Creating the Pathways from Poverty to Prosperity

Regional prosperity challenged by safety and security

A nation and its citizens can prosper only in a secure and safe environment. In his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Stephen Pinker argued that on nearly every metric the world was becoming safer than it ever had before and violence was on the decline. Compared to some of the violence of the 20th century this is undoubtedly true, but 2016-17 may have been a turning point – the Prosperity Index shows that even after a steady decline in the past decade, Safety and Security dropped even more dramatically in 2016-17, declining by five times more than any other pillar.

The fundamental importance of security to prosperity can be seen clearly in this year’s findings. For example, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), strong Safety and Security scores for countries such as Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) help offset under-performance in areas such as Personal Freedom and Social Capital. Comparatively, countries such as South Africa see a lack of security detract substantially from the extent to which prosperity is shared.

Regional conflicts spill over national borders

In the most basic sense, Safety and Security is about the ability to live life free from harm, and to be protected from threats to family or community. In practical terms this means protection from conflict and terror in all of its forms, including war, coups, state-sanctioned killings, disappearances, and political imprisonment, as well as not needing to flee to seek asylum. This is necessary for improving wellbeing, as well as attracting investment and sustaining economic growth. Low scores on this dimension materially impact the ability to secure prosperity, with a good example being Colombia’s ongoing conflict, which means that it underperforms substantially, despite promising performance in other pillars.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that some 28,300 people a day are forced to leave their homes due to conflict or persecution, with the total number of displaced people reaching 65.5 million

In the past year conflicts have taken on a more regional dimension, spreading from their epicentres in places like Libya and Syria, to involve countries such as Niger, Chad, Iran and Turkey. This year’s data demonstrate this phenomenon, with countries such as Yemen seeing their national security situation worsen and the number of refugees fleeing the country increase dramatically. This reflects estimations that since 2015 the conflict in Yemen has resulted in over 13,000 civilian casualties and left 82% of the population in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

There is also another dimension: when safety is not guaranteed people flee. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that some 28,300 people a day are forced to leave their homes due to conflict or persecution, with the total number of displaced people reaching 65.5 million people, a 300,000 person increase on the previous year. Around 55% of refugees came from either South Sudan, Afghanistan or Syria, demonstrating the way that regional conflicts have increased the flow of refugees. Furthermore, large-scale migration is linked to issues such as increases in forced labour and modern slavery, to which some 40 million people are estimated to be subject.

The impact of Islamic extremism has also been felt across the globe. Western Europe and North America experienced an increase in terrorist attacks, such as the Bataclan Theatre attacks and the Orlando nightclub shooting, driving a decrease in the score of both regions. Thus, whilst regions such as North America and Western Europe rank much higher in Safety and Security, they too have seen national security worsen as a result of terrorist attacks. This is, however, to some extent offset by the decrease in violence that Eastern Europe has experienced – as the reduction in hostilities between Ukraine and Russia has resulted in both countries seeing some improvement in their national security scores.

Mixed performance on law and order

The Safety and Security of a society depends not just on threats from international or internal conflict, but also threats to personal safety, such as homicide and theft. Furthermore, perceptions of safety can affect prosperity: if people are afraid to go outside, or to travel, then this affects their wellbeing.

The overall picture of whether law and order is improving is mixed. Some countries, such as Serbia, Albania and Estonia show improvement across the board, with citizens reporting improvements such as an increased feeling of being safe at night and decreased homicides and theft rates. This suggests that law and order is becoming more embedded in these countries and that the influence of organised crime in post-Soviet states may be decreasing.

However, other countries have been less fortunate – with El Salvador in particular seeing an increase in homicide rates and theft, which likely indicates the violence associated with the conflict arising from MS-13 gang activity. In other cases, those with the worst performances in this area, such as Malawi and the Central African Republic, continued their downward slide, suggesting that once the conditions that undermine law and order are in place, it is difficult to restore them.

Natural disasters sweeping away a sense of personal security

Protection from violence is important, but security as it relates to prosperity is about much more than that. For somebody to prosper they also need secure and consistent access to basic necessities such as food and shelter, as well as a safe living environment and infrastructure. Without them, they will perish or be forced to flee – and if their supply of either is not secure, they will be unable to set down roots, unable to take entrepreneurial risks, and unable to safeguard their family or benefit from anything other than a temporary boost in wellbeing. This can act as an important element of securing prosperity – for example, despite it being under threat in portions of Asia, strong security of living conditions underpin much of the prosperity which countries such as Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea have experienced.

Many less prosperous countries are still unable to prepare or respond, and hence for them the threat to Safety and Security comes as much from the impact of natural events as from conflict

In addition to conflict, natural disasters have been the driving force behind decreasing security in some countries, as 2016-17 has seen drought and famine threaten the livelihoods of large numbers of people. In Uganda, for example, droughts destroyed harvests, leading the Government to declare in November 2016 that over 1.3 million people were in need of food aid; and in Ethiopia the El Niño weather event caused the worst drought in decades, resulting in approximately 10.2 million people needing food aid. This was not just an issue in Sub-Saharan Africa; in Thailand over half a million households were affected by the 2016-17 floods; and in Ecuador some 720,000 people required humanitarian assistance after an earthquake rocked the country.

With increased prosperity comes the ability to reduce the human costs of natural disasters. For example, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand claimed 185 lives, whereas a slightly larger earthquake in Haiti the year before had killed a quarter of a million people. Many less prosperous countries are still unable to prepare or respond, and hence for them the threat to Safety and Security comes as much from the impact of natural events as from conflict.

Lessons for prosperity: an increasingly insecure world

Escalating regional conflicts, natural disasters and a global terrorist threat are combining to mean that, for the first time in decades, the long-term trend of the world becoming safer and more secure may be reversing. These factors may also overlap; chaos and conflict cause humanitarian crises, the scarcity caused by famine and drought can lead to conflict, and lawless areas can offer a hotbed for terrorism to prosper. Without these issues being resolved, one of the foundations of prosperity may be under threat.