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U.N.: Armed killings cost U.S. $45 billion yearly

The United States leads the world in economic loss from deaths caused by armed crime, according to a global survey released Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States leads the world in economic loss from deaths caused by armed crime, according to a global survey released Friday.

The United States registered an estimated loss of up to $45.1 billion in terms of economic productivity because of violent crimes, said the report by the U.N. Development Program and the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

At least 490,000 people are killed in armed crimes each year worldwide, placing a huge economic cost and social burden on nations, the report said.

The report did not give a country-by-country breakdown of the numbers of people killed in armed crimes.

But the report said that Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and South Africa are among the countries with the highest numbers of recorded violent crimes in the world.

More people are killed worldwide in violent crimes every year than in wars, it said, asserting that the phenomenon of armed killings and its economic impact on nations is largely underreported.

Lost potential
In the 90 countries surveyed, the economic cost from people killed by arms each year is estimated to total between $95 billion and $163 billion, according to the report.

"These estimates are based on calculations of the 'lost product' that is represented by premature deaths from armed violence," said Achim Wennmann of the Small Arms Survey.

"These people — had they lived — would have contributed as any other individual as productive members of society. Their deaths represent a loss that can be quantified," he told The Associated Press.

The cost arising from these deaths includes a wide range of expenses from medical care, legal proceedings, and lost earnings to lost investment, the 162-page report said.

Wennmann said the report was based on figures compiled by international organizations and national authorities. The most recent available statistics from all the 90 countries surveyed were from 2004, said Wennmann, one of the editors of the report.

He said they had more recent statistics from North America.

In 2007, the region lost up to $46.76 billion from armed violence, he said. The vast majority of that loss — up to $44.8 billion — occurred in the United States, said Wennmann.

'Fear and insecurity'
Guatemala — which has a high rate of violent crime but a smaller population and a much lower GDP than the United States — the cost of armed violence was estimated to be nearly $2.4 billion in 2005, the latest year of data available, the report said. The figure includes health expenses, security costs, impact on investment and material losses.

Cecile Molinier, who directs the U.N. Development Program's office in Geneva, said armed violence is an obstacle in the fight against poverty.

"It tears apart the social fabric of communities, creates fear and insecurity, destroys human and social capital and undermines development," she said.

Among the 90 countries are nations from every continent, including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia and the United States.

The report was written for the secretariat of the 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development — a document signed by 94 states that have pledged to work toward reducing the number of violent crimes.

The United States is not a signatory of the declaration.