• Ridding Developing Countries of Armed Violence

    31 Oct 2011

    Piles of burning guns in Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, March 24, 2010.
    As part of UNDP Kenya’s initiative to reduce and control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, the Government of Kenya burnt to ashes over 2,500 illegal firearms at a public event in March 2010. (Photo: Jemaiyo Chabeda/UNDP Kenya).

    In the next two days, more than 3,000 people are expected to lose their lives to armed violence all across the world.

    The economic cost of violence is sobering.  It is literally reversing development—destroying livelihoods, wrecking infrastructure, reducing foreign direct investment, stunting economic growth, and inhibiting achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. In many countries insecurity is also diverting public resources from education and health towards law enforcement.

    The question, as ever, is “what can be done?”

    By understanding and addressing the sources of violence, and by investing in prevention, early warning and early response capabilities, we will be able to avert conflict and violence and save lives and resources.

    Education has a significant role to play in preventing conflict and violence.  Countries with high levels of primary education enrolment generally have low levels of violence – and, similarly, children who are deprived of education are more likely to turn to a life of conflict. Education must be part of any effort to address violence.

    We are also aware that violence is often a symptom of a breakdown in the rule of law, and more broadly in state-society relations. A more just and equitable world is one which will be more stable and secure. Recent events in the Arab states remind us that economic and political exclusion can be a combustible combination. When wealth is shared, not only are societies and nations more prosperous and just, but they are also less violent. Inequality and violence are inextricably linked.  It will require a firm understanding of the needs of the insecure, as well as the necessary tools and the political will, to undo cycles of violence and despair.

    As a result of a number of initiatives around the world, among them the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, countries are increasingly taking steps to tackle conditions which are conducive to armed violence, whether that is through the provision of better policing, an expansion of access to justice, or the development of education systems which promote inclusion, tolerance and citizenship.  The work underway has become much more than small arms control or supporting community policing, although these remain vital. It now targets income inequalities and structural unemployment.  It reduces social exclusion and promotes social justice.  Finally, it extends universal education. That is only achievable when opportunities are shared and conflicts are managed.

    It is important to understand the drivers of violence, and incorporate violence reduction targets into development strategies. Armed violence cannot be reduced without bringing together development, the rule of law, and social cohesion. Toward this end, UNDP has gained practical experience during the last ten years in supporting the development and implementation of violence reduction and rule of law strategies all over the world. We are also working with a number of UN agencies on joint programmes which combine different fields of expertise, such as health, urban development, and disarmament, in order to maximize the impact and coherence of our interventions.


    Talk to Us: What actions should governments take to reduce violence in developing countries?

About the Author

Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is also the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments working on development issues.

read more
Did you know?

That more than 526,000 people die as a result of armed violence every year, most of them in the developing world, in non-conflict situations and the vast majority as a result of illegally trafficked small arms?

That in many Latin American countries homicide rates are higher than some countries affected by armed conflict?


The the probability of a young Latin-American being a victim of a homicide is 70 times higher than in countries like Japan, the UK or Hungary?


That in El Salvador, the risk of violent death is higher than in Iraq?


That most gender-based violence, can be linked to the misuse of small arms; women are much more likely to be attacked by a partner if he has a gun?


That the World Bank estimates that insecurity cost some $6.5 billion dollars in 2006. 


That in Guatemala, alone armed violence cost the equivalent of 7.3 per cent of the GDP in 2005, far outstripping spending on health or education?



Find Us On