Resource Wars: the facts

Sven Torfinn / Panos /


• During the 1990s 5 million people around the world are estimated to have been killed in conflicts; 6 million fled to neighbouring countries and a further 11-15 million were internally displaced.1

• In Africa, economic losses due to war are approximately $15 billion per year.2

• However, since 1990 the world has been significantly safer from conflicts between nations; the risk of such conflicts was only half as great during the 1990s as during the Cold War.3

• Between 1989-2001 there have been 115 armed conflicts around the world, 108 of which were civil conflicts. The most serious of these have been in Africa.4


• States dependent on primary resource exports are over 20 times more likely to suffer a civil war than non-dependent countries.5

• The more that states rely on exporting raw materials, the worse their standard of living is likely to be. The greater a country’s level of mineral dependence, the lower its ranking in the Human Development Index between 1991-98.6

• The more that states rely on mineral exports, the smaller the share of income that accrues to the poorest 20% of the population.6

• Countries highly dependent on oil and mineral exports are more vulnerable to economic shocks as prices have grown more volatile since 1970.6

Poverty and resource-dependence: the links6

This table indicates statistically significant links between poor development indicators and countries’ reliance on mineral and oil exports (controlling for the influence of per capita GDP).

Resource dependence reduces economic growth:

Estimated revenue from conflict resources, selected cases1

Combatant Resource Period Estimated revenue UNITA (Angola) diamonds 1992-2001 $4,000 million total RUF (Sierra Leone) diamonds 1990s $25 - 125 million/year Charles Taylor (Liberia) timber Late 1990s $100 - 187 million/year Government of Sudan oil Since 1999 $400 million/year Government of Rwanda coltan 1999-2000 $250 million total

Forgotten wars

Tens of millions of people are threatened by conflict and violence, but response to their needs is led by political expediency. Focus on the ‘war on terror’ has exacerbated the neglect of ongoing humanitarian crises while wealthy countries are reluctant to commit troops to UN peacekeeping.7

Small but deadly

The real weapons of mass destruction. 90% of civilian casualties are caused by small arms. Around the world one person every minute is killed with conventional weapons. In that same minute, 15 new arms are manufactured for sale.2

The firearm stockpile for sub- Saharan Africa (44 countries) is estimated at less than 30 million firearms.3

Deadly trade. Despite the relatively small size of the arms market, the prevalence of weak and non-existent states, rebel movements and endemic civil violence make the sub-Saharan African gun trade deadly.3

Smuggling. Illicit and smuggled weapons may rival the number of legal weapons in sub-Saharan Africa.3 It is estimated that 80-90% of illegal small arms start off in the legal trade.2 The illegal trade in small arms could be worth up to $10 billion per year.3

Small arms. Most small arms sold to sub-Saharan Africa appear to be cheap, second-hand weapons from sources that are difficult to trace, mostly originating in Central and Eastern Europe or in Asia. Russia is a major supplier of small arms to African countries.3

The big exporters. The world’s most powerful countries are also the world’s biggest arms suppliers. France, Russia, China, Britain and the US together account for 88% of the world’s conventional arms exports. In the last four years the US, Britain and France earned more income from arms exports to Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America than they provided in aid.2 Military spending in sub-Saharan Africa averages $9.8 billion; in 2001 Angola spent 3.1% of GDP on the military compared with 2.7% on education; Sierra Leone spends 3.6% of GDP on the military and 1% on education.10

Human cost

• Since the end of the Cold War, 90% of those killed in conflict have been non-combatants, compared with 15% at the beginning of the century.11

• Children account for at least half of all civilian casualties.10

• Beyond its direct cost in human lives, conflict can undermine economies, destabilize governments, damage infrastructure, disrupt social service delivery and provoke mass movements of people.10

• Forced migration: according to the UNHCR, ‘armed conflict is now the driving force behind most refugee flows’ as people are forced to flee their homes. There are some 13 million refugees and asylum-seekers worldwide – Africa is host to a quarter of them.12

• More than 14 million people face hunger due to present or recent conflicts globally.10

• Today, as many as 300,000 children under 18 serve in government forces or armed rebel groups, some as young as eight years old.2

• In some militaries of sub- Saharan Africa more than half the soldiers are HIV-positive.1

Sven Torfinn / Panos /

  1. Michael Renner, ‘The Anatomy of Resource Wars’, Worldwatch Institute 2002
  2. Control Arms campaign media briefing, ‘Key facts and figures’, 9 October 2003
  3. Small Arms Survey 2002, 2003, Oxford University Press
  4. Michael Ross, ‘Natural Resources and Civil War’, University of California 2002
  5. Paul Collier, ‘Economic Causes of Civil Conflict and their Implications for Policy’, World Bank, 15 June 2000
  6. Michael Ross, ‘ Extractive Industries and the Poor’, Oxfam America 2001
  7. ‘Beyond the Headlines: an agenda to protect civilians in neglected conflicts’, Oxfam International 2003
  8. United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Monthly Summary of Contributors (military observers, civilian police and troops) as of 31 January 2004.
  9. ‘Forgotten Wars: Coverage of wars and conflicts in Africa in International TV News programmes’, Agenda Setting Newsletter, 2003
  10. UNDP Human Development Report 2003, Oxford University Press
  11. Saferworld (2003) Cost of Conflict,
  12. World Refugee Survey 2003