

Poor countries are less safe than rich ones. Most of the world’s 30-odd armed conflicts are raging in the global South. As a country’s human development ranking declines, its risk of succumbing to violent conflict grows. More than one-third of all countries mired in poverty experienced war since the late 1990s. Fewer than two per cent of rich countries experienced conflict over the same period.

The international aid community has been slow to grasp the real and urgent implications of the linkage between armed violence and human development. Armed violence disrupts markets, displaces populations, destroys schools, clinics and roads, and scars families, communities and societies. More than 300,000 people die violently every year, most in the developing world.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is grappling with the relationship between armed violence and development in particularly troublesome hotspots such as Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan. It is finding that armed violence exacts massive costs in terms of lost lives, distorted investment, spiralling reconstruction bills and reduced aid efficiency.

While CIDA recognizes the challenges presented by armed violence in theory, it has been slower to react in practice. Perhaps this is not surprising. CIDA has been subjected to sharp criticism for not focusing its resources in the right places, at the right time or in the right number of countries. Its inability to provide timely and coherent support to the ongoing Afghanistan operations is often singled out. As the agency embarks on a top-to bottom reorganization this year, it must ensure that the issue of how armed violence undermines development efforts is not overshadowed in the drive to simplify how and where Canadian aid dollars are spent.

Especially in post-conflict zones and in countries afflicted by high levels of organized crime, development agencies must pay attention to the impact of insecurity on the effectiveness of their programs.

Addressing armed violence through a development lens is not straightforward. It requires adapting professional toolkits, generating solid evidence, investing in personnel and learning from good practice.

But preventing and reducing armed violence is more necessary than ever, especially since development practitioners themselves are often on the front line, working in increasingly hostile and violent environments. More than 85 per cent of the more than 1,000 aid workers who died since the mid-1990s were killed in targeted attacks.

Canada is well positioned to contribute positively to efforts to stem armed violence and to encourage sustainable human development. In 2006, Canada signed the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, which states that “living free from the threat of armed violence is a basic human need. It is a precondition for human development, dignity and well-being.” It also sets out to make “measurable reductions in the global burden of armed violence” by 2015.

© Copyright The Ottawa Citizen 2008

Spread the Word