Poverty and Violent Conflict

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Chapter 9
Poverty and Violent Conflict

The populations of countries engaged in conflict or warfare almost always experience some degree of economic hardship. During World War II (1939–45) much of Europe was reduced to near starvation, and even the United States—which saw no military action on its own soil—imposed strict rationing of goods on its citizens. This is because during times of war financial resources that could be used to meet human needs are diverted instead to military efforts. For example, Figure 9.1 displays the great disparity between spending on health issues and spending on military concerns in Eritrea, Yemen, Burundi, Angola, and Ethiopia, all countries with low human development that were experiencing military conflict during 2003. However, poverty can also be used as a tool of war, especially in internal conflict situations. Economic oppression and the withholding of aid for development are frequently used as a form of violence against those perceived as enemies. Refugees of war or conflict who are displaced from their homes must live in camps with squalid conditions, with little hope of earning a living or returning home.

In Violent Conflict, Poverty, and Chronic Poverty (Chronic Poverty Research Centre, May 2001, http://www.chronicpoverty.org/pdfs/06Goodhand.pdf), Jonathan Goodhand estimated that between 1989 and 2001 more than four million people worldwide had been killed in regional and internal warfare, mostly in poor and low-income countries. According to the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Human Development Report 2005 (2005, http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/pdf/HDR05_complete.pdf), the overall number of violent conflicts decreased between 1991 and 2003, from fifty-one to twenty-nine, "but the share of those conflicts occurring in poor countries has increased."

Goodhand's estimate includes only those people directly killed in conflict, not those who died as an indirect result of warfare. The indirect casualties of war can greatly outnumber those killed in actual fighting. In 2006 a mortality survey that included both direct and indirect war fatalities was conducted by the International Rescue Committee in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that had been in a state of conflict since 1998. The survey found that nearly four million people had died as a result the conflict and that most of the deaths were attributable to preventable disease and malnutrition. In the eastern part of the country only 2% of deaths were a direct result of armed violence. Displacement is another result of conflict. As of 2005 at least twenty-five million people globally had fled from their homes and countries because of warfare.

Violent conflict—especially drawn out over a number of years or decades—does not cause just a state of immediate chaos and death; it has long-term consequences for social, political, and economic development. For years after the conflict ends, a country might suffer the effects of war in the forms of damaged or nonexistent infrastructure, environmental degradation, an unbalanced population in terms of gender, a shortage of teachers and schools, war-related physical and psychological issues, widespread hunger, and other problems associated with poverty. Because education is interrupted during and in the aftermath of armed conflict, countries that have experienced such violence typically show diminished rates of adult literacy.


There are four different types of violent conflict:

  • Internal conflict occurs within a single country, such as a civil war or a conflict over the use and ownership of natural resources. Table 9.1 lists examples of such conflicts dating from 1949, including wars fought over control of oil, timber, crops, and gems.
  • Internationalized internal conflict is characterized by the intervention of foreign nations in a dispute between warring factions within another country. The war in Bosnia in the 1990s is an example of this type of conflict.
  • Interstate conflict is war between or among nations.
  • Extrasystemic conflict occurs between the government of one nation and a nongovernment group in another nation.

Some researchers distinguish between war and conflict by saying that more than 1,000 people per year die in a true war. For example, in Armed Conflict 1946–99: A New Dataset (February 2001, http://www.isanet.org/archive/npg.html), Nils Petter Gleditsch and his colleagues state that the violence in Northern Ireland that began in 1969 qualifies as a conflict rather than as a war because there were more than 1,000 "battle deaths" throughout the events but not more than 1,000 per year. In addition, situations that have or can become violent, such as a regime change or oppression of a minority group, are also considered conflict.


The countries that have experienced violent conflict and those that have ongoing conflicts typically have some of the lowest rankings on the UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI). Nine of the ten countries with the lowest HDI rankings—Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, and Sierra Leone—have undergone a period of violent conflict since 1990; the tenth nation, Burkina Faso, has remained at peace since 1990, but conflicts in neighboring Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have contributed to its impoverishment by curtailing regional economic opportunities.

Countries experiencing internal conflicts over natural resources, 1949–2006
CountryDuration of ConflictResources
source: "Table 5.2. Natural Resources Have Helped Fuel Conflicts in Many Countries," in Human Development Report 2005, United Nations Development Programme, 2005, http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/pdf/HDR05_complete.pdf (accessed April 10, 2006). Data adapted from Bannon and Collier 2003.
Afghanistan1978–2001Gems, opium
Angola1975–2002Oil, diamonds
Angola, Cabinda1975–Oil
Cambodia1978–97Timber, gems
Colombia1984–Oil, gold, coca
Congo, Dem. Rep. of the1996–97, 1998–2002Copper, coltan, diamonds, gold, cobalt
Indonesia, Aceh1975–Natural gas
Indonesia, West Papua1969–Copper, gold
Liberia1989–96Timber, diamonds, iron, palm oil, cocoa, coffee, marijuana, rubber, gold
Morocco1975–Phosphates, oil
Myanmar1949–Timber, tin, gems, opium
Papua New Guinea1988–98Copper, gold
Sierra Leone1991–2000Diamonds

Achievement of the UN's Millennium Development Goals is also off track for the most part in countries that have experienced violent conflict. High child mortality, low primary school enrollment, and low overall life expectancy are common. As shown in Figure 9.2, only three out of the twelve countries that have a child mortality rate higher than 20% have not experienced armed conflict since 1999. Economic growth also slows considerably during a conflict. According to figures from the World Bank cited in the Human Development Report 2005, civil wars typically last seven years, and each year economic growth drops by an average of 2.2%. Refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, and the possibility of those countries being drawn into the fighting, can strain the entire region in which a conflict takes place.

The unbalanced gender ratio that usually results from violent conflict also affects a region's human development. With large numbers of men killed in fighting, women are left to support and protect their families by themselves. This leaves them vulnerable to attack and rape during conflict and to poverty and lowered levels of education and health care for themselves, their children, and future generations. In some cases the loss of an excessively large number of young men in fighting can bring about massive demographic changes and set back the security, education, and health of women for years. With fewer marriageable young men in the population, young women might become betrothed to elderly men or in some cases to relatives.

In addition, violent conflict increases the risk of a food crisis—especially in rural areas—because livestock, crops, and arable land might be destroyed. However, it is not just the physical destruction of farms during war that leaves societies vulnerable to hunger. The displacement of farmers as refugees causes just as much harm to agricultural production. According to Human Development Report 2005, for example, Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war from 1991 to 2000 left about 500,000 farm families displaced from their homes, causing rice production to drop to just 20% of its prewar level.

The health of a population engaged in conflict or warfare decreases dramatically. The UNDP report explains that more people die because of the consequences of war than because of the immediate violence. Infectious diseases spread rapidly among refugees and quickly spill over from refugee camps into the populations surrounding them. In a survey conducted in Africa during the 1990s mortality rates among refugees were found to be eighty times higher than those of nonrefugees (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/∼dludden/RefugeePublicHealth.pdf). Medical facilities often serve as targets for opposition fighters because of the supplies they contain and because their destruction further weakens the population. With hospitals and health centers destroyed, citizens have no source of medical care, sometimes permanently.

Land Mines

One of the most brutal tools of conflict affecting human health and security is the presence of land mines, which can damage and terrorize a population physically and psychologically for decades. Land mines are explosive devices that are usually buried underground or laid just above ground and triggered by vehicles or footsteps. Antitank land mines are, as their name suggests, designed to blow up tanks and large vehicles. Antipersonnel land mines (APLs) are designed so that they are triggered by even the lightest of footsteps. APLs are by far the more devastating kind of land mine for two reasons: first, they are indiscriminate in blowing up both soldiers and civilians; second, they exist in regions indefinitely after a war or conflict ends. APLs are also designed to look like small, colorful toys, candy, stones, or even butterflies, making them extremely dangerous to children (United Nations Children's Fund in State of the World's Children 1996: Children in War (1996, http://www.unicef.org/sowc96/contents.htm?468,235).

The continuing presence of land mines after a conflict ends limits development and increases poverty in affected regions. Areas known to contain land mines are unusable for farming, building, living, or commerce of any kind. From 2004 to 2005 at least fifty-eight countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, and Central and South America experienced 15,000 to 20,000 land mine-related deaths or injuries, according to the Landmine Monitor Report 2005 (http://www.icbl.org/lm/2005/). An analysis of land mine casualties in Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mozambique, Somalia, Thailand and Yemen (Survey Action Center, September 2005) found that reported casualties during the previous twenty-four months were 96% civilian, 88% male, and 24% children under age fifteen. Besides the human casualties, livestock and wild animals are frequently injured or killed by land mines. This not only harms regional environments but it also destroys farming economies. The people in affected regions must live as virtual prisoners in their own lands. Cambodia (898), Afghanistan (878), and Colombia (863) had the highest number of reported land mine casualties in 2004–05.


In 1950 the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created, and the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees was adopted. The two main tenets of the convention are that refugees are not to be returned to an area where they face persecution and that refugees are not to face discrimination in the country that accepts them. However, according to the UNHCR in State of the World's Refugees: Human Displacement in the New Millennium (2006, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/template?page=publ&src=static/sowr2006/toceng.htm), people seeking asylum as refugees are increasingly becoming the targets of xenophobia and accusations of terrorist activity, even though there were fewer refugees in 2006 than at any time since 1980.

In "Refugees by Numbers" (2005; http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/basics/opendoc.htm?tbl=BASICS&id=3b028097c#Refugees), the UNHCR reports that as of January 2005 they were assisting more than nine million refugees in the world: 3.4 million were in Asia, three million in Africa, two million in Europe, 562,000 in North America, 76,000 in Oceania, and 36,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 800,000 of these refugees were classed as "asylum seekers," that is, they had applied for legal recognition in the country to which they had fled. At the beginning of 2005 another 5.4 million people were considered internally displaced persons (IDPs) within their home nations. These numbers reflect only those who receive aid from the UNHCR. Among those not included in the above figures are the estimated four million displaced Palestinians, who are counted by a related organization, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). An unknown number of refugees and IDPs do not receive aid and therefore cannot be accurately counted.

Some people are forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in other countries because of natural disasters, but most refugees leave because their homelands are torn by violent conflict or because human rights abuses are rampant. In situations of long-term conflict, groups of people may endure recurring periods of short-term displacement, or they may be displaced indefinitely. According to State of the World's Refugees, while conditions for refugees are typically substandard in terms of housing, food, and other necessities, it is those who cannot leave conflict regions because of extreme poverty or ill health who are often the most vulnerable.

State of the World's Refugees notes that of the 7.5 million "persons of concern" in 2003, about 50% were younger than eighteen years old, and 13% were children under age five. According to the UNHCR report:

The large number of young people among displaced populations has important implications for protection. Displaced children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to threats to their safety and wellbeing. These include separation from families, sexual exploitation, HIV/AIDS infection, forced labour or slavery, abuse and violence, forcible recruitment into armed groups, trafficking, lack of access to education and basic assistance, detention and denial of access to asylum or family-reunification procedures. Unaccompanied children are at greatest risk, since they lack the protection, physical care and emotional support provided by the family. Those accompanied by only one parent or carer may also be at higher risk than other children.

Many refugees find themselves relocated—by force or by choice—to countries that are hostile to their presence. Refugee camps are generally dangerous places because of violence both inside and outside of their boundaries. Refugees may be denied basic human rights, including the right to seek legal employment, which exacerbates their impoverished condition. Even when refugees are returned to their homelands, they sometimes encounter an unwelcoming environment: their houses, workplaces, farms, and possessions may have been destroyed, and the regime in control may react violently to their return.


Although both poverty and violent conflict exist on almost every continent, there are some regions that, for one reason or another, were particularly dangerous as of 2006.


Darfur is a region in western Sudan, a nation in northeast Africa. (See Figure 9.3.) It has an area of about 196,000 square miles and a population of about eight million people, most of whom are either subsistence farmers or nomadic herdsmen. The two main ethnic groups in the region are the Arabic Baggara (who are nomads) and the non-Arabic Fur (who are farmers). These groups are further divided into smaller ethnic groups. Tensions between the Baggara and the Fur range back over centuries. The region was a center of commercial activity during the slave trade, when native Africans were exported to Arabic countries. Since the mid-1950s the government of Sudan has been under Muslim control and in near constant conflict with non-Muslim opposition within the country. A combination of domination by ruling Muslims and competition for scarce resources caused tensions in Darfur to escalate in 2003, creating an immense humanitarian crisis in the region.

Early in 2003, Arabic Janjaweed militias began a campaign against the black African rebel groups Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), who had taken up arms against the government. A major factor was the competition for water and land between the Arabic nomads and non-Arabic farmers. However, the situation quickly degenerated into indiscriminate Janjaweed attacks on civilians. According to the Darfur Daily News (November 11, 2005, http://darfurdaily.blogspot.com/2005_11_06_darfurdaily_archive.html) the result was mass murder, rape, and the displacement of as many as two million people from their homes to refugee camps within Darfur and the neighboring country of Chad. All of this provoked international attention, and led to the deployment in October 2005 of 7,000 African Union (AU) troops in an attempt to restore order, but the poorly funded and organized mission could do little to stop the atrocities. A number of temporary cease-fires were attempted, with no lasting success.

The Sudanese government is widely seen as supporting the actions of the Janjaweed, although it maintains that this is not the case. On September 8, 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell accused the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed militias of being responsible for a campaign of genocide in Darfur. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 (2006, http://www.hrw.org/wr2k6/), the Sudanese government blocked the attempts of AU troops to enforce a cease-fire agreement in April 2004 and supported Janjaweed attacks on AU forces and international aid workers. In addition, Human Rights Watch reported that people living in internal displacement camps were subjected to many abuses, including arrests and detentions; women reporting rape were humiliated and tried for adultery. Outside the camps, civilians—particularly women and girls—were abducted, the livestock of the Fur farmers were stolen, and children were kidnapped or recruited to serve as soldiers.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) reported in To Save Darfur (March 17, 2006, http://www.liberationafrique.org/IMG/pdf/To_save_darfur.pdf) that in 2005 an estimated 3.5 million people in the region were dependent on humanitarian aid for survival, although in some areas nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were able to access only 45% to 70% of them. In West Darfur, where fighting was most heavily concentrated, at least 140,000 people were left with no assistance at all because NGOs were forced to withdraw.

On May 5, 2006, a peace agreement was signed by the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Movement. The treaty called for complete disarmament and demobilization of the Janjaweed militia by mid-October 2006 and established size and movement restrictions for the government-backed Popular Defense Forces. The agreement also outlined democratic processes that called for an election in 2010 to determine the region's administrative status. Provisions in the treaty furnish humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the violence, including helping refugees and displaced people return to their homes. As part of the agreement the Sudanese government pledged $30 million in compensation to victims of the conflict and increased representation of the rebel constituents in the government.

Because the treaty was not signed by all warring rebel factions, the International Crisis Group was not optimistic about the agreement's chances for success. In a June 2006 policy briefing ("Darfur's Fragile Peace Agreement" June 20, 2006), the organization warned that without deployment of a "robust" UN peacekeeping force, sanctions against anyone who breaks the cease-fire, and increased assistance to victims of the violence, the agreement had little chance of providing ongoing stability in the region.


Since the conflict began, the people of Darfur have been living in a state of constant threat to their lives, with no legal or political recourse. According to the ICG in To Save Darfur:

A tribal militia can wipe out an entire village, such as Mershing in South Darfur on 2 February 2006, and the government can plead innocence, even as it creates the conditions for the militias to operate by giving impunity, supplying weapons and ammunition, deploying police who do nothing to stop attacks and coordinating between the militias and the state government.

According to Human Rights First in About the Crisis (2006;http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/international_justice/darfur/about/background.asp), official estimates of how many people in Darfur were killed between 2003 and 2006 vary from 180,000 to 400,000. Many have died not directly from Janjaweed violence but from the disease and starvation that accompany situations of conflict and war. At least two to three million people are IDPs and are living in refugee camps set up within Darfur. Most at risk are women and children, who make up approximately 80% of those living in internal refugee camps, according to IRINnews.org ("Sudan: Helping Reduce Women's Vulnerability," March 3, 2006, http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=51993). Janjaweed militia members commonly use rape as a tool of war to terrorize and inflict long-term psychological damage. Because women and girls must leave the refugee camps regularly to collect firewood and forage for food, they are daily targets of gang rape and torture. Frequently, rapes result in unwanted pregnancies; as many as 25% of women and girls in Darfur's refugee camps are pregnant at any given time, according to the article from IRINnew.org. This has led to a grave cultural conflict, as sexual relations outside of marriage are strictly forbidden in Sudan and much of the rest of Africa. Women who become pregnant outside of marriage—even as a result Janjaweed attacks—may be arrested and charged with adultery in Sudan. Police and AU officials in Darfur have, however, agreed to bypass the law if a woman reports a rape immediately.

Civilians in the region are further terrorized by Janjaweed tactics that even practiced military experts find it difficult to witness or comprehend: large-scale arson, in which entire families are locked inside houses and burned alive, and the killing of children and babies either by stabbing them with bayonets or throwing them into bonfires. Brian Steidle, a former Marine captain sent to Darfur as a military observer with AU troops from September 2004 to February 2005, recorded in photographs much of what he saw. In "In Darfur, My Camera Was Not Nearly Enough" (March 20, 2005, http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur/steidle/), Steidle wrote of his experience:

Every day we surveyed evidence of killings: men castrated and left to bleed to death, huts set on fire with people locked inside, children with their faces smashed in, men with their ears cut off and eyes plucked out, and the corpses of people who had been executed with gunshots to the head. We spoke with thousands of witnesses—women who had been gang-raped and families that had lost fathers, people who plainly and soberly gave us their accounts of the slaughter.

Steidle cites a common tactic used by the Sudanese government to leave IDPs vulnerable to Janjaweed attack. Announcing that an IDP camp is to be closed, the government forces the displaced to move to a smaller camp and bulldozes the larger one. The people unable to fit into the smaller camp are left without shelter and are virtually guaranteed to be killed by the Janjaweed.

The ongoing conflict in Darfur, in combination with the many other conflicts that have plagued Sudan for decades, leave it among the world's poorest countries. The World Health Organization (2006, http://www.who.int/countries/sdn/en/) notes that the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Sudan was $1,361 in 2004. The average life expectancy at birth was fifty-eight years. The infant mortality rate was ninety-one deaths out of every 1,000 live births. In "Country Sheet: Sudan" (2006, http://hdr.undp.org/statistics/data/countries.cfm?c=SDN), the UNDP reports that 41% of Sudanese over age fifteen were literate, and primary school enrollment was 38%. These numbers are averages for all of Sudan; separate figures for Darfur are unavailable but would most likely be considerably worse.

The Middle East

The Middle East is a geographic and political region encompassing countries in Central and Southwest Asia as well as Northeast Africa. For the most part these countries are historically Arabic and share many cultural similarities. The region is also the birthplace of three of the world's most prominent religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For many Westerners, the Middle East is associated with wealth because of the massive oil reserves located within the region. Nevertheless, according to Farrukh Iqbal in Sustaining Gains in Poverty Reduction and Human Development in the Middle East and North Africa (2006, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTMENA/Resources/Poverty_complete_06_web.pdf), one in five people in the region lives on less than two dollars a day. During the final decades of the twentieth century the Middle East saw significant progress in its human development indicators. Overall, literacy for those aged fifteen years and older increased from 24% in 1965 to 69% in 2000; deaths among children under age five fell from 233 per 1,000 live births in 1965 to forty-six per 1,000 in 2000; life expectancy rose from fifty to sixty-eight years; and the average level of education completed for those aged fifteen years and older rose from 0.8 to 5.2 years during the same period.

Overall, the Middle East, together with the rest of North Africa, has the least poverty of all developing regions. While the increases since the 1960s are impressive, the region's ongoing violent conflicts have left millions of people in dire poverty.


The Middle East is at the heart of some of the worst tension and violence in the world, much of it in the form of terrorism. Some of this tension stems from ethnic and religious differences. Since the end of World War II there have been several major interstate conflicts—including the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Gulf War of 1991—civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon, and continuing tensions between various factions throughout the region. The Arab-Israeli conflict alone has erupted into war six times since 1948. Iraq has been involved in six skirmishes, including the ongoing war with the U.S.-led coalition that began in 2003. Afghanistan is not always included as a Middle Eastern country, but its history, language, and culture are closely linked to those of Iran, so the U.S. invasion there, which began in late 2001, may also be considered a Middle Eastern conflict.


The Israeli victory in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War resulted in the formation of the state of Israel on land that had been in the possession of Palestinians. The war's other outcome was that at least 500,000 to 700,000 Palestinians were forced off their land and into neighboring areas, including Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, where they were placed into refugee camps. Following the 1967 Six-Day War between the Israelis and Palestinians, Israel's territory expanded to include the regions known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, both of which were populated primarily by Palestinians. After this war 300,000 Palestinians—many of them displaced for the second time after they had returned to their homes after the Arab-Israeli War—left the West Bank and Gaza Strip for Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Most refugees were not permitted to return to their homes, even after the wars ended. This "Palestinian exodus," called the Nakba ("catastrophe") by Palestinians, resulted in generations of displaced people who numbered approximately four million by the early twenty-first century, according to the UNRWA.

The Palestinian refugees are stateless individuals. Most of them have not been granted citizenship in the countries in which they reside, nor are they allowed to return to Israel. Because so many of them are unable to work legally in their host countries, poverty is high among the refugees. Those who register with the UNRWA are dependent on the agency for health care, education, and humanitarian services. According to Willy Egset, Penny Johnson, and Lee O'Brien in UNRWA's Financial Crisis and Socio-economic Conditions of Palestinian Refugees In Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza, vol. 2: The Persistence of Poverty (2003, http://www.fafo.no/pub/rapp/427/427—vol2.pdf), the living conditions of Palestinian refugees vary greatly according to where they reside. In Jordan, for example, refugees were granted citizenship in 1954 and have full employment rights and social services access. In Lebanon, by contrast, Palestinians have never been allowed to become citizens, and their employment opportunities are limited and strictly regulated. Syria did not grant refugees citizenship, but it has allowed them to work with few restrictions. Palestinians still living in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip face greater social and economic challenges than those living outside the camps.

Egset, Johnson, and O'Brien write that in 2003, 23% of Palestinian households living in camps in Syria were poor (having income less than two dollars a day per person), and 5% were extremely poor (income less than one dollar per day per person); in Lebanon 35% were poor, and 15% were extremely poor; and in Jordan 31% were poor, and 9% were extremely poor. In Jordan the average household income of refugees living in poverty was less than half (44%) the average of non-Palestinian Jordanians; for refugees living in extreme poverty in Jordan, the average annual income was only about one-fifth (21%) of the average income for non-Palestinian Jordanians. In Lebanon, where Palestinians have not been allowed to integrate, the median income of poor Palestinian households was 43% that of nonpoor households. Median incomes of extremely poor households were less than 25% that of nonpoor households. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip poverty was particularly high within refugee camps compared with outside the camps, although the rate of poverty in the Gaza Strip—33%—was more than double that of the West Bank's 15%.

The refugees and camps have been a source of controversy for decades. Some Israelis claim the UNRWA's financial aid in reality supports terrorist training within the camps and have called for the organization to be dissolved and the refugees to be aided by the UNHCR, like all other refugees around the world. Another key issue in the effort to secure peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is the insistence by many refugees that they be allowed to return to Israel and regain their property, the so-called right of return. The permanent refugee status of Palestinians has impinged on their sense of self-identity, according to Hillel Cohen, who writes in "Land, Memory, and Identity: The Palestinian Internal Refugees in Israel" (Refuge, February 2003) that the less identity the refugees have as a people and as individuals, the less likely they are to continue fighting to return to their land.

In elections held in January 2006 the political group Hamas—which many international governments, including that of the United States, consider a terrorist organization—won control of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), the transitional administrative organization for Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In April 2006 the governments of Canada, the United States, and the European Union suspended all direct aid to the PNA because of the Hamas election victory, demanding that Hamas renounce terrorism. Furthermore, Israel decided to stop its monthly transfer of $50 million in tax revenue to the PNA, according to Matthew Gutman in "Palestinians Fear Poverty if Foreign Aid Lifeline Is Severed" (February 28, 2006, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2006-02-27-palestinian-aid_x.htm?csp=N009). Altogether, Gutman reports that the Palestinians stand to lose more than $1 billion annually in direct aid.

With 90% of its budget spent on the salaries of its employees, who represent one-third of all Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the PNA most likely would not be able to continue operating without the money. Many of the Palestinians who depend on the group for work and income are at risk of falling below the poverty line without it. The PNA is also responsible for funding, building, and maintaining the area's infrastructure; its financial troubles could leave Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with less access to utilities and other basic quality-of-life public services. Interviewed by Gutman, a Palestinian street vendor commented that, while he does not work directly for the PNA, he and others depend on PNA employees for their livelihood. "When the civil servants don't get their paychecks, none of us will." If the financial impact on Palestinians is as great as expected, authorities warn that chaos and violence could break out.



Under the rule of dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990, prompting the imposition of sanctions. An international coalition led by the United States drove Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991. Sanctions and other restrictions on Iraq remained in place after the war ended. Because they had little effect on disarming Iraq—which was their stated goal—but instead caused a humanitarian crisis for Iraqi civilians, the sanctions were widely criticized. The United States and the United Kingdom, however, maintained that they would block any attempts to lift or soften the sanctions as long as the President Saddam Hussein remained in power.

David Cortright in "A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions" (December 3, 2001, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20011203/cortright) estimated the total number of deaths in Iraq to be about 350,000 from 1990 to 2000—most because of the sanctions but some resulting from bombing during the Gulf War. Bombs destroyed essential infrastructure such as sanitation systems, and raw sewage then contaminated the sources of drinking water leading to the spread of infectious disease among the civilian population. According to Cortright, sanctions compounded the suffering by causing hunger and malnutrition, as well as making it nearly impossible to treat disease. Critics of Saddam Hussein, however, including Dr. Amer Abdul al-Jalil of Ibn al-Baladi hospital in Baghdad contend that Hussein's own internal policies were more detrimental to the poor than international sanctions. Abdul al-Jalil told the Telegraph in May 2003: "Over the past ten years the government in Iraq poured money into the military and the construction of palaces for Saddam to the detriment of the health sector. Those babies or small children who died because they could not access the right drugs, died because Saddam's government failed to distribute the drugs. The poorer areas were most vulnerable."

In 1991 the UN Security Council proposed an oil-for-food program in which Iraq would be allowed to sell limited amounts of oil on the open market in exchange for food and medicine for its impoverished citizens. Hussein rejected the plan on the grounds that it violated the country's sovereignty. In 1995 the UN countered with a plan that would increase Iraq's autonomy in distributing aid, but the Iraqi government again refused to participate. In the meantime, a full-scale humanitarian disaster was at hand, and the United States was criticized for refusing to loosen sanctions. The Iraqi government and Hussein were, however, at least equally at fault. The UN continued negotiating a relief plan with Iraq; a deal was finally forged in 1996, and the first shipments of aid reached the people in 1997. With Hussein's government allowed to administer aid in the south and central regions of Iraq, while the UN oversaw relief in the north, the results of the oil-for-food program were uneven. Child mortality, for example, decreased in the north, from eighty per 1,000 live births to seventy-two per 1,000 births, according to research conducted by Mohamed Ali of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Iqbal Shah of the World Health Organization ("Sanctions and Childhood Mortality in Iraq," The Lancet, May 2000). In south and central Iraq, however, rates increased from fifty-six per 1,000 live births between 1984 and 1989 to 131 per 1,000 between 1994 and 1999, indicating a failure on the part of Iraqi officials to successfully provide humanitarian relief to their people.

Tarek El-Guindi, Hazem Al Mahdy, and John McHarris report in The Extent and Distribution of Chronic Poverty in Iraq's Center/South Region (May 2003, http://www.wfp.org/newsroom/in_depth/Middle_East/Iraq/0306_Poverty_Survey.pdf) that by 2003 approximately 21% of Iraqis in districts in southern and central regions were chronically poor ("unable to meet their basic needs over long periods of time"). Significantly, districts where a government administrative center was located experienced considerably lower average poverty rates (17%) than districts without administrative centers (27%). Overall, the report found that about one-fifth of the population in the southern and central regions of Iraq were chronically poor (4.6 million out of 22.3 million people). Figure 9.4 and Figure 9.5 show chronic poverty numbers and rates in administrative districts of southern and central Iraq just after the start of the war.


A new coalition, once again led by the United States, invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled Hussein's government. Sanctions were ended and the U.S. pledged to work to restore Iraq's infrastructure and economy. Iraq's education and health care systems had been among the best in the region in the 1970s and 1980s. While economic and living conditions had severely deteriorated since the beginning of the sanctions, hopes were high that the situation would now improve. When the UNDP released its Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004 (2005, http://www.iq.undp.org/ILCS/overview.htm), one year after the invasion began, 54% of families had access to drinking water, with 80% of families in rural areas using unsafe water, and only 37% of households connected to sewer networks. Twelve percent of Iraqi children aged six months to five years were suffering from malnutrition, 8% of them in an acute condition (low weight for height) and 23% suffering a chronic condition (low weight for age). School enrollment of those aged six to twenty-four years was 55% in 2005, compared with a 62% average for Arab states overall during 2003, according to the UNDP. The literacy rate of young people aged fifteen to twenty-five years was 74%, compared with 81.3% in Arab states overall. In 2003 the average per capita annual income was $255; by the first half of 2004 it had fallen to $144.

Conflict in Iraq continued for years after the invasion defeated Hussein's government and conventional military. By 2006 the war in Iraq was characterized by sectarian and insurgent violence that impeded human development and infrastructure improvements in the country. As of June 2006 an estimated 38,000 to 42,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed since the invasion began, according to the organization Iraqi Body Count (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/). While escalating violence and the uncertain environment since the fall of Hussein's government has prevented the UN from gathering accurate data on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals in Iraq, a report from the Iraqi Labor Ministry in January 2006 found an increase in overall poverty since 2003, with two million families living below the international poverty measure of one dollar per person per day. The report blamed development losses on the collapse of the public sector, the lack of education, and the continuing violence. In response, the Labor Ministry was set to widen its social welfare program to people who were not covered during Hussein's regime, such as the unemployed, the elderly, those suffering from chronic illness, and low-income groups.

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Poverty and Violent Conflict

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