Last Updated on September 28, 2023 by Karl Thompson
War and conflict harm societies and prevent development through both immediate and longer term effects.
While immediate violent death or injury in battle are two of the more obvious direct consequences of war and conflict, there are many other direct immediate and indirect, longer term negative consequences.
Longer term consequences can drastically add to people’s misery and retard positive development for several years after a conflict ends.
|The direct effects of conflict include:||Indirect, longer term effects of conflict:|
|Death and injury.|
|The destruction of physical infrastructure (unsafe living conditions). |
The destruction to work/ economic infrastructure/ employment opportunities.
The disruption of schooling and health care services.
The disruption to family life.
Longer term physical health and mental health problems.
NB – the distinction between direct/ indirect or immediate/ long term isn’t a hard and fast one, they can easily merge together, especially when a conflict drags on for several years – and the breakdown of social infrastructure (usually categorised as a long term, indirect consequence of war) kind of becomes more immediate and direct!)
The distinction is really just an analytical tool, the important thing it highlights is that immediate violent death and injury are usually just the start of the negative consequences of warfare – the consequences are much longer term!
The Immediate effects of War and Conflict
There have been over 10 Million Conflict Deaths in the last 30 years
There have been 15 conflicts since the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 with death tolls of more than 25 000 people, of which 9 are currently ongoing (in March 2021). The total number of deaths in these conflicts stands at just over 10 million people (upper estimate), but this doesn’t include the people dying in the many smaller conflicts which have taken place in the last 30 years in which fewer than 25 000 people died.
I picked the Rwandan Genocide as a starting point because it is very well-known and relevant to Crime and Deviance as an example of a state crime. It also stands out as one of the few examples of a country that has gone on to see a reasonable level of development since the conflict. (Also, going back 30 years is a pretty standard period for analysis in A-level Sociology!)
The conflicts with highest death tolls in the last 30 years were:
- The Rwandan Genocide needs a mention – there were an estimated 800 000 deaths, but within a very rapid time frame, and much of this done with hand-weapons like machetes, and it was ethnic cleansing, all in all making it particularly horrific.
- The Second Congo War – in central Africa with an upper estimate of 5 million deaths (NB given the relatively small geographical area this was kind of like World War Two in the middle of Africa)
- The War on Terror – 2001 to the present day – with over 1 million deaths
- The War on Iraq – 2003-2007, but which spilled over into a civil war, 2014-2017 – and a total of around 500 000 deaths between the two
- The Syrian Civil War – ongoing and an upper estimate of almost 600 000 deaths.
Thankfully the numbers seem to be coming down. According to one estimate, the total death toll for the 17 most deadly conflicts in the world stood at around 300 000 in 2016, but this had reduced to 100 000 deaths by 2020.
Physical Trauma and Injury
While it is possible to get death tolls statistics for conflicts, these are usually estimated, and estimates can range widely – the Syrian Civil War has a death toll range of between around 400 000 to 600 000 for example.
Given the problems with estimating death tolls in war, it should be unsurprising that it’s very difficult to find estimates for the number of people injured in war and conflict – either through serving on the front line, or civilians being brutalised by ‘soldiers.
In situations of war, when law and order are determined by violence, there must be several cases of violent assault which simply go unreported and unnoticed.
One particularly horrific aspect of physical injury and trauma in conflict zones is through the use of rape as a weapon of war – it’s estimated that 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC for example, a legacy of conflict in that country.
Rape can also be used against boys and men as a way of asserting authority over them.
This report by ReliefWeb provides an overview of the extent of rape as a weapon of war.
A rational response to conflict in a region is to flee to another region or country, and many people do. The United Nations reports that there are currently 80 million refugees, or displaced people.
Most refugees come from Syria (5 million) and Turkey hosts the most (3 million). 80% of refugees are hosted in developing countries.
While Displacement is an immediate problem caused by conflict, and results in immediate problems related to living in temporary accommodation (tents), with possible poor sanitation and food shortages, there are also longer-term problems related to lack of status, children being out of education and so on.
Longer Term effects of War and Conflict
Conflicts can drag on for several years, even decades in some countries, with devastating longer-term consequences….
The destruction of physical infrastructure – such as buildings and roads mean that civilians who remain may be living in unsafe buildings with no running water, sewage or electricity – basically a war zone can turn a previously developed neighbourhood into a slum. Power stations and roads may also be damaged in conflicts, and these can be expensive to repair post-conflict, taking up a lot of money that might otherwise be spent on social development.
War also results in the destruction to the economic infrastructure – in a war-torn country business slows down or stops because it is unsafe – with a corresponding downturn in employment and income. Foreign companies may also leave the country, and imports may dry up as it is too risky to do business there. All of this means the cost of goods and the cost-of-living increases.
Disruption to education – schools may be forced to shut down, and refugee children may not be able to get an education. If children spend a year, or two, or more, out of formal education, they will struggle to catch up.
The disruption to health care services – health services have to focus on dealing with battle related injuries – dealing with immediate problems, which means there are fewer resources to go towards other health issues – such as dealing with vaccinations and maternity related health issues.
Longer term health issues – the trauma of war can be felt for decades – as witnessed in the high suicide rates of war Veterans, something which is probably mirrored in people who suffered rape and/ or torture as part of war.
Longer term economic problems – the Global Peace Index notes that the Economic impact of Global Violence in 2019 was over $40 trillion – an almost incomprehensibly high number, and certainly enough money to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
Basically, every social development indicator is negatively affected by war and conflict in a country!
Sources – find out More
- The Global Conflict Tracker
- The Global Peace Index 2023
- Human Rights Watch
- United Nations Refugee Agency
- Spiri – the consequences of conflict
- The Effects of Armed Conflict on Children.
This material is relevant to the Global Development and Globalisation module, an option within A-level sociology.
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