Impact of Conflict on Human Capital Development (2023)

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Living Amid Conflict and its Implications to Human Capital Development

By Alexander Ken P. Libranza


The adverse effects of the outbreak and recurrence of conflict can be dangerous because of its long-term economic implications that may force a country into a vicious cycle of low human capital development and conflict (Kim et al, 2010). A common stand among recent literature suggests that conflict destroys the process of accumulating physical and human capital, which deteriorates the labor force and in turn affects institutional capacity (Justino, 2011; Nkurunziza, 2008; Serneels et al, 2010). Most researches on civil wars and armed conflict has been focused on the macro-level of analysis, as noted by Stewart & Valpy (2001), that largely address the economic and social consequences concentrating on the prevalence of underdevelopment among conflict-affected countries. However, very few researchers talk about the micro-level impacts of conflicts on household and individual. One possible reason is the unavailability of household-level data in conflict-affected countries. Second, even when such data are available the reliability of the source and the sample is also being questioned. Although, empirical works are growing, the increasing micro-level researches has been greatly focused on the effects of war to household living standards and direct impacts of combats that involves narratives of individuals in conflict areas. Very limited works has addressed the long term effects of violent conflict on children and child development, most especially on the Philippine context.

Drawing on a review of both theoretical and empirical literature, this paper frames the connection between armed conflict and human capital development within a conceptual framework in which the accumulation of nutrition and education and levels of human development are linked. This paper further shows that while armed conflict might be caused by many factors, low levels of human development increase the risks of conflict outbreaks and recurrence.

Impact of Conflict on Human Capital Development (1)

Figure 1: Adopted from Kim & Conceição (2010), “The Economic Crisis, Violent Conflict, and Human Development”

Figure 1 shows the conceptual framework of the study. This framework suggests a self-reinforcing cycle from the roots and cause of armed conflict to low human capital development, and vice versa. The decade-long armed conflict in the Philippines is a proof of this loop. Concentrated in rural areas, variations of insecurities and violence has affected communities especially children and women who are forced to suffer physical and psychological trauma as consequences from shooting, combat operations, and rights abuse. While conflict maybe caused by many factors, Risser (2007) traces its roots to the issues of poverty, economic distribution disparities, and scarcity of state social and welfare services. These becomes a problem because it limits access to health care services and basic education which is critical for the accumulation of physical, social, and human capital.

The framework further notes that a country experiencing conflict cannot secure long term returns for investments in both physical and human capital, resulting in low investment in health and education which lead to low levels of human development. A country with low levels of human development has a difficulty in improving institutions which lowers productivity and potential growth. As such, lower growth rates heighten the risk of conflict, potentially trapping a country in a self-reinforcing cycle of conflict, low human development, and vice versa (Kim & Conceicao, 2010).

In the period of 2001-2005, IBON Foundation monitored 1,061 armed confrontations between the government forces and various armed groups and recorded 569 killing of innocent, unarmed civilians – 52 of which are minors under 18-years old, 63 women, and 199 who were killed during the crossfire. Over the last decade, millions of children were killed in armed conflicts all over the world (Machel, 1996). While others are exploited as soldiers and exposed to extreme brutality and violence (Camacho, 2003). It is estimated that 45 percent of the direct victims of armed conflict are 15 years old and younger. Moreover, there were 819 incident of human rights violations involving children from 2001 to April 2005. Children suffered effects of sexual violence, harassment and psychological trauma, intimidation, illegal detention, and exposure to hunger and disease. There were 75 cases of children who were orphaned when their parents were killed during the conflict, however this number may be underreported due to the lack of data, limited information, and unreliability of the sources. Exposure to actual combats and being caught in the crossfire of battles has left them physically disabled, emotionally scarred, and psychologically traumatized which are detrimental in accumulating the proper human and social capital to become well-adjusted and productive workers.

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This research relates to various fields in the literature, in particular for development economics, health and nutrition, and education. I briefly mention below the key areas in the mentioned field of study that motivates this research. First is on the established link between economic conditions and conflict. There has been a great deal of work analyzing the causal effects of conflict and war. Most of these studies extensively focused on establishing a strong link between poverty to armed conflict and violence (Justino, 2006; Justino, 2009; Miguel et al., 2004). Macro-level analysis, as noted by Stewart, F. & Valpy F. (2001), has provided an insight on the economic and social consequences of conflict focusing on the prevalence of underdevelopment among conflict-affected countries. However, there has been limited number of studies focusing at the micro-level impacts of conflicts on household and individual. The increasing micro-level data has been greatly focused on the effects of war to household living standards, direct impacts of combats, and very limited on children and child development especially on the Philippine context.

Second is the relationship of health to socio-economic characteristics, and its implications to consumption patterns. Serdan (2008) gave an overview of how armed conflict affects food intakes, food availability, and a clear measurement indicators of nutritional outcomes for children. In addition, Straus and Thomas (2008) noted how health and nutrition affects the accumulation of human capital, as well as its positive effects to productivity and living standards.

Third is relating nutrition to academic performance. In fact, academic performance and nutrition, as important elements in the accumulation of proper human and social capital, has been the subject of the growing literature demonstrating the long term impacts of conflict to the productivity of the workforce, their well-being, as well as living standards (Thomas, 2007; Berhman et al., 2004; Malluccio et al., 2006, Serdan, 2008). Furthermore, a unanimous agreement establishes health as an important factor for determining the well-being of the population which affects schooling, income, and labor force participation (Serdan, 2008; Alderman et al., 2006; Shemyakina, 2006; Swee 2009). In all, existing researches are clear: the effects or armed conflict and violence represent a significant challenge to the health and education systems. This further qualifies both the short-term and long-term economic implications of armed conflict to the different sectors of the economy.

This paper examines the possible causal effects of armed conflict and violence on health outcomes and education of children. In particular, I analyzed if the exposure to armed conflict and violence has a differential effect on the nutrition and academic performance of conflict-affected children, and comparing these results to those children from non-armed conflict areas.

When it comes to peace development, this quantitative research will contribute to the lack of data around conflict-affected areas towards creating an impact assessment for conflict and post-conflict rehabilitation programs. The main issue is the gap between academic studies and practitioner works that has been due to the limited information and reliance on sources of data from mass media and humanitarian monitoring mechanism. I want to establish a closer link between academic studies and policy making in conflict-affected areas.

The paper seek to assess how armed conflict and violence affect the health and education of children living in conflict areas. More specifically, this research looks into the anthropometric indicators that would suggest disruptions on the nutritional intakes, academic performance, and schooling of children. In doing so, the study evaluates the current status of health and education of children living amid conflict and violence, and compares the nutritional outcomes and academic performance of children from armed conflict areas to non-armed conflict areas.


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