By Kristen Pue, Advocacy Director
Today, on October 17, 2014 – the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – we should reflect on the link between genocide and poverty. While the goals of creating a world without genocide and eliminating poverty may seem distinct, they are in fact interconnected. This is because poverty is a catalyst for conflict; conflict creates poverty; and conflict disproportionately affects the poor.
I. Poverty is a Catalyst for Conflict: are countries poor because they are violent or violent because they are poor? Probably, causation runs in both directions. Poverty can exacerbate existing identity tensions – particularly during severe crises, as is currently the case for South Sudan, which is at risk of famine. Although poverty is typically not the primary cause of violence, it can be a critical catalyst. For example, although many other factors were at play, poverty was a contributing factor to the Rwandan genocide. Declining incomes and contracting economic opportunities for the poor characterized the years leading up to the outbreak of violence, leading some to conclude that violence was due to famine and rising economic difficulties in combination with property imbalances along ethnic lines.
II. Conflict Creates Poverty: while many development experts speak about the “poverty trap”, others have begun to note a “violence trap”, in which conflict keeps countries poor. In addition to the destruction caused by ongoing conflict in terms of loss of life, loss of property, and displacement, conflict suppresses the development of financial systems and deters international investment. The World Bank estimates that 71 per cent of the population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo lives below the poverty line, a situation which is largely attributed to the ongoing conflict there.
III. Conflict Disproportionately Affects the Poor: as in most disaster conflicts, the poorest and most vulnerable are disproportionately affected both by the immediate consequences of conflict and its secondary economic effects. The poor are least able to flee impending violence, are most dependent on underfunded and overcrowded refugee camps, and feel the effects of famine most acutely.
On International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, it is important to remember the link between genocide and poverty. STAND envisions a world without genocide, and this means working to eradicate global poverty.