Cover: Quantifying the link between COVID-19, conflict risk, and the global economy

Quantifying the link between COVID-19, conflict risk, and the global economy

Published Mar 3, 2023

by Grant Johnson, Sean M. Zeigler, Marco Hafner, Catherine Galley

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Research Questions

  1. How has COVID-19 changed the likelihood of civil conflict in African nations?
  2. How might COVID-19's impact on African countries (via civil unrest) affect the economies of other nations through trade linkages?

The COVID-19 pandemic that began in December 2019 was a major global shock whose implications are still playing out. Some pandemic effects manifested immediately via increased mortality rates in numerous countries. The pandemic's longer-term impacts, such as economic fallout and social instability, are also beginning to emerge. While there is a growing consensus that the pandemic has adversely affected many countries' economies and may exacerbate socio-political unrest, understanding the dynamics of this process remains challenging. Our research suggests that COVID-19 will significantly increase the risk of civil conflict in unstable African countries. We estimate this effect will, in turn, have negative global economic repercussions via international trade losses.

We estimate that COVID-19 has increased Africa's baseline risk of civil conflicts by roughly six per cent on average — a modest but significant increase in conflict risk — although the effect is higher in a handful of countries. Due to trade losses, we estimate that these increased risks may have pernicious effects on the largest global economies. Our model suggests that economic losses due to increased COVID-19-related conflicts could reach nearly $5.5bn, based on a conservative lower bound to reductions in high-income nations' gross domestic product that only reflects the economic fallout attributed to decreases in trade.

Key Findings

  • The authors estimated that, on average, COVID-19 increased the risk of conflict by roughly six per cent in their sample of African nations. However, many countries in the sample are estimated to have an exceedingly high baseline risk level, thus limiting the scope for substantial upticks in the probability of conflict.
  • The authors' calculations suggest that changes in African conflict risk driven by COVID-19 affect the economies of higher-income nations through reductions in international trade; their model suggests a lower bound of roughly $5.5bn at risk to the global economy.

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Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centres. The research was conducted by RAND Europe.

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