The world has never been safer than it is right now. Most forms of violence have dropped precipitously over the past few centuries. Although conflict deaths recently spiked (the war in Syria accounts for one third of all war-related killings today), fewer people are dying from warfare than at virtually any time in human history. Terrorist violence also increased over the past two years—especially in six countries the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia—but it still pales in comparison to rates in the 1960s and 1970s. Most impressive of all, homicidal violence is in steady retreat almost everywhere, especially the West.
The lethal violence that persists is unevenly concentrated. Almost half of the roughly 430,000 annual murders around the world are generated by just 25 countries. A handful of states in Latin America—Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela—account for one quarter of all homicides on the planet. As many as 47 of the 50 cities with the highest murder rates are located there. The region is also one of the only parts of the world where murder rates continue climbing. A few other giants, notably India, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United States, also register comparatively high absolute murder tolls, although for the most part, conditions there are improving.
The best way to ensure the continued downward trend of violent deaths is to concentrate reduction efforts in the world's most badly affected countries and cities. Preventing and ending armed conflicts through early diplomacy and peace agreements is statistically correlated with saving lives. There is also evidence that investing resources in high-risk people and places can reduce violent crime at relatively low political and economic cost. The most successful measures typically combine hard commitments, valid and reliable data, realistic milestones and targets, and a laser-like focus on hot spots.
Some of the toughest places on earth have produced stunning turnarounds. Take the case of Bogotá, which between 1995 and 2013 saw its homicide rate plunge by 70 percent, from 80 to 20 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Medellín, once