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Why International Aid Agencies Are Starting to Focus on Urban Violence

Non-war zone killings in cities in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa are far outpacing traditional armed conflict.
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AP

Medellín — winner of the 2013 "Innovative City of the Year" award — is also at the cutting edge of a more troublesome urban trend: a violence epidemic that's turning it and cities like it into war zones. A study released last month [PDF] by a Brazilian think tank determined that urban violence in Medellín is equal in lethal intensity to that of more traditional armed conflict, even if it lacks the organization to qualify as such.

And it's hardly alone. While conflict-related deaths are falling worldwide, urban violence in many parts of the world is surging. In 2011, there were roughly 55,000 conflict-related deaths around the world, compared to 471,000 homicides outside of war zones (one of the standard metrics used to measure violence). The World Bank estimates that one in four people in the world are affected by violence, and experts are raising red flags regarding a trend of non-war zone violence in cities in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Central and Southern Africa. While Africa accounts for 37 percent of the world’s homicides, the homicide rate in the Americas is more than double the world average homicide rate of 6.9 per 100,000. Latin American and Caribbean cities, especially, are leading rankings of homicides (caveat: obtaining reliable data for many Central and Southern African cities is often impossible). Urban violence claimed the lives of nearly 38,000 people in Latin America last year, and forced thousands more to leave their homes, becoming refugees and internally displaced people. The World Bank has calculated that a major episode of violence can "wipe out an entire generation of economic progress."