The Cost of War

PRIO research on conflict and the Millennium Development Goals


22 August 2012

In a recent publication in World Development, a team of PRIO researchers present the first analysis of the effect of armed conflict on progress in meeting the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals as well as on economic growth. Conflict has clear detrimental effects on the reduction of poverty and hunger, on primary education, on the reduction of child mortality, and on access to potable water. A medium-sized conflict with 2500 battle deaths is estimated to increase undernourishment an additional 3.3%, reduce life expectancy by about 1 year, increases infant mortality by 10%, and deprives an additional 1.8% of the population from access to potable water.

War is a development issue. War kills, but the consequences extend far beyond these direct deaths. In addition to battlefield casualties, armed conflict often leads to forced migration, refugee flows, capital flight, and the destruction of societies’ infrastructure. Social, political, and economic institutions are indelibly harmed. The consequences of war, and especially civil war, for development are profound. War creates a development gap between those countries that have experienced armed conflict and those that have not.

This paper conducts a statistical analysis of the developmental consequences of conflict. The effects of armed conflict are evaluated with respect to achievement of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as well as on economic growth. The eight MDGs are: end poverty and hunger; achieve universal education; achieve gender equality; improve child health; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS; achieve environmental sustainability; and build a global partnership for development. The MDGs represent the closest thing to a global consensus on developmental priorities, yet so far no extensive research has been done on the effect of conflict on these goals. The analysis presented below shows that civil war harms the achievement of most of these development goals.