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Resource Scarcity And Conflict In Developing Countries

John W. Maxwell, Rafael Reuveny

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As time passes, renewable resource scarcities are becoming more common. There is increasing evidence that these scarcities are a causal factor in political conflict, especially in developing countries. We present a simple dynamic model of renewable resource and population interaction featuring the possibility of conflict triggered by per capita resource scarcity. In the model, conflict diverts resources away from resource harvesting, increases the death rate, and damages the resource. The two former effects may speed the return to a peaceful steady state. If conflict results in resource destruction, however, it may destabilize the system, leading it towards collapse. Conflict due to renewable resource scarcity could be cyclical, implying recurring phases of conflict. However, such conflict cannot last for ever. We use the model to examine various policy scenarios concerning population control and technical innovations in harvesting and natural resource growth. A key insight of the model is the importance of the bidirectional interplay between conflict and resource scarcity, as opposed to the unidirectional notion that resource scarcity leads to conflict. As such, the model points to the need for the use of simultaneous equation econometric models in empirical investigations of resource scarcity and conflict.