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Extreme poverty exhausts institutions, depletes resources, weakens leadership, and ultimately contributes to rising insecurity and conflict. Just as poverty begets insecurity, however, the reverse is also true. As the destabilizing effects of conflict settle in, civil institutions are undermined and poverty proliferates. Breaking this nexus between poverty and conflict is one of the biggest challenges of the twenty-first century. The authors of this compelling book —some of the most experienced practitioners from...
Extreme poverty exhausts institutions, depletes resources, weakens leadership, and ultimately contributes to rising insecurity and conflict. Just as poverty begets insecurity, however, the reverse is also true. As the destabilizing effects of conflict settle in, civil institutions are undermined and poverty proliferates. Breaking this nexus between poverty and conflict is one of the biggest challenges of the twenty-first century. The authors of this compelling book —some of the most experienced practitioners from around the world —investigate the complex and dynamic relationship between poverty and insecurity, exploring possible agents for change. They bring the latest lessons and intellectual framework to bear in an examination of African leadership, the private sector, and American foreign aid as vehicles for improving economic conditions and security.
Contributors include Colin Kahl (University of Minnesota),Vinca LaFleur (Vinca LaFleur Communications), Edward Miguel (University of California, Berkeley), Jane Nelson (Harvard University and Brookings), Anthony Nyong (University of Jos and the International Development Research Centre, Nairobi), Susan Rice (Brookings), Robert Rotberg (Harvard University and the World Peace Foundation), Marc Sommers (Tufts University), Hendrik Urdal (International Peace Research Institute), and Jennifer Windsor (Freedom House).
Lael Brainard, Derek Chollet, and Vinca Lafleur
The fight against global poverty is commonly-and appropriately-framed as a moral imperative. Stark images of suffering weigh on Western consciences, as images of hungry children in Niger, AIDS orphans in Tanzania, tsunami victims in Indonesia, and refugees in Darfur are beamed into our living rooms in real time. In today's increasingly interconnected world, the "haves" cannot ignore the suffering of the "have-nots." Whether or not we choose to care, we cannot pretend that we do not see.
Yet the effort to end poverty is about much more than extending a helping hand to those in need. In a world where boundaries and borders have blurred, and where seemingly distant threats can metastasize into immediate problems, the fight against global poverty has become a fight of necessity-not simply because personal morality demands it, but because global security does as well.
Extreme poverty exhausts governing institutions, depletes resources, weakens leaders, and crushes hope-fueling a volatile mix of desperation and instability. Poor, fragile states can explode into violence or implode into collapse, imperiling their citizens, regional neighbors, and the wider world as livelihoods are crushed, investors flee, and ungoverned territories become a spawning ground for global threats like terrorism, trafficking, environmental devastation, and disease.
Yet if poverty leads to insecurity, it is also true that the destabilizing effects of conflict and demographic and environmental challenges make it harder for leaders, institutions, and outsiders to promote human development. Civil wars may result in as many as 30 percent more people living in poverty-and research suggests that as many as one-third of civil wars ultimately reignite.
In sum, poverty is both a cause of insecurity and a consequence of it.
If the link between poverty and insecurity is apparent, the pathway toward solutions is far from clear. What, after all, is meant by "insecurity" and "conflict"-two terms that cover a wide range of phenomena, from the fear and want poor individuals suffer to the armed violence that can engulf entire regions? Is conflict driven by concrete economic factors or sociopolitical exclusion and humiliation? Should our primary concern be internal instability or the risk that destabilizing threats will be exported? Should we worry most about individual livelihoods or the health of the state itself? Is it necessary to address insecurity before poverty can be tackled? Should U.S. policymakers characterize development assistance as an American national security priority or frame it in moral terms?
It is hard to know which strand to grasp first to untangle the poverty-insecurity web. But every day, 30,000 children die because they are too poor to survive, and last year saw seventeen major armed conflicts in sixteen locations. Over the next four decades, the population of developing countries will swell to nearly 8 billion-representing 86 percent of humanity. Addressing poverty-and clearly understanding its relationship to insecurity-needs to be at the forefront of the policy agenda. The world simply cannot afford to wait.
The Doom Spiral
In recent years, world leaders and policy experts have developed a strong consensus that the fight against poverty is important to ensuring global stability. This was the core message of the 2005 Group of Eight Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, and it is the underlying rationale of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
American policymakers have traditionally viewed security threats as involving bullets and bombs-but now even they acknowledge the link between poverty and conflict. Former secretary of state Colin Powell notes that "the United States cannot win the war on terrorism unless we confront the social and political roots of poverty." The 2006 National Security Strategy of the United States makes the case for fighting poverty because "development reinforces diplomacy and defense, reducing long-term threats to our national security by helping to build stable, prosperous, and peaceful societies." And the Pentagon's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review focuses on fighting the "long war," declaring that the U.S. military has a humanitarian role in "alleviating suffering, ... [helping] prevent disorder from spiraling into wider conflict or crisis."
Such assertions have a commonsense and compelling logic. Within states, extreme poverty literally kills; hunger, malnutrition, and disease claim the lives of millions each year. Poverty-stricken states tend to have weak institutions and are often plagued by ineffective governance, rendering them unable to meet their people's basic needs for food, sanitation, health care, and education. Weak governments are often unable to adequately control their territory-leaving lawless areas and natural resources to be hijacked by predatory actors. Fragile states can become breeding grounds for criminal activity, internal strife, or terrorist networks-and often all three simultaneously.
Extreme poverty is also both a source and product of environmental degradation-for example, the deforestation of the Amazon River and Congo River basins is damaging biodiversity and contributing to global warming. And in an age of global air travel, when traffic is expected to reach 4.4 trillion passenger-kilometers flown in 2008, it is easy to see how a disease-whether avian flu, Ebola, or SARS-originating in a developing country with poor early warning and response mechanisms could quickly threaten the lives of people far beyond its borders.
The arguments linking poverty and insecurity are reinforced by recent scholarly research. Mainstream opinion, in the media and elsewhere, tends to characterize civil conflict as stemming from ancient ethnic hatreds or political rivalries. Yet the groundbreaking statistical analysis by the Oxford economist Paul Collier shows that ethnic diversity is in most cases actually a safeguard against violence; the most powerful predictors of civil conflict are in fact weak economic growth, low incomes, and dependence on natural resources. In Collier's words, countries with all three risk factors "are engaged in a sort of Russian Roulette," struggling to promote development before the bullets start to fly.
It is true that war itself impoverishes, but the Berkeley economist Edward Miguel and his colleagues have helped establish convincingly that increases in poverty on their own significantly increase the likelihood of conflict. Miguel examined annual country-level data for forty-one countries in sub-Saharan Africa between 1981 and 1999 whose populations depend on subsistence agriculture, and he showed that the drop in per capita income associated with drought significantly increases the likelihood of civil conflict in the following year. Given that drought is a natural phenomenon, the analysis suggests that violent conflict is driven by poor economic outcomes, and not the other way round. Conversely, this research shows that as such economic factors as personal income and national growth rates rise, the risk of conflict falls. For each additional percentage point in the growth rate of per capita income, the chances for conflict are about 1 percent less; doubling the level of income cuts the risk of conflict in half. According to the U.K. Department for International Development, a country with $250 per capita income has a 15 percent likelihood of internal conflict over five years-many times greater than the 1 percent risk to an economy with $5,000 per capita income.
Why is the risk of conflict higher in poor countries? Some suggest that it is because poor people have little to lose; as The Economist wrote, "it is easy to give a poor man a cause." In addition, governments of poor countries often have little tax base with which to build professional security forces and are vulnerable to corruption. Moreover, poverty is often associated with political exclusion, humiliation, and alienation-a poverty of dignity and voice. Finally, while the data do not confirm a causal linkage between a country's income inequality and the risk of civil war, recent trends from Mexico to India to China suggest that rising expectations that go unmet may also fuel unrest. In the words of Oxfam USA's president, Raymond Offenheiser, "It isn't just who's poor that matters, but who cares about being poor."
Tragically, poverty and insecurity are mutually reinforcing, leading to what the Brookings scholar Susan Rice evocatively calls a "doom spiral." Conflict increases infant mortality, creates refugees, fuels trafficking in drugs and weapons, and wipes out infrastructure. It also makes it harder for outside players to deliver assistance and less attractive for the global private sector to invest. Thus, once a country has fallen into the vortex, it is difficult for it to climb out-as the world has witnessed with the ongoing catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a crisis that has claimed nearly 4 million lives and sparked a massive humanitarian emergency, where most people today are killed not by weapons but by easily preventable and treatable diseases.
Violent conflict also produces considerable economic spillover for neighboring countries, as refugees flow in, investment pulls out, and supply chains and trade routes are disrupted. Moreover, mass movements of people-whether armed rebels or civilian refugees-can be regionwide conveyor belts of infectious disease.
Although the overall number of internal and interstate wars is decreasing, a group of regions and countries remains vulnerable to conflicts over protracted periods-often cycling back into conflict after stability has been established. Instability is largely concentrated in and around the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and frontline states where Islamic extremists are engaged in violent conflict, such as Chechnya, Kashmir, Lebanon, Sudan, East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, poor economic conditions, weak governance, and natural resource barriers in these areas mean that violent conflict and displacement are likely to continue-and worsen-without intervention.
What, then, might be useful guidelines for tackling the poverty-insecurity challenge? The first is to help policymakers better understand the issue's significance and urgency. Part of that task is educating the press and public to replace the convenient narrative that "age-old" hatreds drive violence with a more sophisticated grasp of the links between economic drivers and conflict.
The second guideline is to understand the specific conditions that heighten the risk of conflict and human insecurity. These may include deteriorating health conditions, corrupt governments, and inadequate institutions. Two areas in particular that can exacerbate instability and merit special attention are environmental insecurity and large youth demographics.
Most of all, it is clear that tackling the poverty-insecurity nexus is a challenge that demands commitment. Promoting lasting stability requires building long-term local capacity. Interventions that work at one point may lose their potency over time and need to be adjusted to new circumstances. And research suggests that assistance is most effective not in the immediate aftermath of a conflict, when donor interest is typically greatest, but in the middle of the first postconflict decade, when the recipient country's absorptive capacity has improved.
Yet such long-term attention is too often hard to secure in rich-country capitals where players, parties, and administrations change, and where the "urgent" typically trumps the "important" on the policy agenda. Until global mind-sets shift from reactive to proactive, and from responsive to preventive, breaking out of the poverty-insecurity trap will remain an elusive goal.
A State of Nature: The Environmental Challenge
Natural resource scarcity and abundance have always been intertwined with poverty and insecurity. Today, throughout West Africa, poor villagers struggle with the effects of desertification, which degrades the land on which they farm. In Haiti, forest and soil loss aggravates the country's economic woes and sparks periods of conflict. In Pakistan, women walk long distances to collect drinking water from ponds that are used by livestock, leading to tremendous health challenges and high infant mortality. Resource abundance also has its perils: In eastern Congo, innocents are terrorized by rebels whose weapons were financed with looted diamonds.
When it comes to extreme poverty, the natural resource challenge is usually seen as one of scarcity-typically of such renewable resources as water, timber, and arable land that are fundamental for daily survival. Demographic and environmental stresses can exacerbate demands on already weakened states. These grievances can foment instability from below. When demand for resources outweighs supply, when the distribution is perceived to be grossly unfair, and when tensions exist over whether they should be treated as rights or commodities, public frustration can spark civil strife.
In addition, elites may be tempted to manipulate scarce resources-controlling them for personal gain, using them to reward certain groups over others, or even fueling "top-down" violence in an effort to maintain power. Scarcity is also often the result of severe imbalances of wealth, which is almost always a key factor in the outbreak of conflict in poor areas.
The challenges of resource scarcity will only intensify over time. During the next twenty years, more than 90 percent of the world's projected growth will take place in countries where the majority of the population is dependent on local renewable resources. Almost 70 percent of the world's poor live in rural areas, and most depend on agriculture for their main income-which both requires and exhausts natural resources. More than 40 percent of the planet's population-2.4 billion people-still use wood, charcoal, straw, or cow dung as their main source of energy, and more than 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water.
Yet resource abundance poses equally dangerous challenges-generally concerning nonrenewable and more easily "lootable" mineral wealth like oil, gas, gold, or diamonds. More than fifty developing countries, home to 3.5 billion people, depend on natural resource revenues as an important source of government income, and many suffer from a poverty of plenty.
This so-called resource curse leads to pathologies of authoritarian and corrupt regimes, led by elites who have few incentives to invest in social development or alleviate social inequities. Abundance can also create "rentier" states, whose resource revenues allow government officials to finance themselves without directly taxing their citizenry, enabling them to more easily restrict political and other rights in return for a measure of social welfare and stability; or leading to "honey pot effects," in which rogue groups fight to secure valuable natural resources-which, once acquired, provide additional means to buy weapons, fueling a cycle of growing instability.
For example, though companies like ExxonMobil and Shell have poured money and infrastructure into the oil-rich Niger Delta, the region suffers from sustained conflict and instability. Nigeria currently earns $3 billion a month from oil exports, yet the Delta remains deeply poor. Militant groups, tapping into local frustration at the continued deep poverty in this oil-rich region awash with oil revenues, have fueled violence. Local attacks continue each day, growing more sophisticated and organized, making one of the world's most resource-rich areas also one of its most dangerous.
What, then, are some of the measures states and outside actors can take to attenuate the risks that resource scarcity and dependence pose to human security?
The place to begin is with sensible government policies that promote economic diversification, capacity building, equitable distribution, enforceable property rights, demographic sustainability, and public health. In addition, countries should be encouraged to explore innovative opportunities to benefit from their renewable resources, as Brazil has done by transforming its sugarcane into ethanol, and PlayPumps International and WaterAid continue to do in Africa by providing safe drinking water to local citizens (as described in box 1-1). Outside actors, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), can play an important role in defusing disinformation and rumors about who is benefiting from limited natural resources, because such misunderstandings sometimes create more problems than resource scarcity itself.
Excerpted from Too Poor for Peace? Copyright © 2007 by Brookings Institution Press . Excerpted by permission.
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