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Rapid Urbanization Increasing Armed Violence


A new report shows rapid urbanization is leading to more crime and armed violence. The Small Arms Survey says the consequences of urbanization are especially dramatic in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. The report finds that murder rates in some cities surpass that of some countries at war. Lisa Schlein attended the launch of the report in Geneva and has this report for VOA.

For the first time in history, the United Nations reports more than half of the world's population live in cities. The Small Arms Survey says rapid urban growth and escalating migration to the cities is causing large-scale social displacement and increased trade in drugs, people and goods. All of this, it says is contributing to armed crime and violence.

It reports Latin America has some of the highest violence in the world. It notes Brazil's yearly murder rate of 45,000 surpasses that of some countries at war.

The survey says civilians own approximately 650 million of the total 875 million civilian, law enforcement, and military firearms in the world today. It finds the United States has the highest distribution of weapons with 90 per 100 people. Britain and Wales have the lowest with five weapons per 100 people.

Program Director of the Small Arms Survey, Keith Krause says firearms are very unevenly distributed around the world.

"The image we have of certain regions such as Africa or Latin America being awash with weapons, these images are certainly misleading," he explained. "It also, of course, points out there is no clear relationship between more guns and higher levels of violence, as is demonstrated from some of the cases in Latin America where relatively low levels of weapons ownership are associated with relatively high levels of armed violence."

The survey reports the global trade in small arms and light weapons is worth around $4 billion a year. It says the United States, followed by France and Italy are the most transparent major exporters of small arms. It says the least transparent are Bulgaria, North Korea and South Africa.

This year's edition also focuses on the violence and insecurity in South Sudan following the January 2005 Agreement, which ended 20 years of civil war.

It says the spread and ease with which small weapons are acquired is putting a strain on the accord. But, as in the case in Darfur, the report finds rebel groups in South Sudan have split and fractured.

Managing Director of the Small Arms Survey Eric Berman says under the agreement, all armed groups must either disband or must join the Sudan People's Liberation Army or the government's army in Khartoum. He says there has been a lot of movement in this direction.

"But, integrating the commanders of these groups has proven much easier than integrating the armed men under their command," he said. "More than two years after the signing the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement), many armed groups with thousands of armed men, still are not abiding by this provision. The number of weapons that these groups possess is significant, so are the weapons held by the SAM and the SPLA."

Berman says the existence of so many light weapons does not mean there will be a resumption of war. But, he says it does affect the security in the region and increases tensions between the North and the South.

He says this issue will become even more crucial as a referendum on secession for the South approaches in 2011.

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