Monthly Archives: October 2011

Carrot not Stick: redistribution versus policing in situations of civil unrest

Posted by Dr Patricia Justino, Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, UK; Director, MICROCON; Co-director, Households in Conflict Network

A recent Economist article (‘Unrest in Peace’, 22 October 2011) explores the reasons behind recent wide-scale protest movements in Western countries, citing research that links the rise in social instability with austerity measures and increasing inequality. The author relates this outcome to events long witnessed in the emerging world, citing MICROCON research on India as a case in point. Indeed, given the current economic and social climate, our findings on the relative importance of redistributive policies for reducing civil unrest have important implications.

Governments typically intervene in the mediation and resolution of forms of civil unrest with a mix of carrotand-stick approaches. Our empirical analysis, based on data for a panel of fourteen major Indian states, found that while using coercive means to quell unrest may be effective in the short term, in the long term it can cause discontent amongst disadvantaged or disenfranchised populations, leading to greater conflict.

Compared to the use of police, redistributive transfers appear to have a more significant impact on the reduction of unrest across states. By redistributive transfers we refer to transfers that benefit those in need without necessarily distorting private investment decisions and harming economic growth. These might include programmes of public employment, investment in basic education and primary health care, food security programmes and so on.

The econometric modelling took into account other factors that have been shown to contribute to the onset of conflict, including the extent of poverty in states and across groups; the level of overall state income; and the level of education in each state. It found that the correlation between redistributive transfers and civil unrest is almost always negative and statistically significant: higher levels of redistributive transfers are associated with decreases in civil unrest. This effect is particularly significant in the long-term: the number of riots decrease by 0.3-0.4% for each extra rupee per capita spent on social services in the same period, but decrease by 10.5-12.1% for every extra rupee per capita spent on social services in preceding period. Policing is also found to decrease civil unrest in the same period that it is used; however, the use of policing tends to increase civil unrest in subsequent periods.

 Results suggest that the level of redistributive transfers across India has been sufficient to avoid the escalation of civil unrest. Whether intentional or not, and despite the small amounts spent, transfers have had a significant impact on the prevention and reduction of civil unrest in India, particularly in the medium term. The results of this analysis yield important lessons for other countries where social cohesion tends to break frequently but large-scale conflict may be avoidable.

In many developing and emerging countries that are neither high-functioning democracies nor efficient dictatorship regimes, the only way avoid conflict in the long term may be to reduce inequality. Some countries in Latin America, such as Brazil, Mexico and Peru have, over the years, exhibited a combination of high income inequalities (much higher than India’s) and high potential for socio-political conflict, while other countries have shown signs of deterioration of relatively successful social development policies (for instance, former Soviet Union republics, Egypt and Libya). This can result in increases in civil unrest. Instead of addressing the reasons that motivate population mobilisation, the use of police and military force does little more than enhance the causes of unrest rooted in perceived social injustice. In addition, the continued use of coercive force by security forces may cause resentment and further mobilisation that can increase the risk of the escalation of unrest.

The implementation of adequate programmes of redistributive transfers may have an important role to play in the establishment and/or maintenance of stable socio-political environments in those countries. Given recent events in established democracies it appears that in Western countries too, what governments need are more policies that directly address the root causes of social discontent.


Send food to Somalia – answer questions later

This blog is written by Debby Guha-Sapir and Peter Louis Heudtlass, from the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Disaster Epidemiology, Louvain School of Public Health, Brussels, Belgium. It was previously published as a Financial Times Letter on 26 July 2011.

The humanitarian intervention in Libya was justified by the UN policy on a “responsibility to protect”, in this case, civilians from the aggression of forces loyal to Colonel Muammer Gaddafi. The famine in the Horn of Africa surely cannot be treated differently.

The present situation in East Africa is catastrophic and the only response is to send food immediately and ask questions later. But soon enough, questions will be need to be asked – and we have two.

The urgency of the Libya crisis allowed governments to dip into public funds to pay for costly militarised action – to the tune of £2m ($3.2m) per day for the UK alone. This says nothing of costs such as the launching of 168 Tomahawk cruise missiles within the first four days of this intervention at US$1m a shot.

In contrast, donors have been shy with their contributions towards the Horn of Africa appeal for funds. The urgent UN appeal asks $1.87bn to feed about 10m people. Available resources cover less than half this amount and come from leftover funds or from the UN Central Emergency Revolving Fund – a pooled mechanism set up to insure against the risk of overlooking victims of unpopular or forgotten crises.

Faced with a serious shortfall, humanitarian organisations are turning to private donations through personal appeals and helped by disturbing media reports on television.

First, we need an urgent answer to why we can draw on public tax money for humanitarian intervention in Libya, using air strikes to protect people, but need to get non-governmental organisations to solicit private donations from citizens to feed the victims of the famine?

Second, the wrenching famine in this very region in the mid-1980s led to several initiatives to prevent or at least to alert the world to impending famines. Humanitarian organisations also ramped up their capacity to monitor nutritional status in these food-insecure areas.

These initiatives did their job this time. They noted the rapid slide of children into severe malnutrition and sent alerts on an impending food shortage. (“Agencies warn of east Africa famine”, July 6). But not much actually happened.

Sometime soon, we need to ask how to connect up aid decision-making and famine alert systems, so response is timely and effective.