WEALTH AND WARWhat’s the Cost of War and Who Can Afford It?
The combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the poorest 48 nations is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people. And if worldwide spending on weapons were reduced by only 1%, there would be enough money to send every single child in the world to school.
There are 6 populated continents, 192 recognized countries, and over 6 billion people in the world. We live in a world where the richest 20% control 86% of the global income and the poorest 20% barely control 1%. Unfortunately, this gap between the rich and the poor is widening and having a huge impact on the environment, education, health and human rights.
Natural resources can be an important source of a nation’s wealth. Some of the poorest places in the world have huge stores of natural resources and have the potential to make huge amounts of money. Unfortunately, this wealth does not necessarily translate into better living conditions for every citizen, especially if a country has a history of armed conflict or rebellion.
For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the second largest land area in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is rich in natural resources including the second largest rain forest in the world, rich and fertile soils, and an abundance of various mineral resources. Historically, mining of copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, zinc and other base materials accounted for about 25% of the country’s GDP. However, the country’s formal economy has virtually collapsed due of decades of war, mismanagement, conflict, and instability.
As a consequence, the DRC government spends less than 1% of its budget on heath and education. It is estimated that 70% of the population have little or no access to health care, 80% of the population have no access to safe drinking water, the infant mortality rate is 1,850 out of 100,000 live births, the highest in Africa, and the majority of schools are no longer operational, leaving an entire generation of school children basically illiterate.
DRC is not alone in its spending choices; throughout the world nations struggle to survive or to maintain their powerful positions. Worldwide, military spending is $997.2 billion per year, which amounts to more than 25 times the cost of providing primary education, basic health care, nutrition, clean water, AND sanitation worldwide! The consequences of this type of spending are especially severe for poor countries.
Resource wars create vicious cycles. Governments of poor countries who rely heavily on natural resources need to invest large sums of money to protect their main source of income. As they spend money on the military, they reduce the amount available to spend on social programs, which means children have less access to education and the economy does diversify to include more sustainable ways of generating funds. As a result, natural resources become even more important to the country’s overall well being and the vicious cycle continues.
Want to Learn More?
1. SIPRI Yearbooks. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
This website has year-by-year publications that show statistics on security and conflicts; military spending and armaments; and non-proliferation, arms control, and disarmament.
2. Military Expenditure and Arms Production. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
This website has information and statistics on military expenditure and arms production.
3. Armed Conflicts Report. Project Ploughshares
This website details the state of war around the world. Going beyond the wars on the evening news, this report describes lesser-known conflicts, as well as the issues that surround conflict.