Without Peace, Can There Be Development?

As UN Member States follow last week's General Assembly debates with the months-long intergovernmental negotiations around the post-2015 development agenda, this is a critical time to remind all stakeholders that a strong goal on peace and security must remain on the list of proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which currently number at 17.

War, violence and high levels of crime affect over 1.5 billion people in the world today, destroying communities and unraveling years of social and economic development. Countries in conflict face far higher levels of undernourishment, educational deficits, child mortality, single female-headed households with young children, as well as lack safe drinking water and basic sanitation. According to the World Bank, only about 20 percent of fragile and conflict-affected countries are meeting the MDG poverty target. The MDGs' failures show we cannot achieve sustainable development where there is no peace and stability, as conflict and violence are widely recognized as the number one obstacle to achieving them.

So far in the proposed SDGs, Member States have included Sustainable Development Goal 16 to "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development..." While the recommendation of a goal on peace calls for celebration, in reality, the goal missed some crucial points. It failed to include targets that address long-term and sustainable peace, such as strengthening education on non-violence and providing opportunities for dispute resolution.

The targets within the proposed peace goal additionally need to be less lofty and more measurable. Peace can be measurable -- the Institute for Economics and Peace has developed nation-specific metrics and indices that measure levels of peace as well as the economic impact of containing violence and conflict. According to the Institute's 2014 Global Peace Index, $9.8 trillion has been spent on violence containment globally, and since 2008, 111 countries have deteriorated in levels of peace while only 51 have increased their peace levels. More concrete wording and the inclusion of percentage increases would allow room to measure the proposed targets.

Some governments think that peace and security should not be tackled within the agenda because it detracts from the agenda's goal: sustainable development. On the contrary, a development agenda that helps prevent conflict will free up resources to promote and enhance sustainable development.

This aside, Goal 16 has and may continue to spark some debates. While some governments argue it will lead to the militarization of aid or that conflict-affected environments require a tailored approach to development, not prescribed targets, the most contentious point during the proposed SDGs draft process was the perception that the goal supports a Western agenda to impose on developing countries and that it would neglect international insecurity and governance issues. The argument is flawed as the final list of proposed Goal 16's targets now encompass tackling international drivers of conflict and violence, such as reducing illicit financial and arms flows.

The inclusion of Goal 16 demonstrates the considerable number of governments that are ready to acknowledge the importance of peaceful societies in paving the way for sustainable development. However, a lot can change before the final decisions are made. Countries can still push for changes and could re-open the contentious issues that nearly prevented the inclusion of a proposed goal on peaceful societies in the first place. Citizens across all borders must push for the inclusion together -- security and peace is pertinent for us all and the key to achieving any kind of sustainable development.


Bonian Golmohammadi, Secretary-General, World Federation of United Nations Associations