Within the fields of political science and development economics over the years, interest in understanding the consequences of armed conflict has blossomed. Conceptually, the long-term effects on development are ambiguous. From a macrolevel perspective, there is the expectation, based on neoclassical growth models, that after fighting subsides a country will quickly recover to its steady state growth rate (Blattman and Miguel 2010). Even though the duration of recovery may vary, there exists empirical evidence mostly supporting this conjecture in a diverse set of cases, ranging from postwar Japan (Davis and Weinstein 2002), West Germany (Brakman et al. 2004), Rwanda (Justino and Verwimp 2006), and Vietnam (Miguel and Roland 2011), along with cross-country analyses (Cerra and Saxena 2008; Chen et al. 2008).
On the other hand, some models of poverty traps and endogenous growth suggest a more drawn-out recovery in the wake of conflict, especially when taking into account asymmetric destruction of physical and human capital. As Blattman and Miguel (2010, 38) convey: “[T]he disproportionate loss of human capital in war results in slower economic growth and recovery than the destruction of physical capital, during the transition back to steady state growth.” Moreover, violent conflict is likely to undermine the social and institutional foundations of a country, which could have long-lasting and possibly less apparent consequences for economic and political development.
Even though empirical evidence highlighting such a complex relationship is less clear-cut given the inherent measurement difficulties, a few novel approaches provide valuable insight. Miguel et al. (2011), for example, use fouls committed in European soccer to illustrate how a player’s exposure to civil conflict influences sociocultural norms towards violence. Alternatively, Dell (2012) argues that insurgent activity during the Mexican Revolution in the early twentieth century may well explain why certain municipalities in present-day Mexico are substantially poorer and have significantly less turnover when it comes to local political representation. More tangible still than these deeply entrenched historical effects, war also may simply curtail the ability of local civil institutions (e.g., schools or health clinics) from fulfilling their critical functions. To assess this, however, it is necessary to focus not on the macrolevel effects but rather the microlevel consequences for individuals and entire households.
During times of conflict it is usually the civilian population that sustains the greatest burden. With this in mind, the majority of the literature dealing with the microlevel considers the effects of fighting on human capital accumulation among noncombatants, touching on topics such as employment, education, and health. It is natural then that questions arise concerning how children in particular are affected by war, given the fact that investment in their human capital is most at stake. Indeed, the loss of human capital during childhood may have severe long-run effects on individual and household welfare because it reduces their future livelihood prospects (Justino 2011).
Looking at the effect on educational attainment, a number of studies over a range of settings provide evidence that children exposed to violence acquire fewer years of schooling (Akresh and de Walque 2008; Swee 2009; Chamabargwala and Moran 2011; Shemyakina 2011; Leon 2012; Justino et al. 2013). Although not all are directly comparable given differences in context and empirical approach, certain general findings seem to emerge, including the disproportionate impact on secondary schooling as well as differences based on gender. Just as important, some studies document the negative effect of violence on children’s health outcomes (Alderman et al. 2006; Bundervoet et al. 2008; Akresh et al. 2011; Minoiu and Shemyakina 2014). In general, such studies provide evidence that exposure to fighting results in worse nutrition as well as a lower height-for-age. Although there appears to be clear indication regarding the negative consequences of armed conflict for those factors related to human capital accumulation, the mechanism through which this effect takes place is not as evident.
Clearly many families confronted with violence in their communities respond by fleeing together for safety or by making arrangements for certain household members (e.g., children) to find sanctuary elsewhere. Displacement, therefore, is one potential channel through which violent conflict has an influence on a households’ well-being and human capital accumulation (Justino 2011). Empirical research looking into the economic consequences of forced migration, including those regarding the impact on education and health, is relatively new with most studies emerging within the last five years (for a review, see Ruiz and Vargas-Silva 2013).
Oyelere and Wharton (2013), for example, attempt to establish causal evidence for the effect of conflict on education accumulation and enrollment gaps for children of internally displaced families in Colombia. After applying various econometric techniques in order to minimize any potentially omitted variable and selection bias, their results indicate a significant education accumulation gap as well as a lower rate of enrollment at the secondary level for internally displaced households. In the case of Burundi, Verwimp and Van Bavel (2013) similarly find that the frequency of displacement leads to a decrease in the probability of completing primary school for both boys and girls. Looking at forced displacement in northern Uganda, Fiala (2012) finds that the more affluent displaced households have significantly less educational attainment, which suggests a strategic shift of human to physical capital investment.
Alternatively, Eder (2013) uses ethnic divisions during the Bosnian War as a natural experiment to determine the educational outcomes for children of displaced parents. Even though no significant difference in school enrollment is found, displaced households are shown to spend significantly less on their child’s education at both the primary and secondary level. When it comes to health, Fiala (2009), again in the case of northern Uganda, shows that displacement is associated with a significant decrease in the consumption of meat, an indicator of dietary diversity and nutrition in general.
Taken altogether, the literature pertaining to the consequences of violent conflict and internal displacement unsurprisingly indicates a generally negative impact on those factors related to human capital accumulation for the civilian population. Although the microlevel effect is detrimental for individual and household welfare for years to come, it also has severe implications at the macrolevel via productivity loss and, as a consequence, stalled economic growth. With this in mind, the chapter now turns towards the specific case of Afghanistan where, despite its clear relevance, no similar inquiry has been considered.