What is the nature of links between conflict and poverty? What are the implications of academic debate for policy and future research? This paper from the Chronic Poverty Research Centre provides an overview of the literature on chronic poverty and conflict. Traditionally the concepts of chronic poverty and violent conflict have been treated as separate spheres. It is argued that poverty and conflict are linked. Violent conflict is not a side issue and needs to be better understood in order to achieve development goals.
Conventional theorising of wars between states is no longer applicable, with conflict transcending national boundaries. The end of the Cold War and the impacts of Globalisation led to a weakening of the state, especially in the South. In the case of Afghanistan this has led to a power vacuum filled by non-state actors with interests outside borders.
Respective literatures have therefore reached an impasse as Complex Political Emergency (hybrid conflicts that combine transnational and internal characteristics) literature focuses on ‘meta theories of development’ and globalisation and poverty ‘empowerment from below’. The following hypotheses are reached:
- Conflict causes poverty, especially protracted and collapsed-state conflicts. This leads to intergenerational exclusion and chronic poverty as social safety nets collapse.
- The long term costs of war include higher dependency rates alongside large political, economic and social costs.
- Poverty causes conflict with inequality, exclusion and poverty fuelling grievance. However, the chronically poor tend to be the least organised,with the transient poor, or groups that suffer sudden changes in wealth and status, more likely to rebel.
- Resource Wealth causes conflict with group grievances manufactured to control territory and finance power.
- Grievance should not be ignored in place of greed. This has important implications for monitoring and evaluation systems, with a need to understand the synergies and interactions between the two.
- The role of the state is critical in relation to chronic poverty and conflict. The best antidote to chronic poverty is a strong, accountable and legitimate state.
Development policy should be better attuned to the links between conflict and poverty. Greater clarity needs to be developed over objectives, mandates and capacities. Thus coherence is required with other policy instruments, alongside a range of policies at international level to address the greed and grievance dynamics.
Conflict is growing with poor countries falling into no-exit cycles of violence. The majority of casualties are inflicted on civilians with contemporary forms of analysis based on temporary violence no longer relevant. Three broad approaches by poverty focused donors are therefore identified with recommendations for each:
- Working around conflict – Donors avoid the issue of conflict, use a one size fits all approach and withdraw activities during outbreaks. This is not recommended and counter productive as development is put on hold when the problems of poverty are the greatest.
- Working in conflict and intervening in affected areas – Poorly designed poverty programmes can exacerbate greed and therefore conflict. Therefore the challenge is to reduce vulnerability, sustain livelihoods as well as lives.
- Working on conflict through a focus on conflict prevention and resolution – Poverty programmes should be designed to prevent violent conflict and resolve in areas of active conflict. Donors should strive for greater coherence between various policy instruments.