The Impact of Conflict on Poverty

Published on 14 July 2014

This rapid review provides an overview of the latest evidence on the impact of conflict on poverty. This report is in an annotated bibliography style which describes the papers and presents their findings. It covers material which has been published since 2010.

There is consensus in the literature that conflict impacts on poverty, but evidence on how this impact occurs is often limited, unsystematic, and sometimes contradictory. Much of the literature also discusses how poverty can contribute to conflict (Justino, 2010; Valencia, 2013; Addison et al, 2010; Baddeley, 2011) and the possibility of cycles of poverty and conflict as a result.

Overall the latest evidence suggests that violent conflict causes and intensifies poverty and its persistence but that context is very important.

(USAID, 2014; Kugler et al., 2013; Baddeley, 2011; World Bank, 2011; Addison et al., 2010; Justino, 2010; Nasser et al., 2014; ACAPS and MapAction, 2013; Bird et al., 2013; Justino and Verwimp, 2013; Valencia, 2013) .

Literature published since 2010 discusses the following themes and issues: 

  • Violent conflict contributes to poverty by causing: damage to infrastructure, institutions and production; the destruction of assets; the breakup of communities and social networks; forced displacement; increased unemployment and inflation; changes in access to and relationship with local exchange, employment, credit and insurance markets; falls in spending on social services; and death and injury to people (USAID, 2014; Baddeley, 2011; Addison et al., 2010; Justino, 2010; Nasser et al., 2014; ACAPS and MapAction, 2013; Justino and Verwimp, 2013). 
  • Displaced households and households with widows, orphans, elderly and disabled individuals are most vulnerable to falling into poverty as a result of conflict (Addison et al., 2010; Justino, 2010; Nasser et al., 2014). Households which are already poor risk falling further into poverty (Addison et al., 2010). 
  • Vulnerability to being targeted by violence (for example, due to ethnicity) can also make even well-off households vulnerable to poverty, as was the case in Rwanda. (Justino, 2010; Justino and Verwimp, 2013). 
  • Individual’s or household’s ability to respond to economic shocks can determine the impact of conflict on their poverty levels in the short and long term. Common resilience strategies include: diversification of land holdings and crop cultivation; storage of grain from one year to the next; resorting to sales of assets; borrowing from moneylenders; remittances; migration; and gifts and transfers from informal mutual support networks. Alternative negative coping strategies include: looting; wages for fighting; and participation in illegal activities such as smuggling and informal trade (Justino, 2010; Nasser et al., 2014; ACAPS and MapAction, 2013; Bird et al, 2013; Justino and Verwimp, 2013; Fürst et al., 2010). 
  • Educated people in Uganda appear to be more resilient to poverty, with education being a valuable portable asset (Bird et al., 2013). However, where education can make you a target of violence, as in Rwanda for example, it cannot prevent vulnerability to poverty (Justino, 2010; Justino and Verwimp, 2013) 
  • Changes to the social and institutional environment as a result of conflict can affect people’s vulnerability and ability to respond to poverty. They include changes in social cohesion and local governance structures which limit or enable people’s response strategies (Justino, 2010). 
  • The most conflict-affected provinces and districts have the highest levels of poverty within affected countries such as Columbia, Syria, Rwanda, and Uganda (Nasser et al., 2014; Bird et al., 2013; Justino and Verwimp, 2013; Valencia, 2013). 
  • The least developed countries struggle most to escape and recover from conflict related poverty (Kugler et al., 2013).
  • In 2011, no conflict-affected country had yet managed to achieve a single MDG (World Bank, 2011). Some progress has been made since then and in 2013 the World Bank announced that 20 fragile and conflict-affected states had met one or more MDGs, although the majority of the MDGs will not be met.
  • The long-term country wide and individual effects of conflict on poverty are not clear (Justino, 2010). 
  • Recovery time from conflict can take upwards of 14 years and often longer (USAID, 2014; Kugler et al, 2013; Bird et al., 2013). Recovery at the macro level appears to be quicker than at the micro level, with some evidence that poverty is long term and can be transmitted intergenerationally within some households (Justino, 2010; Bird et al., 2013; Addison et al., 2010).


Brigitte Rohwerder

Research Officer

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Rohwerder, B.


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