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Poverty and political, social, and economic inequalities between groups predispose to conflict; policies to tackle them will reduce this risk
Eight out of 10 of the world's poorest countries are suffering, or have recently suffered, from large scale violent conflict. Wars in developing countries have heavy human, economic, and social costs and are a major cause of poverty and underdevelopment. The extra infant deaths caused by the war in Cambodia, for example, were estimated to be 3% of the country's 1990 population.1 Most current conflicts, such as in the Sudan or the Congo, are within states, although there is often considerable outside intervention, as in Afghanistan. In the past 30 years Africa has been especially badly affected by war (see fig 1).
This article reviews the evidence on the root causes of conflict and suggests some policy responses that should be adopted to reduce the likelihood of future war.
Wars are a major cause of poverty, underdevelopment, and ill health in poor countries
The incidence of war has been rising since 1950, with most wars being within states
Wars often have cultural dimensions related to ethnicity or religion, but there are invariably underlying economic causes too
Major root causes include political, economic, and social inequalities; extreme poverty; economic stagnation; poor government services; high unemployment; environmental degradation; and individual (economic) incentives to fight
To reduce the likelihood of wars it is essential to promote inclusive development; reduce inequalities between groups; tackle unemployment; and, via national and international control over illicit trade, reduce private incentives to fight
The cultural dimension of war
Many groups of people who fight together perceive themselves as belonging to a common culture (ethnic …
Correspondence to: D Holdstock