Development Consequences of Armed Conflict

Scott Gates, Havard Hegre, Havard Mokleiv Nygard, Havard Strand


The consequences of war extend far beyond direct deaths. In addition to battlefield casualties, armed conflict often leads to forced migration, refugee flows, capital flight, and the destruction of societies’ infrastructure. It also 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 analysis shows that civil war harms the achievement of most of these development goals.

Key findings:

  • Whilst the direct consequences of conflict are bad, the indirect consequences are much worse. Conflicts affect negatively education, rates, undernourishment, life expectancy, GDP per capita rates, and infant mortality rates. Five years of sustained conflict with only a moderate amount of direct fatalities on average push 3–4% of the population into undernourishment. Conflicts also generate a surplus infant mortality at the same level as direct deaths—for every soldier killed in battle, one infant dies that would otherwise have survived through the indirect effects of conflict.
  • In a large country, a conflict may be extremely detrimental to a particular subnational region experiencing warfare, but have little effect on the country as a whole. There is little evidence of a direct effect of conflict on poverty and access to sanitation. There is however, a significant detrimental effect of conflict on access to potable water. Evidence of the effect of conflict affects gender parity, measured as the female-to-male life expectancy ratio is also limited. Internal conflicts seem to harm males and females in equal measures.
  • In terms of recovery from conflict, analysis show that countries immediately return to the pre-war level of undernourishment when the conflict is over. There is some evidence of a catch-up effect, where post-conflict countries exhibit faster economic growth than normal to regain the average income level expected in the absence of conflict within a decade after the end of the conflict. While this is good news, overall economic performance differs across sectors. A likely cause for this recovery is international assistance.


  • While key economic indicators might paint a rosy picture, the consequences of conflict on development remain immediate and persistent. Armed conflicts are an important obstacle to fulfilling the Millennium Developmental Goals. Sustainable development should therefore take the risk of war into account.


Gates, S., Hegre H., Nygard H. M. & Strand H. (2012). Development Consequences of Armed Conflict. World Development, 40(9), 1713-1722.