Based on a review of 25 years of scholarly research covering 180 countries, the report by Population Action (news - web sites) International (PAI) concludes that a combination of high population growth, rapid urbanization, and land or water scarcity appear to be the key ingredients for upheaval in poor countries.
The 100-page report, 'The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict After the Cold War (news - web sites),' focuses primarily on the so-called "demographic transition" — the process by which a country's population shifts from short lives and large families to longer lives and smaller families. Countries that advance through that transition are far less likely to experience civil conflict, according to the report.
Costa Rica, Thailand and Tunisia, for example, have all made that transition and are less vulnerable to internal conflict as a result, while countries such as Afghanistan (news - web sites), Ethiopia, and Nepal — all of which have disproportionately high numbers of young adults, rapidly growing cities, and scarcities in water and cropland--are far more likely to suffer conflict, according to the report.
Besides those three, the report lists 21 other countries whose demographics and resource scarcities point to future upheaval, most of them West Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia--regions that largely overlap with U.S. plans to beef up its military assets to carry out an anti-terrorism campaign and secure access to key energy resources.
"There are many benefits to societies in shifting toward lower rates of both birth and death, but the idea that the demographic transition could actually reduce the risk of violent civil conflict is new to the security community," said Robert Engelman, vice president for research at PAI, who co-authored the report.
"We were surprised by the strength and consistency we found in the associations between population dynamics and civil conflict in the last decades of the 20th century, and we're predicting these associations will be evident in the first decades of the 21st as well. That's a powerful concept for the future of global security in a frightfully uncertain world," he added.
The Bush administration, which is on record as supporting many of the recommendations, such as investing in female education, that follow from the report's analysis, may not be pleased with some of the other conclusions, especially in regard to family planning and agriculture.
While the administration has maintained relatively high levels of spending for family planning programs, anti-abortion forces have succeeded in getting it to impose restrictions on how that money can be spent. As a result many international and local groups that provide family planning services are no longer receiving U.S. aid.
But access to family planning information is a vital part of the demographic transition. On average, according to the report, a decline in the annual birth rate of five births per thousand people corresponds to a decline of about five percent in the likelihood of civil conflict during the decade that followed.
In addition, U.S. farm subsidies supported by the administration, along with agricultural subsidies maintained by other western governments, have reduced global prices, making it impossible for millions of small farmers in poor countries to compete and thus forcing them off their lands and into cities, fuelling the rapid urbanization, according to development groups.
As countries have progressed through the "demographic transition," according to the report, they became less vulnerable to internal upheaval. Countries in the earliest phase of transition were about eight times more likely to experience conflict, compared to those that were in the latest phase. "While this association does not suggest direct causation," the report said, "the relationships found here are striking and consistent."
Demographically high-risk states may still be able to avoid conflict, the report said if other factors are present. These may include the ease with which people can emigrate to nearby country (such as the immigration of Central Americans and Mexicans to the U.S.); the sending of remittances earned by emigrants abroad to family members back; land reform; creating new urban employment; or, alternatively, "ruthlessly repressing dissent."
The demographic factors most closely associated with the likelihood of civil conflict during the 1990s, according to the report, were a high proportion of young adults (ages 15 to 29) — often referred to as a "youth bulge" — and a rapid rate of urban population growth.
The report found that countries in which young adults comprised more than 40 percent of the adult population were more than twice as likely as countries with lower proportions to experience conflict. In addition, states with urban population growth rates over four percent were about twice as likely to suffer conflict as countries with lower rates.
Countries with low-availability cropland or renewable fresh water as measured on a per capita basis were about 1.5 times more likely to experience civil conflict as those in other categories. While much recent literature has focused on water scarcities as a major potential cause of both civil and inter-state wars, the report noted that land scarcities resulting from unequal distribution or the settlement of outsiders into traditional ethnic homelands have been much more prominent in fomenting recent civil conflicts.
These kinds of factors — the "youth bulge," rapid urbanization, and per capita land or water scarcity — are not the only factors that contribute to conflict, the report stresses. Such non-demographic factors as historic ethnic tensions and incompetent or arbitrary governance may also play an independent role, or they may compound the risks of conflict for countries that are vulnerable for demographic reasons.
The report also does not arrive at a definitive conclusion on whether high death rates among working (news - web sites)-age adults — a characteristic of countries with high HIV (news - web sites)/AIDS (news - web sites) infection rates — also contribute to civil conflict, although it appears self-evident that the loss of key professionals, the weakening of military and security forces, and the rising number of orphans would contribute to instability.