The Demography–Environment–Civil Strife Connection
Since the early 1990s, a number of academics and international security spe-cialists have argued that demographic and environmental pressures pose sig-nificant threats to political stability in developing countries. Initially, this dis-cussion was dominated by neo-Malthusians, but more recently a number of scholars working within the tradition of neoclassical economics have enteredthe fray.
Deprivation and Failed States
Neo-Malthusians argue that rapid population growth, environmental degra-dation, resource depletion, and unequal resource access combine to exacer-bate poverty and income inequality in many of the world’s least developedcountries. The resulting rise in absolute and relative deprivation translatesinto grievances, increasing the risks of rebellion and societal conflict.
More recent work in this tradition acknowledges that deprivation by itself is rarely sufficient to produce large-scale organized violence, because the pooroften lack the capabilities to rebel, especially in the context of a strong state.Therefore, neo-Malthusians contend that population and environmentalpressures are most likely to contribute to internal wars when demographicand environmental pressures also weaken state authority, thereby opening“political space” for violence to occur.
Demographic and environmental stress can undermine state authority in anumber of ways. As population and environmental challenges mount, so willthe demands placed on the state from suffering segments of the economy andmarginalized individuals. Demands may include calls for costly developmentprojects, such as hydroelectric dams, canals, and irrigation systems; subsidiesfor fertilizer and other agricultural inputs; and urban demands for employ-ment, housing, schools, sanitation, energy, and lower food prices. Thesedemands increase fiscal strains and thus erode a state’s administrative capacity by requiring budgetary trade-offs. A state’s legitimacy may also be cast indoubt if individuals and groups come to blame the government for theirplight. Population growth, environmental degradation, and resource deple-tion can also undermine overall economic productivity, thereby reducing therevenue available to local and central governments at the very time that risingdemands require greater expenditures.
Research suggests that these dynamicshave historically contributed to civil strife in the state of Chiapas in Mexico,El Salvador, the Philippines, Somalia, and elsewhere.
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