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Do poverty, poor health and nutrition increase the risk of armed conflict onset?

Summary of published research1

A recent study analysed the effects of improving economic, food security and health status on the risk of armed conflict onset, focusing on the factors related to the millennium development goals. Researchers employed the discrete-time hazard model that allows examination of the time-varying effects of socioeconomic factors controlling for the reverse effect of conflict. The period studied was 1980-2005. In order to control for the effects of ongoing or previous conflict on socioeconomic factors, the researchers only examined the first conflict outbreak in a country during the sample period. Armed conflict was defined as a contested incompatibility between the government and opposition parties where the use of armed force results in at least 25 battlerelated deaths per year. Data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme/Peace Research Institute, Oslo (UCDP/PRIO) were used. Previous studies of this type have applied logit models to a single cycle data. A key limitation of this is that it treats each period independently and misses inter-temporal effects on the risk of armed conflict. Hence the use of the discrete-time hazard model in this study.

The study found that headcount poverty index in conflict countries prior to the outbreak of the conflict was 31% higher than that for the countries not in conflict. The poverty gap index was 57% higher, child mortality rates were 102% higher, child malnutrition rates were 50% higher, and under-nutrition rates were 45% higher in conflict-onset countries. In contrast, in conflict-onset countries, per capita gross domestic product, annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth and the proportion of the population having access to safe water sources are 43-62% lower compared to those in nonconflict countries.

The results showed that income poverty and poor health and nutritional status are more significantly associated with armed conflict onset than GDP per capita, annual GDP growth, and the ratio of primary commodity exports over GDP. In particular, poor health and nutritional status seems to play a key role in inducing armed conflicts in poor countries.

According to the authors, these results indicate that when a majority of the poor and the malnourished reside in rural areas and depend on agriculture directly or indirectly, investments in public goods for agriculture and rural areas can be effective tools to achieve the multiple goals of reduced poverty, food security and limiting armed conflict. These include reducing riots in early 2008 triggered by high food prices. In essence, food policy can be an effective element of efforts to maintain stability.

The authors conclude that these finding demonstrate the importance of pro-poor policies for reducing the likelihood of armed conflict onset. However, what constitutes propoor will vary by country.

Show footnotes

1Pinstrup-Anderson. P and Shimokawa. S (2008). Do poverty and poor health and nutrition increase the risk of armed conflict onset? Food Policy, vol 33, pp 513-520

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Do poverty, poor health and nutrition increase the risk of armed conflict onset?. Field Exchange 36, July 2009. p7. www.ennonline.net/fex/36/poverty