Drug War-Torn Mexico Is Second Deadliest Conflict Zone, After Syria

By Kelly Burch 05/17/17

Drug cartel violence in Mexico is so severe that it has decreased the life expectancy for men by three years.

mexico drug war
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Drug war violence made Mexico the second deadliest conflict zone in the world last year, accounting for about 23,000 deaths in 2016 alone—exceeding the death tolls in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Only the Syrian civil war—which claimed 50,000 lives—was more deadly, according to the The Armed Conflict Survey 2017 released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). 

“The death toll in Mexico’s conflict surpasses those for Afghanistan and Somalia,” said Dr. John Chipman, chief executive and director-general of the IISS. “This is all the more surprising, considering that the conflict deaths are nearly all attributable to small arms. Mexico is a conflict marked by the absence of artillery, tanks or combat aviation.” 

In Mexico, the violence associated with drug cartels is so severe that it has decreased the life expectancy for men in the country by three years.

“The cartel is pursuing a sustained strategy of hyper-violent criminality, designed to scare local people, deter rivals (including the state) from attempting territorial grabs and maximise the incentives for businesses to pay extortion taxes,” wrote Antonio Sampaio, research associate for security and development at IISS.

The homicide rate in Mexico fell between 2011 and 2014, but began rising again in 2015, according to Newsweek. The IISS noted that it's very unusual for criminal enterprises to grow to a point where it becomes a full-fledged armed conflict. However, that is what has happened in Mexico. 

The IISS report noted that drug cartel violence affects other South American countries as well. El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala saw 16,000 deaths related to the drug war last year.

Despite the grim statistics, the IISS noted that other South American countries have shown that is it possible to make strides against cartel violence.

“Mexico needs speed and policy innovation if it is to change its security strategy,” Sampaio wrote. “Latin America has seen some success in reducing criminal violence: cities such as Medellín in Colombia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil have been able to reduce crime rates significantly over the past decade, through multidimensional policies involving military, law enforcement, urban planning, infrastructure and technology."

"These lessons have been well studied, but they are expensive and complicated to implement," Sampaio continued. "Nevertheless, given current trends Mexico will need to invest in significant policy discussions, followed by decisive political action, in order to change its security landscape.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.