Canada rose to fourth on an annual ranking of world peacefulness, trailing only Iceland, Denmark and New Zealand, while Syria posted the biggest drop on the list.

The 2012 Global Peace Index released Tuesday — the sixth produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an Australia-U.S. think-tank, with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit —  saw Canada move up three spots from the 2011 list

The 2012 index ranks 158 nations using 23 indicators which gauge ongoing domestic and international conflict, societal safety and security, and militarization. The 2011 list included 153 countries

Canada's 2012 ranking improved as its casualties decreased in the conflict in Afghanistan, according to the report.

Overall world peacefulness climbed for the first time since 2009, as all regions of the world — except the Middle East and North Africa — saw an improvement in their levels of peacefulness.

The Middle East and North Africa, lumped together as one region, were deemed the least peaceful, a title that had been held by sub-Saharan Africa since 2007.

For a sixth straight year, Western Europe remained the most peaceful overall region of the world.

Iceland was deemed the world's most peaceful country for the second straight year.

The survey also found:

  • Syria, which has been wracked by internal conflict, posted the biggest drop, slid 31 places to 147th position.
  • Sri Lanka was the biggest gainer, leaping 27 places to 103rd, with the end of its civil war.
  • Somalia remained the world’s least peaceful nation for the second year running.
  • The United States ranked 88th out of 158 countries; in 2011 it ranked 81st out of 153.

If the world had been completely peaceful in 2011, the benefit to the global economy would have been an estimated $9 trillion US, the Institute for Economics and Peace. "While a total elimination of violence may not be possible, an achievable 25 per cent reduction in violence could reap a peace dividend of at least $2.5 trillion US."

With files from The Canadian Pres