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Youthink! Issues - Conflict

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Extended fight or struggle -- including war
© Ryan Rayburn | The World Bank

What is it?

Conflict -- whether neighborhood crime and violence, civil war, or war between two countries -- is often both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Research shows that the combination of poverty, economic decline, and a dependence on exporting natural resources drives conflict across all regions.

Many of the poorest countries are locked in a vicious cycle in which poverty causes conflict and conflict, in turn, causes poverty.

  • According to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, there were 363 global conflicts in 2010, and 28 of them involved massive violence.
  • Escaping this “conflict trap” remains an elusive goal for many post-conflict countries: an estimated 40% relapse into conflict within 10 years.
  • Of the 34 countries least likely to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, 22 are affected by current or recent conflicts.
  • Even when there is rapid progress after peace, it can take a generation or more just to return to pre-war living standards.

Why should I care?

Conflict, especially civil war, is expensive and can affect everyone, even those living on other continents!

Within a Country: The cost of war continues long after the fighting ends:

  • Deaths: Combatant deaths are a small fraction of overall deaths, injuries and misery. Declining health services can lead to more people dying -- including non-combatants. About half the deaths happen after "peace" is declared.
  • Flight and Disease: Numerous people flee combat. Refugees often pick up diseases as they flee, spreading them across borders as they seek sanctuary.
  • Lost Childhoods: Generations of kids and young people miss out on a stable home, childhood and school. Often they are recruited as soldiers. Once the war ends, it is challenging for these young people to lead their countries into the future.
  • Landmines: Mines left in battlefields put land out of reach for years, making it difficult for farmers to produce food. Many countries find it is too expensive to locate and remove landmines.
  • Poverty and Isolation: Countries that suffer a civil war often get locked into high levels of military expenditure, capital flight, infectious disease, low growth and entrenched poverty.

Regionally: Neighboring countries also suffer immediate and long-term consequences:

  • Refugees: Providing for refugees can strain the economy and healthcare systems of neighboring countries, which often are poor themselves.
  • Infectious Diseases: Refugees often spread diseases like malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis. For every 1,000 refugees moving across a border into another country, malaria cases in the host country increase by about 1,400 cases.
  • Economic Costs: Investment dries up and economic growth declines in neighboring countries, which make it possible for the existing civil war to spark others or to evolve into a regional conflict.

Globally: Major social challenges are largely the by-product of civil wars:

  • Drugs: About 95% of drug production occurs in civil war countries because it is easier to produce large quantities in places outside the control of a recognized government. Colombia and Afghanistan are examples.
  • HIV/AIDS and Other Diseases: Wars result in mass rape and flight, which can spread infection fast. For example, research suggests the initial spread of HIV was closely associated with Uganda's 1979 civil war, and the large number of rapes along its border with Tanzania.
  • International Terrorism: Territories without a recognized government become havens for terrorist groups to set up headquarters and training grounds.

What is the international community doing?

The World Bank sees conflict as the opposite of development and works to prevent conflict from arising.

In 2007 the Bank introduced a new emergency response policy, which helped support a Bankwide response, and greater management attention, to emerging global crises. A review two years later showed that the new policy has allowed for faster processing of emergency lending, and has paved the way for important partnerships with development partners working in crisis and emergency settings. The policy has also increased World Bank institutional support to country teams working in these situations.

The international community works to:

  • Increase and better target aid for countries at risk
  • Increase transparency and scrutiny of the revenue derived from natural resources
  • Track natural commodities to keep the money away from rebel groups
  • Improve post-conflict peacekeeping and aid

For example, new international regulations in the diamond trade have cut financing for rebel groups dependent on "blood diamonds," helping to end rebellions in Angola and Sierra Leone.

Developed countries have agreed to make bribery of developing country officials a crime. This has reduced corruption, which is often a contributing factor in the onset of conflict.

An international ban on landmines instituted in 1997 has already reduced the number of casualties by half.

In the great lakes region in Central Africa, the international community is working to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate some 450,000 former combatants into society.

What can I do?

Learn about current events, other people, and history, so you can help prevent misunderstandings instead of adding fire to them.

For more information: Fragility and Conflict

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