Poverty, Violence and Conflict – How are they Related?

On July 22, 2005 Hisham Jamil is unequivocal when asked why he and his wife have chosen a life of unemployment in a foreign country over the life they built together in Baghdad.” You know why we left,” he said as he walked hand-in-hand with his wife, Hamsa, down a busy street here in Jordan’s capital. “The whole world knows why we left. We can’t live in Baghdad anymore; it is as simple as that. Life is impossible.”Jamil, a fashion designer in his now-former life in Baghdad, said his family’s home was destroyed in March 2004 by a massive car bomb that targeted Baghdad’s popular Mount Lebanon Hotel. “Our home was adjacent to the Hotel. It has been structurally damaged to such a degree that selling it is impossible; so too is living in it,” Jamil said. Transcending economic and social class, religion and hometown, the principal reason Iraqis living in Jordan cite for fleeing their country is the ubiquitous violence and instability that has engulfed and suffocated Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion of their country. Rather than focusing on a grand political narrative, Jamil, like virtually all Iraqis who spoke to The NewStandard, stressed the lack of electricity, sanitation, potable water and absence of security that plagues daily life in Iraq. Because of this, he said, “life is impossible on the most basic level.” Carol, a middle-aged beautician and salon owner in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district, left Iraq in June. She is equally blunt in explaining why she left.” We are full of frustration and angst,” she said over dinner with several Iraqi friends. “No one in the world would leave their home willingly, unless it was under such circumstances.” The violence is, of course, not a mysterious phenomenon to Iraqis. They see it as a direct result of the ongoing occupation. “At first we believed that America has come to save us from a cursed situation under Saddam Hussein,” said Carol. “But in fact they have given us an even greater curse. We have no dignity; we are humiliated. We have no water, no electricity, and no security. We don’t understand. We know the Americans can make the situation better, but they are not.”( The New Standard, John Elmer)

What is conflict in the first place?
Conflict is a struggle, between individuals or collectivities over values or claims to status, power and scarce resources in which the aims of the conflicting parties are to assert their values or claims over those of others (Goodhand and Hulme, 1999: 14) In this paper our focus is on militarised violence, although it is recognised that the distinctions between war, predatory violence and crime are becoming increasingly blurred1. It has been estimated that over one third of the world’s population is exposed to armed violence (Stewart and FitzGerald, 2000). Although a recent study2 found that armed conflicts within and between states have declined during the 1990s, serious armed violence persists in many parts of Asia and Africa. Poor countries are at a greater risk of falling into no-exit cycles of violent conflict. Going by the standard definition of war, a total of 1,000 battlefield deaths per year, more than half the countries in Africa are affected by conflict. 75% of the global arms trade is directed at poor countries (Ul Haq, 1999: 129).

What is poverty then? Poverty can be classified into two:

Transient and chronic poverty: the transiently and chronically poor are overlapping but distinct groups. Chronic poverty is usually distinguished from transitory poverty by its duration – the chronically poor are identified not so much by income in a year as by low variation in income over a period of several years. The literature on conflict and poverty tends not to distinguish between transient and chronic poverty. However, the distinction is a useful one in distinguishing between people who move into and out of poverty, often
as a result of seasonal or random shocks (including violent conflict, market failure, famine etc) and the inter-generationally poor, who tend to live on the margins of the global economy in the most chronically insecure regions and benefit least from current development policy.

Spatial poverty traps: the links between remote rural areas, chronic poverty and violent conflict has received limited attention. One could hypothesize that spatial poverty traps are more prone to political instability and violent conflict. A weak state presence, the remote political status of certain groups and a lack of access to markets are likely to increase vulnerability and in certain contexts generate grievance. In Sri Lanka, for instance one of the key factors distinguishing the chronically poor from the transiently poor is the lack of access to state services. The remote rural areas in the deep South provided the main support for the violent JVP uprising in the late 1980s. The geography of risk, vulnerability and insecurity deserves further examination. More attention needs to be paid to the context specific nature of risks, the capacity of households to manage such risks and the potential for public action to bolster indigenous capacity through targeted development investments (Webb and Harinarayan (1999).

Interference with natural factors such as the climate or environment:
In the first place, environmental destruction leads to poverty, and poverty can lead to environmental destruction and we all know that during conflict a big fraction of the forest cover is either cut down or burnt during military operation such as the use of the earth scorch war technique which is usually employed by guerrillas. This lead to poor air, infected water, insect pests and illnesses are much more serious threats to those in a weak economic position than to those who can afford to protect themselves. Many environmental problems are a direct cause of poverty. Other environmental problems such as soil erosion, drought and deforestation are often exacerbated by poverty. The poor are shunted aside into marginal areas where they are compelled to over-use pasture, water and forest resources, thereby exhausting the resources in these areas even more quickly. In general, the poor consume significantly less of the Earth’s resources and cause much fewer environmental problems than the rich. Poor people are far more dependent on renewable resources, soil, the forests, biodiversity and water for their survival than rich people. The depletion of much of the Earths resources is continuing at an unprecedented pace, and there have never been so many people joining the ranks of the poor as in recent decades.

Restoring the productivity of depleted ecosystems is an important way of combating poverty, and every project aimed at reducing poverty must protect the sustainability of the environment and the supply of natural resources. As inadequate employment opportunities induce people to move from the countryside, poverty also becomes an urban problem. In this context, the poor are especially exposed to air and water pollution and food impurities that accompany unrestrained urbanization and industrialization. In addition, the influx to urban areas means a massive transport of nutrients from the countryside. Unless these nutrients are returned, rural areas will be depleted even more. Combining the pressing need of reducing poverty with the absolute requirement of sustainable utilization of natural resources and the environment requires knowledge, capital and the development of new institutions. But this is a development that both the rich and poor countries gain from. Its therefore worthy noting that poverty leads to both conflict and environmental destruction and conflict lead to both poverty and environmental destruction , creating a vicious cycle.

Interference with the Geographical set up
Geographical factors, for example access to fertile land, fresh water, minerals, energy, and other natural resources. Presence or absence of natural features helping or limiting communication, such mountains, deserts, sailable rivers, or coastline. Historically, geography has prevented or slowed the spread of new technology to areas such as the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa. The climate also limits what crops and farm animals may be used on similarly fertile lands(The Geography of Poverty and WealthJeffrey D. Sachs, Andrew D. Mellinger, and John L. Gallup)Therefore the view that the large differences in income levels we see across the world are due to differences in the intrinsic geography of each country against the alternative view that there are poverty traps. We reject simple geographic determinism in favor of a poverty trap model with high- and low-level equilibria. The high-level equilibrium state is found to be the same for all countries while income in the low-level equilibrium, and the probability of being in the high-level equilibrium, are greater in cool, coastal countries with high, year-round, rainfall. During conflicts, Geographical features such as sailable rivers are tampered with and this results in the escalation of poverty since communication could be broken down.

Destruction of natural resources
On the other hand, research on the resource curse has found that countries with an abundance of natural resources creating quick wealth from exports tend to have less long-term prosperity than countries with less of these natural resources.However I whatever case that is , natural resources are very vital in the generation of wealt for both the nation and its people as a whole during conflicts however, natural resources such as forest cover are destroyed which results in the escalation of poverty since the national will then have little to depend on for their livelihood.The government on the other hand will seek to over tax its citizens inorder to recover the revenues it would have gained from the exportation of its resources such as timber.Therefore, since conflicts destroy natural resources, poverty isescalated.

Conflicts lead to malnutrition
Inadequate nutrition in childhood during war may lead to physical and mental stunting that, in turn, may lead to economic problems. (Hence, it is both a cause and an effect). For example, lack of both iodine and iron has been implicated in impaired brain development, and this can affect enormous numbers of people: it is estimated that 2 billion people (one-third of the total global population) are affected by iodine deficiency, including 285 million 6- to 12-year-old children. In developing countries, it is estimated that 40% of children aged 4 and under suffer from anaemia because of insufficient iron in their diets. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty .This is made worse in the times of conflict because of limited relief aid.This lead to underutilisation of labour and as a result leads to poverty because much of the labour cannot work due to illhealth.

Conflicts lead to easy spread of disease
Disease, specifically diseases of poverty: AIDS, malaria , and tuberculosis and others overwhelmingly afflict war torn zones, which perpetuate poverty by diverting individual, community, and national health and economic resources from investment and productivity these resources are diverted to treatment, research and prevention which is so costly and as a result leads to poverty situations.Further, many tropical nations are affected by parasites like malaria, schistosomiasis, and trypanosomiasis that are not present in temperate climates. Such scenarios are very common in area s which are affected by war and violence.And as such, conflicts in the longrun lead to poverty.

Conflicts, Violence and Poverty itself, prevent various forms of investment
Investment especially foreign direct investment is discouraged in war ravaged areas. Poverty can be reduced by increasing economic growth and by increasing the share of this growth going to the poor. Economic growth can be fostered by a set of policies aimed at macroeconomic stability. By this, low budget deficits, a low and stable rate of inflation and sustainable external debt are implied. This can be achieved with a stable investment climate. Fiscal and monetary policies are of central importance to the rate of inflation in the economy. One of the ways of financing a government deficit is to print money. Excessive money creation results in inflation and can lead in turn to macroeconomic instability. A second way of financing the deficit is to borrow from abroad, which adds to external debt, a third way is to run down foreign exchange reserves increasing the likelihood of an exchange rate crisis. Therefore since poverty discourages investment, this in the long run will lead to more poverty hence the vicious cycle of poverty concidering the fact that no one would wish to invest in a place that is all in conflicts and violence.

Unemployment and/or underemployment
In cases of strife such as civil wars and conflicts, there is always a high level of unemployment of human resources .This takes the form of both under and unemployment. This is because the people cannot find jobs and when they get they do, they are usually y too qualified for such jobs. During war, its very common to find doctors working as casual laborers, just to earn a living because the hospitals have been broken down. In some cases even highly qualified individuals such the lawyers are forced to get into those fields where they are so highly qualified basically due to the structural breakdown of government and many other reasons related to insurgency. In most cases however, there are completely no jobs available and hence most of the population is rendered unemployed.

Related to the above, are a number of other factor social and political that escalate poverty levels during war and vice versa. These factors include the following as outlined below.

-Lacking rule of law,Lacking democracy,Lacking infrastructure,Lac Lacking education,Lacking health care,Lacking education,Government corruption,Overpopulation and lack of access to birth control methods, Note that population growth slows or even become negative as poverty is reduced due to the demographic transition,Tax havens which tax their own citizens and companies but not those from other nations and refuse to disclose information necessary for foreign taxation. This enables large scale political corruption, tax evasion, and organized crime in the foreign nations.Historical factors, for example imperialism and colonialism,Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Monarchy, Fascism and Totalitarianism have all been named as causes by scholars writing from different perspectives. For example, poorly functioning property rights is seen by some as a cause of poverty, while socialists see the institution of property rights itself as a cause of poverty. Lacking free trade. In particular, the very high subsidies to and protective tariffs for agriculture in the developed world. For example, almost half of the budget of the European Union goes to agricultural subsidies, mainly to large farmers and agribusinesses, which form a powerful lobby. Japan gave 47 billion dollars in 2005 in subsidies to its agricultural sector,nearly four times the amount it gave in total foreign aid.The US gives 3.9 billion dollars each year in subsidies to its cotton sector, including 25,000 growers, three times more in subsidies than the entire USAID budget for Africa’s 500 million people, This drains the taxed money and increases the prices for the consumers in developed world; decreases competition and efficiency; prevents exports by more competitive agricultural and other sectors in the developed world due to retaliatory trade barriers; and undermines the very type of industry in which the developing countries do have comparative advantages,Lack of freedom and social oppression,Lack of social integration. For example, arising from immigration ( article, Economic impact of immigration to Canada). Slavery,Crime, both white-collar crime and blue-collar crime,Substance abuse, such as alcoholism and drug abuse,War, including civil war, genocide, and democide, Brain drain, Lack of social skills, Exploitation of the poor by the riche,even if not exploitation in the sense of theft, the already wealthy may have easier to accumulate more wealth, for example by hiring better financial advisors,Matthew effect: the phenomenon, widely observed across advanced welfare states, that the middle classes tend to be the main beneficiaries of social benefits and services, even if these are primarily targeted at the poor,Cultural causes, which attribute poverty to common patterns of life, learned or shared within a community. For example, Max Weber argued that Protestantism contributed to economic growth during the industrial revolution,Individual beliefs, actions and choices,Mental illness and disability,

Discrimination of various kinds, such as age discrimination, gender discrimination, racial discrimination. The above mentioned factors explain the relationship between poverty, violence and conflict.However, the nature of the links between conflict and poverty are explored by critically examining three propositions:

Conflict causes poverty
The macro and micro impacts of conflict are examined with a particular focus on how rural livelihoods and entitlements are affected. Conflict has a more severe impact than other external shocks because of the deliberate destruction of livelihoods. Chronic insecurity increases chronic poverty, but the impacts vary according to a range of factors including age, ethnicity, gender and region. Classic conceptualisations of vulnerability may not apply; conflict may reverse pre-existing power relations causing new groups to become politically vulnerable. This is not a particularly new idea and the image of the four horsemen of famine, pestilence, death and war riding together has been invoked in times of crisis through the ages. Until recently however, partly due to the problems of getting reliable data, there have been mainly descriptive accounts of the costs of conflict. This was largely dominated by economists who employed, what Keen describes as a ‘black box model’ of conflict; aggregate consumption and production declines, comparative advantages are lost and capital is destroyed: why do people behave so inexplicably?

However analytical work done in the 1980s and 1990s has contributed to increased understanding of how conflict impacts upon polities, economies and societies. This includes work which focuses on the macro level (Stewart and FitzGerald (2000), Duffield (2000), Collier (2000) and on micro level entitlements, vulnerability and coping strategies (de Waal (1997); Keen (1998), Richards (1996).In SriLanka for example, Military expenditure has risen from 4% of government expenditure in 1981 to 22% in `1997 crowding out various civilian expenditures. It has been estimated that the total costs of the first two phases of the war in the North East was $16 billion or 135% of 1997 GDP. Apart from the direct cost the war has had important opportunity costs. Foreign Direct Investment has not exceeded 1.3% of GDP compared to nearly 4.5% in Thailand, Mainly because of the uncertain climate created by the war. (Goodhand, 2000)

Poverty causes conflict
The processes through which chronic poverty generates grievance leading to violent conflict are examined. Chronic poverty by itself is unlikely to lead to conflict – the chronically poor often lack political voice and organisation. However, horizontal inequalities and social exclusion, particularly when they coincide with identity or regional boundaries may increase a society’s predisposition towards violent conflict. Such background conditions can be exploited by political entrepreneurs. Chronic poverty may also be a significant factor in sustaining wars as violent crime and predation become the only viable livelihood strategy for the chronically poor. While there is some agreement in the literature that conflict causes poverty, the hypothesis that poverty causes conflict is more contentious. Modern conflicts are multi causal with a range of short term and long term factors coming into play, including a sudden economic slow down in the face of rising expectations, external shocks and state crises. Isolating and weighting the different ‘risk factors’ is difficult. Is poverty a permissive or causal factor? Is it a structural cause, a trigger or an accelerator of violent conflict? Searching for root causes may have limited value given the capacity of conflicts to mutate over time. Few would argue for a deterministic link between poverty and conflict and the challenge is to understand how poverty may interact with a range of other factors in certain contexts and at certain times to produce violent conflict. A body of empirical work has emerged which examines poverty’s role as one of a number of causal factors behind violent conflict, although again, this does not differentiate between chronic and transient poverty. (Stewart and FitzGerald, 2000).

A long term crisis of underdevelopment, of economic and social exclusion, may be exacerbated by short term shocks. Poverty and poor social services can fuel conflict ‘from below’, just as it feeds into ‘top down’ violence (Keen, 1998). Historically, marginalized sections of the population have been likely to turn to organized banditry. Particular social conditions such as a surplus rural population or an economic crisis, are therefore conducive to the development of predatory violence. The crusades, for example had a particular attraction for landless and younger sons (Keen, 1998). Similar processes can be identified in many of today’s conflicts as Keen notes: “in Sierra Leone, a chronic shortage of employment opportunities has been matched by a contraction in educational opportunities and in these circumstances many youths have turned to rebellion as a kind of ‘short cut’ to wealth as well as status.” (Keen, 1998).

Resource wealth causes conflict
Finally, the argument that greed rather than grievance causes conflict is briefly examined. High value primary commodities such as diamonds and timber provide opportunities for rebel groups to finance their military activities. It is argued that rebels generate a loud discourse of grievance to hide their real economic motives. The ‘greed’- ‘grievance’ debate merits further examination, but rather than framing the debate in ‘either-or’ terms, the key seems to be in understanding the interaction and synergies between the two. Recent research by Paul Collier of the World Bank questions the view that conflicts are driven by grievance. He argues that popular perceptions are shaped by the discourse which conflicts themselves generate. Social scientists however, should be distrustful of the loud public discourse on conflict and question the language of protest often used by the conflicting parties themselves. War “cannot be fought just on hopes and hatreds” (Collier, 2000a:4). According to Collier, civil wars occur when rebel organisations are financially viable. Therefore it is the feasibility of predation which determines the risk of conflict. “..rebellion is motivated by greed, so that it occurs when rebels can do well out of war” (Collier, 2000a:4).

A comparative analysis of risk factors is used to demonstrate the connection between ‘greed’ and conflict. The most powerful risk factor is that countries which have a substantial share of their income (GDP) coming from the export of primary commodities are radically more at risk of conflict. According to Collier, a country with more than 25% dependence on primary commodity exports is more than 5 times more likely to engage in conflict. Therefore the curse of resource wealth rather than poverty induced grievance is more likely to cause violent conflict. (Goodhand, 2000)

Chronic poverty and violent conflict have, in the main, been treated as separate spheres of academic inquiry and policy. It is argued in this paper that development policy needs to be better attuned to the links between the two, in order to respond to the challenges of growing conflict and chronic poverty. There is some consensus amongst Northern and Southern governments about the need to address poverty and to achieve international development targets. However, during the last 20 years one half of the world’s poorest countries have been seriously affected by civil strife or war; one third of them since 1990. If the problem of endemic instability is not tackled, donors’ poverty-focused goals will be undermined.

Violent conflict is therefore not merely a ‘side issue’ that can be ignored by developmentalists. It needs to be better understood, accounted for and tackled if development goals are to be achieved. To date however, there has been limited empirical research, which examines the nature of the relationship between poverty and conflict. There has been virtually no research, which focuses on chronic poverty and conflict. Theoretical and empirical work have tended to treat the poor as an undifferentiated category. Most of the literature on poverty and conflict has focused on largely descriptive accounts of the impact of conflict on poverty ie. poverty as a consequence of protracted conflict. There has also been a small body of work, which examines poverty as an underlying cause of violent conflict. While there is a level of agreement that chronic conflict is likely to lead to chronic poverty, the reverse argument is more contentious. Recent research, mainly by political economists argues that greed (opportunities for predatory accumulation), rather than grievance, (generated by poverty and social exclusion) tends to cause violent conflict.

This debate about cause and consequence, greed and grievance, has important policy implications and deserves to be explored further. Current donor policy for instance tends to be underpinned by the assumption that poverty and social exclusion cause conflict. Poverty eradication programmes are therefore justified (in addition to their impacts on poverty) as a form of conflict prevention or management. There is however, limited empirical evidence to support or refute this claim. If there is only a loose correlation between today’s conflicts and chronic poverty, as argued by the political economists, this suggests that the policy focus might shift towards addressing more immediate incentives systems related to ‘greed’. We will argue in this paper that rather than setting the debate in ‘either’-‘or’ terms, there is a need to examine in more detail the interaction between ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’ in particular contexts.

In conclusion therefore, its worth noting that
-The costs of conflict depend on a variety of factors including the type, intensity and duration of the conflict and the background social and economic conditions.

The role of the state may be critical in terms of protecting citizens from the social and economic consequences of conflict. Although there tends to be a general loss of entitlements, the distribution of suffering is uneven and classical conceptions of vulnerability may not apply in war.

-Poverty per se, causes conflict, research points to the importance of extreme horizontal inequalities, as a source of grievance which is used by leaders to mobilise followers and to legitimate violent actions. Research also points to the importance of ‘greed’ or the economic agendas of rebel groups. The role of the state appears to be critical in terms of containing ‘grievance’ and not allowing opportunities for ‘greed’ to develop.


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