How the "Violence Trap" Keeps Poor Countries Poor

How the "Violence Trap" Keeps Poor Countries Poor

Modern conflict reaches all parts of society. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
Modern conflict reaches all parts of society. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

For developing countries, war is rarely "good for business." War can destroy what few possessions and opportunities the poor have, trapping them in an endless cycle of violence and economic misery. That's the idea driving the World Bank's new effort to fight poverty through conflict reduction.

Violence is becoming the primary cause of poverty, The Economist reports, citing information from the World Development Report. World Bank officials are calling for an international effort to break what is now being called the "violence trap" for 1.5 billion people in perpetual penury, reports.

The Economist specifically describes the experience of two small African states, Burundi and Burkina Faso. Pre-1990, the two countries had similar rates of growth and income, but in 1993 a bloody decade-long civil war began in Burundi, killing 600,000. Peaceful Burkina Faso is now 2.5 times richer.

All 39 countries experiencing civil wars since 2000 went through a previous civil war in the preceding three decades, The Economist writes—indicating a pattern of repeated violence. And wars are only one example of violence. Far more countries suffer from exceptionally high murder rates, political turbulence, organized crime, and low-intensity conflicts. In Guatemala, for example, more people are murdered annually (mostly by gangs) than died in the country's 1980s civil war. These cycles of political and criminal violence wreak havoc on poverty-reduction strategies. Comparing stable peaceful countries to their opposites found the latter suffered from:

  • 20 percent higher poverty rates
  • Twice the malnourishment rate
  • Twice the infant mortality rate
  • Three times the probability of a child's being out of school
  • Far higher rates of forced displacement (42 million annually)

In fact, no poor, violent country has achieved a single millennium development goal, The Economist noted.

Escaping the violence trap is difficult because the economic damage caused by conflict sows the seeds of further upheaval. The Global Peace Index showed that economic factors are at the heart of unrest. According to a World Bank survey, 40 percent of youths join gangs and rebel groups due to unemployment, only 10 percent due to beliefs.

So, what's the answer?

The World Bank is focusing on government stability, legitimacy and effectiveness to break the violence trap. This reflects the reality that, as Reuters wrote in May, interstate conflict is decreasing while adverse relations between people and their governments (and chronic crime) is rising.

"Conflict [and] security are not conventional topics for the World Bank and other international development institutions," chief World Bank economist Justin Lin said in April, according to Agence France-Presse. "However, conflict and security are closely related to development."

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