Globe and Mail

Bulk of violent deaths are suicides, WHO says

Thursday, October 3, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A7
The Globe and Mail

PARIS -- Newspaper headlines cry out daily about the horrors of faraway wars and domestic killings.

The stark reality is that worldwide, people are far more likely to die by their own hand than as victims of armed conflict or murder, according to a groundbreaking new report.

The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, more than 1.6 million people died in violent circumstances in the year 2000.

Of that total, 815,000 committed suicide, 520,000 were murdered and 310,000 died in armed conflicts, including terrorist attacks.

"It will probably come as a surprise to many to realize that we are killing ourselves at a much greater rate than we are killing each other," said Etienne Krug, director of injuries-and-violence prevention at the WHO.

He said the deaths are just the tip of the iceberg: For every person who dies violently, there are hundreds who are injured.

Dr. Krug said that violence is pervasive in the lives of countless millions, and it is exacting a tremendous economic and social cost.

The 346-page report, which will be made public today in Brussels, is the first comprehensive look at violence as an international public-health problem.

"One of the main objectives of this exercise is to put the issue of violence on the table, to get the public, politicians and public-health officials to discuss what can be done," Dr. Krug said.

In the foreword to the report, former South African president Nelson Mandela says that the problem of violence cannot be tackled exclusively in the criminal-justice system. "Violence thrives in the absence of democracy, respect for human rights and good governance," he said, so it must be addressed in the political arena, by public-health authorities and by international organizations like the United Nations.

Mr. Mandela said that while wars and terrorist attacks garner much attention, more effort must be made to address the widespread, but less visible, scourge of individual suffering seen through "the pain of children who are abused by people who should protect them, women injured or humiliated by violent partners, elderly people maltreated by their caregivers, youths who are bullied by other youths and people of all ages who inflict violence on themselves."

According to the report, one person in the world commits suicide every 40 seconds, every minute there is a murder and someone dies as a result of armed conflict every 100 seconds.

Violence is the leading cause of death of people between the ages of 15 and 44. Suicide, murder and war account for one in seven deaths among males and one in 15 deaths among females.

Rates of violent death vary dramatically according to country income. The rate of violent death is more than twice as high in low- and middle-income countries as it is in high-income countries: 32.1 deaths for every 100,000 population compared to 14.4 for every 100,000.

There are notable regional differences in the way people die. In Africa and the Americas as a whole (but not in Canada and the United States individually), homicide rates are three times higher than suicide rates. However, in south-east Asia and Europe, suicide rates are double homicide rates.

The WHO report also provides a country-by-country breakdown of violent deaths. Canada recorded 3,681 suicides and 431 murders in 1997; 1,034 of those deaths involved firearms. Canada did not record any war-related deaths.

Dr. Krug said it is impossible to put a dollar figure on the economic costs of violence, but it is substantial. He said that research in Latin America showed that in Colombia, the medical costs alone of treating violence equalled 5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. And, in the United States, treating gunshot wounds costs $126-billion (U.S.), and stab wounds another $51-billion.
Victims of violence
The number of violent deaths worldwide in the year 2000:

                                              Rate per
                                              100,000      Per cent
Type of violence                   Number     population   of totalSuicide                              815,000     14.5       49.1%

Homicide                             520,000      8.8       31.3%

War-related                          310,000      5.2       18.6%

Executed by the state                 14,000      0.2        0.8%

TOTAL                              1,659,000     28.8      100.0%

Low- and middle-income countries   1,510,000     32.1       91.1%

High-income countries                149,000     14.4        8.9%

Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.