New Zealand is listed as the world's most peaceful country in the 2010 Global Peace Index.

The global financial crisis had made the world less peaceful by fuelling crime and civil unrest, the worldwide study said yesterday, but the risk of outright armed conflict appeared to be falling.

New Zealand was said to be the most peaceful country, followed by Iceland and Japan.

The index - which examines several dozen indicators from the crime rate to defence spending, conflicts with neighbouring states and respect for human rights - showed an overall reduction in the level of peacefulness.

The key drivers were a 5 per cent rise in homicide, more violent demonstrations and a greater fear of crime.

"We have seen what looks like a direct impact from the [financial] crisis," Steve Killelea, the Australian entrepreneur behind the index, told Reuters.

Minimising the impact could mean ensuring any economic pain was equitably shared across society to maintain social cohesion, he said.

The struggling eurozone economies of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain showed a particular rise in unrest risks, while Africa and the Middle East were the only two regions to have become safer since the survey began in 2007.

Africa had seen a drastic fall in the number of armed conflicts and an improvement in relations between neighbours, said Mr Killelea, overshadowing the impact of greater crime. Better ratings for the Middle East and North Africa came primarily from improving relations between nations.

The picture was still mixed for both regions. Ethiopia topped the list of "most improved" countries in 2010 while the world's least peaceful countries were listed as Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan.

The worst performing region since 2007 has been South Asia, with conflict in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India hitting ratings.

Russia's rating was reduced by ongoing tensions with Georgia after their short war in 2008, while China was undermined by a rising risk of social unrest and increased defence spending, up some 15 per cent in the past year.

The United States accounted for 54 per cent of global military spending, Mr Killelea said, with its conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere a potentially damaging distraction.

The index is compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace based on data from the Economist Intelligence Unit. It estimates violence costs the global economy $10.5 trillion a year.