Violence exacts a huge financial toll above and beyond the physical and emotional devastation it causes, with violence-related injuries costing some countries more than 4 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP), a report issued today by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reveals.
The report, released on the final day of a four-day conference in Vienna devoted to injury prevention and safety promotion, found that at least 1.6 million people around the world die from violence every year, with millions of others injured or suffering from physical, sexual or mental health problems as a result.
Violence is the biggest cause of death among people between 15 and 44, accounting for 14 per cent of male deaths and 7 per cent of female deaths in that age bracket. The killers of males are usually strangers, but almost half of the women who die because of violence are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
The WHO report focused on the economic costs to countries of violence from murder, sexual assault and violent injury, measuring the medical, legal, judicial and police costs as well as the indirect costs of lost productivity, psychological suffering and future criminality.
It found that Colombia and El Salvador spend 4.3 per cent of their GDP on health costs related to violence, while Brazil spends 1.9 per cent and Peru 1.5 per cent.
Catherine Le Galès-Camus, an Assistant Director-General of WHO, said the study highlighted the expensive economic consequences to societies of violence.
“Responding to violence diverts billions of dollars away from education, social security, housing and recreation, into the essential but seemingly never-ending tasks of providing care for victims and criminal justice interventions for perpetrators,” Dr. Le Galès-Camus said.
Industrialized countries also face high economic costs. In Australia, for example, workplace violence costs $837 million to the economy each year and $5,582 to employers for every victim. In one province of South Africa, Western Cape, homicides alone cost $30 million each year.
Sexual violence, especially involving children, also leads to high costs. Data from some countries suggests about 20 per cent of women and between 5 and 10 per cent of men were abused as children.
WHO said one study had indicated that child abuse costs the United States economy as much as $94 billion a year – or about 1 per cent of its GDP.
Urging countries to do more to prevent violence before it occurs, Alexander Butchart, WHO Coordinator for Violence Prevention, said the study’s findings show this makes good economic sense on top of the obvious benefits to health and safety.
Dr. Butchart said programmes that target high-risk youth should be expanded and services for victims of crime improved if the world is to reduce the incidence of violence.