The Cost of Fear: The Welfare Effects of the Risk of Violence in Northern Uganda


The micro-conflict literature focuses almost exclusively on direct exposure to violence and post-conflict outcomes. By focusing only on directly exposed households, the literature ignores the effects of risk on households in surrounding areas. This paper presents the first estimates of the economic costs of the risk of violence separate from the costs of the actual experience of violence, and finds that it is a significant mechanism by which conflict influences development. Using representative community and household data from Northern Uganda, I estimate measures of objective and subjective risk using geo-spatial variation in the distribution of violence over time. On average, the risk of violence lowers per capita household expenditure by 2 to 6 percent. Even within households that are attacked, risk alone accounts for a significant share, between 17 and 38 percent, of their losses. On aggregate, half of conflict-related losses are due to risk as opposed to direct exposure to violence, with much of these risk-related losses in households that are not directly attacked. Compounding these losses over the duration of the conflict, the risk of violence has reduced per capita expenditure in the affected region by roughly 70 percent and national GDP by 4.6 to 8.2 percent. Lastly, I find that food aid reduces risk-related losses by 17 to 30 percent.

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