Protests and demonstrations against Covid-19 have made the world a more dangerous place, a study reveals.
The pandemic fuelled a rise in civil unrest, with the fall-out expected to create further uncertainty.
The findings were revealed in the latest Global Peace Index, produced by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) think tank.
The index assesses the levels of peace in 163 independent territories and states.
It noted a fall in conflict and terrorism globally, but this was tempered by more than 5,000 pandemic-related clashes from January 2020 to April 2021.
The UAE, however, advanced 12 places to be ranked the 52nd most peaceful country in the world, while the Middle East and North Africa region recorded the biggest improvement.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated shifts in global peacefulness,” said Steve Killelea, founder of the IEP.
"Political instability and violent demonstrations have increased. The economic fallout from the pandemic will create further uncertainty, especially for countries that were struggling [before].”
There were almost 15,000 violent protests and demonstrations recorded globally in 2020, including the 5,000 Covid-19 related clashes. This represents a 10 per cent increase on 2019 levels, the study found.
India, Chile, Italy, France, Germany and South Africa were most affected by pandemic-related violence, such as protests against lockdown rules.
“In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had a noticeable impact on violence, with some improvements such as violent conflict, while other indicators deteriorated significantly including violent demonstrations,” the report stated. “Three times as many countries deteriorated than improved.”
Iceland was ranked the most peaceful, with New Zealand, Denmark, Portugal and Slovenia taking up the remaining top-five four slots.
Afghanistan was named the least peaceful country, with Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen rounding off the rest of the bottom five.
The US fell two places to 122nd, while the UK rose six positions to 33.
While the Middle East and North Africa region was again named the least peaceful in the world, it also recorded the biggest year-on-year improvement, the result of a fall in intensity in some conflicts. Yemen overtook Syria as the region's least peaceful nation.
“It is still too early to fully gauge the long-term effect of the pandemic on peace," the report said. "However, the changing economic conditions in many nations increases the likelihood of political instability and violent demonstrations.”
The largest regional deterioration in peacefulness occurred in North America, owing to increased levels of political instability, murder and violent demonstrations.
Events such as the storming of the Capitol building and widespread protests across the US in support of the Black Lives Matter movement increased civil unrest, political instability and the intensity of internal conflict in 2020.
The report also noted that violence is a major concern for many people globally and was cited as the biggest risk to daily safety in almost a third of countries.
More than half of the population in Afghanistan, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and the Dominican Republic reported violence as the most significant risk to their safety in their daily lives.
“Over 60 per cent of people globally are worried about being the victim of violent crime," said Thomas Morgan, associate director of research at the IEP.
"However, despite the high fear of violence most people feel the world is getting safer.
"Nearly 75 per cent of people globally felt that the world was as safe or safer than five years ago.”