Afghanistan is the world's least peaceful country for the fourth consecutive year, but it was Burkina Faso which recorded the largest deterioration in the Global Peace Index 2021.
Yemen is now the least peaceful country in the MENA region, a position that had been held by Syria since 2014. Yemen has recorded declines in peacefulness every year since 2008.
Civil unrest rose 10 per cent globally, driven by the coronavirus pandemic. There were 14,871 violent demonstrations, protests and riots recorded globally in 2020.
The report said Covid was a "multiplying force" in future political instability and civil unrest. It added the level of this unrest going forward is likely to hinge on the speed and effectiveness of economic recovery. Countries with less debt and higher levels of positive peace were more likely to recover faster.
Despite this, overall three-quarters of people globally feel as safe or more safe today than they did five years ago. Some indicators of violence have recorded significant improvements since the start of the index, and 123 countries have seen murder rates fall since 2008.
Global Peace Index 2021: 10 most peaceful countries
The top 10 most peaceful countries index 2021 is almost identical to its 2020 rankings. Only Singapore has dropped out after it recorded an increase in its political terror indicator.
The top 10 is dominated by European countries and Ireland’s appearance at eight, up three places from its 2020 spot at 11, shunted Singapore out of the top 10.
The only non-European countries to make an appearance are New Zealand (2) and Canada (10).
Global Peace Index 2021: 10 least peaceful countries
The 10 least peaceful countries in the index haven’t changed since last year. Within this grouping, Yemen (162) dropped three places to second last, but Iraq (159) moved up two, a continuation of a recent trend which has seen the country record improvements in three of the last 10 years.
Global Peace Index 2021: regional performance
Middle East and North Africa region (MENA)
MENA remained the least peaceful region in the world for the sixth consecutive year, despite recording the largest improvement in peacefulness of any region.
Notably, four of the five least peaceful countries in the region recorded an improvement.
The five bottom countries on the Global Peace Index are seeing "positive momentum", said index founder Steve Killelea.
"We've got recent peace agreements in Libya, Iran, and Syria so there will be probably be further reductions in the intensity of conflicts there over the next two years. I'm reasonably optimistic."
There were improvements in the overall score in 15 of the 20 countries in the region, with an average overall increase in peacefulness of 0.81 per cent. Five countries in the region recorded a deterioration in peacefulness.
The primary driver of the increase in peacefulness in the region was the improvement in the "Ongoing Conflict" category.
Europe recorded an improvement in peacefulness because of a drop in terrorism for the sixth successive year. France is an outlier in western democracies, being ranked as low as 55th. That position is due to high levels of terrorist incidents compared to counterparts.
Europe is the third most improved region overall, unsurprising given eight of the 10 most peaceful countries in the index are European.
However, the region was still heavily affected by Covid-19, and restrictions on movement led to a series of increasingly bilious anti-lockdown demonstrations.
Half of the population have had a recent experience of violence. Those living in Namibia had the highest experience of violence in the world at 6 per cent.
The most peaceful country in the region is Mauritius, which is ranked 28.
South Sudan remains the least peaceful country in the region and one of the least peaceful countries in the world, despite an improvement in peacefulness in the 2021 index.
The largest deterioration in peacefulness in the region occurred in Burkina Faso. This was also the single largest deterioration of any country. The government’s decision to fund and arm civilian auxiliary groups in its fight against insurgents drove the plunge.
Taiwan led to a deterioration in the "Neighbouring Countries Relations" category. These tensions increased with the introduction of China's Coast Guard Law in February 2021, which allowed the use of "all necessary means" to deter threats posed by foreign vessels in waters "under China's protection".
Increased civil unrest was recorded in a number of other countries throughout the region, but more than 50 per cent of people felt safer than they did five years ago. In China, 63 per cent of people said that they felt safer, the best result in the region.
South Asia was one of only three regions to record an improvement in peacefulness over the past year, although it remains the second least peaceful region overall.
The average level of peacefulness in the region improved by 0.1 per cent, with improvements occurring in five of the seven countries in the region.
South Asia also recorded improvements in the "Militarisation" and "Safety and Security" categories.
There is a wide disparity between the least and most peaceful countries in the region. Bhutan is ranked 22nd overall and Afghanistan 163rd, making it the least peaceful country in the world, although a glimmer of hope was offered by intra-Afghan peace talks.
Russia and Eurasia
For the first time in five years, peacefulness deteriorated. Belarus was particularly tumultuous and suffered the second largest drop in peacefulness in the poll, behind only Burkina Faso.
The disputed presidential election of August 2020 fomented a string of demonstrations and violent clashes with the authorities.
Although not priced into the 2021 index, in May this year the Eurasian state made global headlines when it scrambled a jet to force a Ryanair passenger carrying an anti-government journalist to land.
North America saw the largest deterioration in the index, fuelled by political instability in the US epitomised by the nationwide riots following George Floyd's murder in April 2020, and the infamous storming of the Capitol in the fractious build-up to the US presidential elections.
Central America and the Caribbean
Peacefulness fell slightly in Central America and the Caribbean in the 2021 index.
Costa Rica (39) remained the most peaceful country in the region and Mexico (140) the least.
Honduras recorded the biggest deterioration in peacefulness in the region and the third biggest deterioration in the overall index. Overcrowding in its prison system has led to outbreaks of violence between different organised criminal groups, including the first ever organised crime-related massacre inside a female prison.
Experienced the second largest regional deterioration with substantial increases in violent crime and civil unrest.
The average level of peacefulness in South America fell by 0.9 per cent over the past year, with six countries recording deteriorations, and four recording improvements.
Uruguay (47) was the most peaceful country in the region although somewhat paradoxically it recorded the biggest deterioration in peacefulness.
Argentina (68) was the region’s biggest improver and Venezuela (152) the least peaceful country. Ruled by the socialist despot Nicolas Maduro, the country scored a five on the "Political Terror Scale", the highest possible score.