Life After Conflict: Surprising Opportunities for Poor People to Escape Poverty

January 11, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. January 11, 2010 – The World Bank today launched the fourth book in the critically acclaimed Moving Out of Poverty series, which provides bottom up perspectives on poverty and local realities by over 60,000 people living in 500 communities in 15 countries.  The latest publication focuses on seven conflict-affected countries and urges a rethinking of post-conflict strategies to rebuild states from below.   


Entitled Moving Out of Poverty: Rising from the Ashes of Conflict, the new study found that despite high levels of reported corruption among government officials, post-conflict assistance provides surprising opportunities for poor people and poor communities to move out of poverty.  Overall, there was no significant difference in mobility levels between peaceful and conflict-affected communities of the study. In some countries—like Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, and Sri Lanka—communities in conflict had higher mobility rates than peaceful communities.


The book argues that while conflicts unleash horror and suffering, they also destabilize old ways of doing things and create new openings for poor people to get ahead.  However, there is a narrow window of opportunity in the aftermath of conflict before old barriers begin to resurface.  Development agencies should seize quickly on this window to create local economic opportunities and markets when providing assistance to such countries.


Since the inception, the Moving Out of Poverty project has put an all-important human face on poverty and has provided tremendous insight into the problems faced by the poor, problems that statistics often miss,” said Francis Fukuyama, Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy, The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC. “This volume examines the social, political, and economic institutions facing poor people in post-conflict environments and it concludes with important policy recommendations.


The immediate priority of people soon after conflict is to get on with their lives and their own economic recovery so they can ensure the future of their families and communities,” said Deepa Narayan.  High quality assistance that moves quickly to provide better permanent housing when people return to devastated communities and homes helps in letting go of the deep wounds of war and gives peace a chance.  Instead, in many contexts, people report small and unpredictable assistance, weak local economies, the near absence of private sector jobs, and little assistance to connect with local markets. 


Social changes resulting from conflict were more promising than economic and political trends, and offer opportunities for government and aid agencies.  People from conflict-affected communities perceived declines in social divisiveness and inequality, and reported a 121 percent increase in the number of local associations. 


“The processes of post-conflict rebuilding efforts should focus in particular on the construction of a national identity beyond religious or ethnic identities,” advises Patti Petesch, lead author of the study in Sri Lanka.  The study highlights actions by local leaders and the design of assistance programs that ease distrust and tensions, including by actively ensuring that resources and program reach across religious and ethnic divides.


The study also found important differences between middle-and-low-income countries.  The chances of moving out of poverty after conflict are high among middle income countries with a strong democratic state that has the will and sufficient economic and military resources to reclaim and rebuild conflict-affected peripheral areas.   


The authors of the book argue that if the state capacity is low, international assistance to governments and civil society should be designed to fill this void in the following ways:

  1. Post-conflict assistance should prioritize local economic recovery and support poor people with grants, skills training and advice to connect to markets. Small amounts of microcredit without business assistance can help cope but keep people hovering in and out of poverty.
  2. People returning to their communities after conflict should be provided with direct transfers of funds to help them rebuild their houses and signal a return to normalcy. Having a house brings security, dignity and a higher stake in maintaining peace. For this, aid agencies and NGO’s should collaborate closely to ensure such funds are quickly and fairly distributed among everyone.
  3. To restore services and local infrastructure, aid agencies should focus primarily on community based, bottom-up approaches channeled through government. Community participation should be institutionalized and local leaders held accountable for delivering local projects.
  4. Programs should be proactive and reach across previously warring groups to address core political, economic, and social inequities between social groups—neutrality is not enough.
  5. Since societal change takes time, aid programs should also take a long-term view.


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