World Bank urges new thinking to tackle conflicts and violence

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new World Bank report, challenging a view long embraced by global institutions, says high economic growth alone cannot reduce the poverty and unemployment that breed conflict and violence.

The World Bank’s World Development Report released late on Sunday shows instead that access to jobs, security and justice, not higher gross domestic product, are key to breaking repeated cycles of political and criminal violence.

“High unemployment and inequality can combine with weakness in government capacity or problems of corruption, accountability and human rights abuses, to create risks of conflict and violence,” said Sarah Cliffe, one of the lead authors of the report.

Such thinking resonates in the unrest engulfing countries across the Middle East and North Africa from Tunisia to Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and fighting in Libya where the government is struggling to survive.

Growth rates in Tunisia and Egypt averaged 5 percent or higher annually, enough to reduce poverty, but it failed to benefit the masses and address repression, corruption and high unemployment, which led to protests that toppled their rulers.

The World Bank report found that in countries which moved beyond conflict and violence, governments focused on early reforms in security, justice and jobs. Where one of these elements was missing, transitions usually faltered, it said.

“If we are to break the cycles of violence and lessen the stresses that drive them, countries must develop more legitimate, accountable and capable national institutions that provide for citizen security, justice and jobs,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick said.

The report said that in countries making the transition from conflict, the government cannot resolve issues alone but should form coalitions with civil society — national and local political, business, consumer and other groups — to build support.

In addition, leaders need to deliver two to three “quick wins” that generate confidence among the population, looking at examples in countries such as Haiti, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Cambodia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Colombia and Liberia that have had their share of conflict and violence.

The report focused on five practical moves that different countries used to link quick confidence-building measures to longer-term transformations. These included working with community groups in the areas of policing, employment and service delivery; creating jobs through large-scale public works; building security and justice programs; involving women in the design and implementation of projects; and tackling corruption.


The World Bank found that more than 1.5 billion people are affected by conflict and violence around the world, which poses a huge development challenge for governments and the international community.

The impact of conflict is so devastating on economies that not a single conflict-affected country has yet achieved any of the U.N.-agreed goals — the so-called Millennium Development Goals — to halve poverty and eradicate hunger around the world by 2015, the report noted.

Unlike before, modern-day conflicts are more prone to be within countries instead of across borders, the report found, with more than 90 percent of civil wars in the 2000s repeating themselves in countries that experienced conflict in the last 30 years.

Surveys in countries affected by conflict show that unemployment is the main reason why people join gangs and rebels movements, while corruption, injustice and exclusion are the main drivers behind violence.

The report said countries where government effectiveness, rule of law and control of corruption are weak have a 30 to 45 percent higher risk of civil war and a much higher chance of experiencing extreme criminal violence.

Meanwhile, it typically takes somewhere between 15 to 30 years to build stronger states and institutions in countries emerging from conflict.

Cliffe said if the international community wants to help resolve political and other turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa, central America or south Sudan it needed to respond quicker and stay involved for longer to help governments build strong institutions.

(Editing by Richard Borsuk)

World Bank urges new thinking to tackle conflicts and violence