Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States
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Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States

Edited by Graham K. Brown and Arnim Langer

The Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States brings together contributions from a multidisciplinary group of internationally renowned scholars on such important issues as the causes of violent conflicts and state fragility, the challenges of conflict resolution and mediation, and the obstacles to post-conflict reconstruction and durable peace-building.
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Chapter 10: Demography and armed conflict

Henrik Urdal


Demographic and environmental pressures have featured prominently in the debate over the new security challenges in the aftermath of the Cold War. The attention has primarily been on two arguably distinctive sets of population–conflict dynamics; the effect of population growth on dwindling resources, and the importance of age structure transition, or ‘youth bulges’. In the resource scarcity literature, high population growth and density are seen as major causes of scarcity of renewable resources such as arable land, fresh water, forests and fisheries. Arguably, such scarcities may trigger armed conflict over resource access (see, for example, Baechler 1999; Ehrlich 1968; Homer-Dixon and Blitt 1998; Kahl 2006; Kaplan 1994). Population-induced resource scarcity has been considered to be a security threat primarily in developing countries with low capacity to prevent and adapt to scarcities (see, for example, Homer-Dixon 1999). Generally, one of the most robust findings in the quantitative conflict literature is that impoverished and institutionally weak countries with low GDP per capita have an exceptionally high risk of armed conflict and civil war (Collier and Hoeffler 2004b; Fearon and Laitin 2003; Hegre and Sambanis 2006). Two key trends arguably contribute to extend the relevance of population pressure and resource scarcity into the coming decades. First, despite declining population growth rates globally, low-income countries, particularly in parts of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to experience very significant population growth rates in the near future. Second, these areas are also the ones expected to face the most severe consequences of global climate change (Stern Review 2006).

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