The devastating cost of Africa's wars: £150bn and millions of lives


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Feb 11, 2007
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The devastating cost of Africa's wars: £150bn and millions of lives

· Loss is equivalent to total foreign aid since 1990
· Economies, health and human rights all suffer

Chris McGreal, Africa correspondent
Thursday October 11, 2007
The Guardian

Soldiers from the Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) patrol near the border with Congo. Photograph: PETER BUSOMOKE/AFP/Getty Images

Conflicts in Africa since the end of the cold war have cost the continent £150bn, equivalent to all the foreign aid it has received over the same period, according to a report released by Oxfam today.
The study, Africa's Missing Billions, says that almost half of the countries on the continent have been involved in some form of conflict since 1990 at a substantial cost to lives and development.

The report compares African countries afflicted by conflict with those at peace and says nations at war have, on average, 50% more infant deaths, 15% more undernourished people and life expectancy reduced by five years. Indirect deaths are 14 times higher than deaths in combat.

The report has been released ahead of a UN conference on a proposed arms trade treaty as part of a campaign by Oxfam and other NGOs for a ban on weapons sales and transfers where they are likely to be used to commit serious human rights violations. About 95% of Kalashnikov rifles in Africa - the most common weapon there - come from outside the continent.
The research by Oxfam, Saferworld and the International Action Network on Small Arms, a London-based international network of NGOs working to curb weapons proliferation, estimates that conflict shrinks economies by 15% on average.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, has suffered more than a decade of foreign invasion and civil war that, besides causing the deaths of about 4 million people, has cost it £9bn, or 29% of its gross domestic product, according to the report. Eritrea, Burundi and Rwanda are among the other worst hit countries.

"This is a massive waste of resources - roughly equivalent to total international aid to Africa from major donors during the same period," the report says. "It is also roughly equivalent to the additional funds estimated to be necessary to address the problems of HIV and Aids in Africa, or to address Africa's needs in education, clean water and sanitation, and help prevent the spread of TB and malaria."

The report says that besides the impact of increased military expenditure and destruction of infrastructure, war creates inflation, debt and high unemployment.

"The indirect costs from lost opportunities are even higher. Economic activity falters or grinds to a halt. Income from valuable natural resources ends up lining individual pockets rather than benefiting the country. The country suffers from inflation, debt and reduced investment, while people suffer from unemployment, lack of public services and trauma. More people, especially women and children, die from the fallout of conflict than die in conflict itself," the report says.

"For conflicts, the greater part of the human cost results not from deaths and injuries due to combat but indirectly from the loss of health and livelihoods caused by the disruption of economy and society. Across nine African conflicts, indirect deaths were 14 times greater than deaths occurring in combat."

The report says that the medical impact of combat injuries is dwarfed by the broader consequences, including higher rates of disease and infection caused by large movements of people, poorer nutrition, difficulties in finding clean water and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

"Studies show that although women are often not targeted in combat as directly as men, women experience as much or more mortality in the long run. Women suffer seriously and exclusively from lack of maternal health services, as well as facing extremely high levels of rape and HIV infection. During the conflict in Sierra Leone more than half of women experienced some type of sexual violence."

Ethnic conflict in particular erodes the ties of family and community, entrenching hatreds and distrust. The impact on children can be particularly severe, forcing many out of school and some into fighting.

The report says its figures are almost certainly an underestimate of the true cost of conflict because they do not take into account the economic impact on neighbouring countries, which are frequently affected by political insecurity or an influx of refugees.

One spillover from conflict is the vast numbers of small arms washing around the continent, which has contributed to violent crime. Armed robberies, murders, cattle rustling and gang violence have risen in several regions.

The report says that combating poverty would be a big contribution to ending conflict but that other measures, including curbing the small arms trade, particularly the supply of ammunition, would also have a significant impact.

"Economic growth and the lives and livelihoods of people in Africa are being held back by armed violence. In failing to control the arms trade the international community has let Africa down," it says.
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