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January 14, 2015

The cost of war and peace

Years of working on issues around conflict and humanitarian emergencies have left me with mixed feelings on using statistics about war and disaster.

You can try to count the number of people displaced, but you can’t quantify how it feels for someone to leave behind her home and possessions, to walk away from her fields and any hope of stability. We can count injuries and deaths, but these numbers provide no comfort to families coping with the loss of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friends. We can try to explain the problems through a series of figures, but it doesn’t tell the reality of what life is like for the individual people quantified, the good and the bad of daily life.

There are many statistics about the problems in South Sudan today, some of them so alarming that it’s easier to take a step back and view them coolly as numbers, disassociating from the humanity behind them. These numbers of dead, displaced, and food-insecure in South Sudan haven’t convinced regional powers to do everything they can to press for peace. But new insights on the economic consequences released today could help lead to more decisive action.

A report from Frontier Economics, the Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE) and the Centre for Peace and Development Studies (CPDS) at Juba University quantifies the cost of continued war for South Sudan and its neighbors: a staggering $158 billion over the next 20 years. For neighbors Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania the cost could be a combined $53 billion in the next five years alone as they deal with the effects of conflict.

The people of the region simply cannot afford that, nor can they risk South Sudan becoming a failed state, a scenario that is becoming more plausible as fighting recommences in earnest with the onset of the dry season. With the International Authority on Development (IGAD) and African Union summits coming up this month, the report provides a compelling argument for regional powers to work together to ensure peace in South Sudan now.

The cost of continued war is frightening, but the price of peace is impressive: if peace is restored this year, the report notes, the international community will have $30 billion to invest in rebuilding hospitals, schools, and jobs. Imagine what that means outside the statistics, what that opportunity would be to a child who has never been to school or to a family whose home has been burned down. It’s a much better future than one of continued fighting, regional instability, and a cost to South Sudanese civilians much greater than dollars.

Read the full report:

More on South Sudan from David Abramowtiz, Humanity United’s Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs here.

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