Inflammation and stories on land

Land Seizures in EthiopiaEthiopia is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, with a growth rate of nearly 10.4% from 2004 to 2018. Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) has focused on public infrastructure and economic modernizations. The Ethiopian government has encouraged foreign investment in recent years and the construction of industrial parks throughout the country, though land seizures in Ethiopia, especially in Oromia and Tigray, have become common for acquiring space for the developments.

Displacement of Farmers

In order to realize its economic goals, the government has appropriated vast amounts of highly fertile land in the southern region of Oromia and converted it for foreign agribusiness. Dutch, Israeli and Indian companies have gravitated to Ethiopia because of cheap and fertile land. This has created tension in the region as local farmers have been forcibly displaced from their lands in favor of these foreign agribusinesses, many of which sell decorative flowers or pharmaceutical plants. These companies have generally taken the best, the most fertile and the most easily irrigated land in the Oromia region, displacing many farmers.

Most of these farmers, belonging to the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups, which make up more than 50% of the population and are the largest ethnicities in Ethiopia, claim that they were forcibly dispossessed of their land by the local government, even as the government claims that it followed all necessary protocols. These land seizures in Ethiopia have led to numerous protests and demonstrations throughout Ethiopia where development has occurred, largely because few of the jobs that were created went to locals. The focus on non-food agribusiness instead of crop production has exacerbated the food crisis in the country, which originally stemmed in part from droughts plaguing eastern Africa since 2015, as well as the 2018 floods.

In Oromia, at the Adama Industrial Park, heavy machinery and textiles are produced for export. This industrial park was one of the first to be opened in the fall of 2018, and it began its first exports in December 2018.

Land Seizures in Ethiopia Aren’t Confined to Oromia

In the north of the country, there is widespread industrialization, and the government has also been pushing for industrial projects, such as the mine established by the Chinese company Tibet Huayu Mining in association with Canada’s East Africa Metals Inc., meant to prospect and mine for gold in Tigray’s largely untapped mineral fields. Pepsi has also heavily invested in the Tigray region, with a bottling factory near the capital of Mekele. Garment factories, as well as a Turkish industrial manufacturer, have also agreed to set up facilities in and around Tigray as well.

Besides the Adama and Mekelle industrial parks, seven others, including two near Addis Ababa, have opened or are under construction as part of the government’s economic policies.

Evictions are not limited to agricultural areas. In several areas, particularly around Addis Ababa, long-standing towns are being declared as illegal settlements, and the government has described this policy as an attempt to regularize development and bring urban planning and local infrastructure up to international standards.

Why Is This a Problem?

Ethiopia’s industrialization is highly focused on foreign investment. The Ethiopian government has sacrificed long-term growth prospects for the much more lucrative but short-term opportunities of foreign investors, largely ignoring indigenous industrial and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Currently, the government does little for those displaced by industrial development. Land tenure and property rights laws are inadequately and unevenly enforced. Whenever there is a legal framework in place, often it is neither easy nor advantageous for the dispossessed. The average farmer in Ethiopia holds only about 1.2 hectares of land, and just over half of Ethiopia’s farmers subside on less than 1 hectare. Currently, there are plans to develop over 100,000 hectares of land through 2025. Nationally, this will displace hundreds of thousands of farmers and their families, many of whom will be poorly compensated through irregular processes.

As it currently stands, the Ethiopian constitution protects the nominal right of the citizen to private property, while simultaneously permitting the uncompensated land seizures in Ethiopia for the purpose of resource exploitation because these lands “shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange” in Article 40(3). This creates a situation in which the government can forcibly relocate a landowner from his property if it so desires while being obligated to pay only a token price.

What is Being Done?

There is international aid that has been helping to ensure that Ethiopians are able to take advantage of the opportunities that the GTP is designed to provide. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization has a program to combat high youth unemployment rates in rural populations.

The World Bank has also identified that greater educational opportunities need to be available in rural communities in order to help people transition away from agricultural sectors while increasing the productivity of those that remain economically sustainable levels. The World Bank’s plans include increasing agricultural efficiency and crop yields while steering those it can toward education and training to ensure they can participate in a modern workforce.

The high growth of Ethiopia’s economy, particularly in regard to foreign investment, has led to greater economic scrutiny of the country. The International Trade Unions Confederation has criticized the low wages that make Ethiopia so appealing to many foreign investors.

There is also a possibility of reform, as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister has expressed an interest in democratizing and liberalizing the country. It is possible that this could lead to constitutional reforms that fight land seizures in Ethiopia and provide more equitable compensation to any who are still relocated. Of course, this will take time.

– John Dolan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Access to Land in Namibia
Since becoming independent in 1990, Namibia has seen steady economic growth, increasing at an average rate of 4.3 percent in the past five years.

However, the country suffers from steep income inequality and poverty rates. Currently, 29.9 percent of Namibians are unemployed, 27.6 percent of households live in poverty and another 13.8 percent live in extreme poverty.

Of a population of 2.2 million, 70 percent are estimated to live in rural areas with limited access to health care, electricity, food and other resources.

According to Focus on Land in Africa, a research group that studies development in the continent, these economic and social imbalances are consequences of more than a century of German colonization and South African apartheid occupation.

Another lasting effect is the unequal access to land in Namibia for those who are not considered elite. Although the country has 820,000 square kilometers of land and a small population for its size, the region’s weather patterns and topography make for some uninhabitable parts, concentrating the population into certain areas.

In 1990, the white minority which made up less than 0.5 percent of the population owned almost all commercial land in Namibia. Shortly after becoming a sovereign state, the government of Namibia introduced comprehensive land reform to alleviate land access inequalities.

Decades later, unequal access to land in Namibia continues to be an issue, Brigadier General Paul Nathinge of the Namibian Defense Forces warns could be a security risk for the country.

“Namibia is experiencing a serious problem associated with land in terms of housing and resettlement,” Nathinge told New Era. “The majority of the population are for the expropriation of the white-owned farms, which are believed to have been forcefully acquired by the colonisers […].” Nathinge added the government has thus far been unable to resolve the housing crisis for the middle and lower class in urban regions.

Individuals and groups alike have called for the government to prioritize poverty and housing relief in legislation. Nathinge warns of the dangers of public uprisings, class conflicts and racial wars in the name of equality.

He says such extreme measures make Namibians more vulnerable to manmade disasters, both internal and external. A main concern for the country is foreign aggression from developed countries in the form of an economic and military takeover to take advantage of Namibia’s abundant natural resources and geographical features.

Current land reform in Namibia centers around the redistribution of farmland, land rights registration on communal land and land title provisions in urban areas. The Namibian government is working towards redistributing at least 15 million hectares of commercial farmland to previously disadvantaged Namibians by 2020.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Property Rights Reduce Poverty
Granting formal property rights to the world’s poor, especially in developing countries, may be the key to reducing global poverty. Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, believes property rights reduce poverty by empowering the disadvantaged with valuable assets which could add up to an estimated $9.3 trillion in currently “dead capital.”

Promoting property rights is particularly important throughout Africa where more than 90 percent of land remains outside the legal system. People living in developing countries would benefit from stable, long-term property rights as they are more likely to invest time and energy into cultivating their land or exchange it with someone who would make better use of it.

Stable land ownership would also increase revenue for local governments through property taxes, but land taxes are currently non-existent in the developing world. With an increased demand for land and public investment in roads and other infrastructure, revenue from property taxes would help decentralize and empower previously impoverished residents in developing regions.

In Uganda, land constitutes 50-60 percent of asset endowment and is a valuable asset that may be the key to household wealth. As a primary vehicle for investing, cultivating and transferring between generations, secure property rights help to generate livelihoods centered on local investment. Lack of property rights disproportionately affects women in developing countries.

Traditionally, women are disadvantaged when it comes to land access, but they also have the most to gain from secure property rights. According to the OECD, increasing property rights has been shown to positively affect spending on girls’ education.

Studies also show that promoting equitable access to education could increase GDP growth by an estimated 0.2 percent each year in developing countries. If executed correctly, providing property rights would also increase the purchasing power of the world’s poor and stimulate economic growth in developing countries.

Slate magazine critiques de Soto’s theory that property rights reduce poverty by pointing out, “titling is more useful to the elite and middle-income groups who can afford to bother with financial leverage, risk, and the real estate market.” Increasing property rights in Turkey, Mexico, South Africa and Columbia have not created a healthy housing market and “wealthy land-grubbers” may be to blame.

De Soto believes that the wealthy, who don’t realize that it’s in their best interest to allow the productive power of the poor brought into the economy, are an obstacle to realizing the full impact that property rights can have on the world’s poor. For those who have doubt, property rights reduce poverty, which bolsters economic development when the poor can contribute to the economy.

Rampant socioeconomic inequality weakens economies by increasing the burden on taxpayers to cover the costs of poverty-related illnesses, which can cost billions per year, perpetuates a cycle of low academic achievement and negatively impacts the demand for a skilled labor force.

Securing property rights in the developing world is one step in the right direction toward reducing global poverty, but educating the public on why uplifting the world’s poor is beneficial for everyone is even more crucial.

Daniela Sarabia

Photo: Flickr

women's land rightsThe nonprofit organization Landesa is taking an important step in the battle against global poverty. Its goal is to increase female land rights in rural areas.

Though women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in the poorest regions of the world, they are often denied rights to own, control or inherit land. The lack of land rights can cause difficulties for women living in poverty who are “dispossessed,” meaning unmarried, widowed, divorced or disabled. These women are often forced to rely on extended family members for shelter, food and other necessities.

In Odisha, India alone, an estimated 500,000 single and landless women live in rural areas. Without access to land, they have few methods to adequately support themselves or lift themselves out of poverty.

Programs that aim to alleviate poverty by distributing land often fall into the trap of ignoring the ways in which experiences of land ownership and poverty are gendered. Odisha launched a government program called Vasundhara in 2005. The program allocated plots of government land to landless, rural families. However, due to government policies that overlooked the needs of rural, dispossessed women, many women were ineligible for the program.

Landesa, with support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is working to rectify these oversights with a new woman-centric program that will help identify women in need through local health workers. They are working to create an inventory of single women in need of government land and social security entitlements. They are then served through Women Support Centers that help them apply for government services.

Over 5,000 dispossessed  women have been the beneficiaries of homestead land, and another 15,000 cases are currently being verified. The land rights project, though relatively new, is experiencing much success and is set to establish female land rights for thousands worldwide.

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Communal land rights
The Nature Conservancy, the Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) and the Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative (NTRI) have teamed up to find a solution for tackling communal land rights in Tanzania. They have come up with an initiative called the Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO).

The Nature Conservancy states that the “CCRO is a form of customary land tenure within a larger village holding. This is an effective tool for strengthening community land rights and securing communal lands.”

However, UCRT has updated the concept of land grants to a more secure communal forum where the land can be used by the community for several other purposes such as farming, grazing and foresting to name a few.

Historically, assigning land rights has been a topic of major concern throughout the world. According to the Nature Conservancy, 2.5 billion people “depend on land and natural resources that are held, used or managed collectively.”

This number includes 370 million indigenous peoples. These communities live on half the world’s surface but have recognized rights to only 10 percent of the land.

When the people who need this land lack any legal right to them, they are extremely susceptible to losing access to the very thing they need to survive.

Edward Loure, a program director at UCRT, has been working to give the people of northern Tanzania a voice in the communal community and to help reduce conflict. The main solution that has been put into place is the CCRO.

In its first year, the CCROs secured approximately 22,000 hectares of collective lands. By the end of 2015, the amount had reached 90,000 hectares with 200,000 more hectares hoped to be acquired by the end of 2017.

According to UCRT, “most traditional pastoralist and hunter-gatherer communities are currently at great risk of loosing (sic) their land and resources due to progressive land encroachment and lack of representation in modern Tanzania.” UCRT works to empower these communities.

Land acquired by hunter-gatherers or pastoralists often seem to be unused because the group is moving with the seasons or with the grazing patterns of the herd. This makes them particularly vulnerable to losing their land.

CCRO not only promotes equality in these communities but it also protects the rights of vulnerable people “who share and depend on communal land and its resources.”

Another problem in Tanzania that the CCRO works on solving is wildlife migration as 60 percent of African wildlife drift throughout the year. To that end, the NTRI has partnered with the Community Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) to help set up the corridors where livestock is not allowed during migration seasons.

As a result, the villages who are CWMA compliant are in a good position to negotiate with tourists during the migration seasons.

Recently, Edward Loure won The Goldman Environmental Prize for 2016 for Africa. The prize honors grassroots heroes who “take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.”

The winners of the prize encourage sustainability, protect endangered ecosystems or species, combat destructive development and fight for environmental justice and policies.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Flickr

Women Landowners Relieve PovertyAs the number of women landowners grows, the overall condition of their communities improves drastically. This topic was recently covered at the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference 2016, the 17th annual conference, earlier this month.

The conference, “Scaling up Responsible Land Governance,” brought together many experts from many fields from around the globe to talk about land strategy.

A large portion of this year’s conference highlighted the work of researchers focusing on the empowerment of women in developing countries through land ownership. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of increasing women landowners is the link to fewer cases of domestic violence.

With greater access to land ownership for women, the need for young daughters to marry diminishes and households have more access to resources. According to Klaus Deininger, an economist for the World Bank and conference organizer, women with greater land rights typically have more personal wealth, leading to lower levels of domestic violence.

“If women have stronger bargaining power, they actually can resist,” Deininger says in an article by Reuters. “Their husbands will think twice before beating them.”

The conference tackled questions of how to enhance women’s awareness of their legal rights and how to ensure women’s rights in land interventions. The Landesa Rural Development Institute is an organization that seeks to provide solutions to these questions by securing greater access for potential women landowners in developing countries.

Laws and policies often dilute or deny women’s rights to land. Even when laws enshrine such rights, loopholes, low implementation and enforcement and sex-discriminatory practices often undercut these formal guarantees.

Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights has programing in both India and Rwanda to combat those challenges. In partnership with West Bengal’s Department of Women and Child Development, the Security for Girls Through Land Project provides vocational training and skills to adolescent girls in order to improve their health and nutrition. The curriculum is based on land rights, asset creation and land-based livelihoods.

The project creates “girls groups” which are peer facilitated meetings in which girls are given lessons to educate them about land rights and the positive benefits associated with control over land. Girls are taught to start “kitchen gardens” to grow produce for the family or to sell. As the girls begin to earn money, often for the first time, families begin to think of girls as an asset rather than a burden.

The project, beginning in 2010, has already reached 40,000 girls in over 1,000 villages in West Bengal. In addition to engaging with girls in local communities, the project reaches out to boys in local schools in an effort to change the mindset that young women are an economic burden.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that women make up half of the world’s agriculture workforce. As these women have greater access to land, the ripple effect, according to Landesa, includes better nutrition for families, improved family health, educational gains and reduced domestic violence.

Michael A. Clark

Sources: Landesa, Reuters, World Bank
Photo: Flickr


According to a recent World Bank report, economic growth in Uganda may continue to develop if the country institutes better land management strategies. “A more effective system of land governance, including for registering land, strengthening institutions for resolving disputes and urban planning, will boost productivity and transform livelihoods in Uganda,” the report states.

The World Bank released the sixth edition of the Uganda Economic Update, entitled “Searching for the Grail – Can Uganda’s Land Support its Prosperity Drive?” It points out that improving land management will help Uganda to achieve commercialization of agriculture and urbanization.

In Uganda, around 20 percent of the total land is registered, which is higher than the average level of 10 percent for sub-Saharan African countries. However, the current system of land tenure makes it difficult to transform land uses to spur higher levels of productivity.

For starters, unclear property rights lead to difficulty in transferring ownership as well as a large number of disputes and conflicts. Due to the unclear land rights, 37 percent of individually owned land cannot be sold; 34 percent cannot be rented and 44 percent cannot be used as security for a loan.

Another problem is that current land policies and systems are too weak to efficiently implement urban planning and reduce the cost of infrastructure development in the country. The report states that compared with most major cities worldwide, which derive revenue from land to finance their infrastructure development, Uganda hasn’t fully applied land value capture tools, such as development fees, land auctions and property taxation, into its system of land management.

According to the World Bank report, Uganda’s population is expected to increase from 35 million to over 70 million by 2040, and there will be about 388 more people increased on every square kilometer of arable land. Uganda’s rapidly expanding population is putting pressure on land usage, especially in urban areas.

“With the fast-growing urban population, Uganda needs to enforce the existing policies to promote better urban land management that will allow them to build livable cities.” Said Christina Malmberg Calvo, World Bank Country Manager. “For Uganda, key among these would include land value capture to finance urban infrastructure.”

The report states that the Ugandan government can promote more efficient land use to support the healthy transformation of the agricultural sector and a shift towards higher value economic activities located in urban areas by taking the following four actions:

  • Strengthening institutions for land administration management
  • Accelerating the process of registration of land, including that owned communally, by religious and cultural institutions, and by government
  • Redesigning the Land Fund to enhance its efficiency and equity in supporting resolution of overlapping rights
  • Reviewing and prioritizing policy commitments to identify and close critical gaps such as in restrictions on rental markets, disincentives such as taxation for speculative holding of land, urban land use, and expropriation and compensation to promote equity and fairness in land transactions

According to Calvo, the Ugandan government has begun the process of systematically registering land and improving land information management. By accelerating these activities and the overall reform programs, she says the country would raise the share of land that has secure rights and ease the process of transferring land. These measures to improve land management will contribute to spur long-term economic growth and transformation in Uganda.

Shengyu Wang

Sources: Daily Monitor, World Bank
Photo: chebucto

land_ownership

For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, land ownership is an economic resource and critical determinant of social and cultural identity. But for the 4 billion people who live without registered land, landlessness can mean economic insecurity, no personal address with which to vote or receive aid, and a constant state of disputation and residential impermanence.

One implication of massive concentrations of unregistered land is the loss of wealth that they have the potential to generate. But perhaps more importantly, the absence of established land title systems means that property ownership is not guaranteed. As Devex development reporter Naki Mendoza notes, this has serious consequences for developing countries.

“Farmers cannot legally pass down ancestral lands to their children. Families cannot secure a mortgage or use property as collateral for a loan,” he writes. “And local communities are shut out from negotiations with extractive companies. For governments, it represents a sizable loss of tax revenues or, crucially, a foreign direct investment that will never be made because of uncertainty over property rights.”

Data accumulation mechanisms are poised to remedy these problems by streamlining land registration and giving local communities the ability to monitor and enforce their rights to their land. Data and analytics company Thomson Reuters has created a proprietary land information system that digitizes and archives land deeds in government databases, a practice that safeguards against the loss or damage of paper deeds.

Like mobile banking or online healthcare, digitization can reduce the opportunity cost of land registration from a multiday journey to a local registrar to a minutes-long mobile upload. The digital platform is also linked to satellite mapping systems, which provide updated property lines and can be used to mediate disputes between families, communities or even multinational extraction companies.

As Mendoza points out, these digital platforms have yielded concrete results. In Cape Town, South Africa, 915,148 properties were reported on its tax roll last year, up 66% since 2000. In Jamaica, it now takes only two days to register new property, down from 45 days in 2005. In the Philippines, nearly 60,000 urban land titles are issued each year, compared to just a few thousand as of five years ago.

With increasingly large and accessible quantities of land management data, a number of global institutions have commenced programs to secure land rights for the world’s 4 billion landless people. Earlier this month, at the Third International Conference on Financing and Development in Addis Ababa, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the World Bank signed a Declaration of Intent to establish a Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA) to establish a widespread system of land registration and land rights. NELGA will complement the existing Land Policy Initiative, whose stated purpose is “to enable the use of land to lend impetus to the process of African development.”

“Secure access to land and other natural resources is of vital importance for the people in rural areas of Africa,” said German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dr. Gerd Müller. “It will be an important contribution for food security and growth in the agricultural sectors, especially for smallholders.”

The demand for online land management services marks an opportunity for American companies looking to apply data and analytic systems to relieve people living in states of extreme poverty. It would also help millions of people establish a state of permanency for themselves and their families, which precedes activities like consumption and local investment. As land registration becomes more accessible for those living in extreme poverty, demand for modern information systems will become more widespread, and the door will continue to open for American technology companies and mobile developers in developing regions.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: Devex, Leadership, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Devex

land_aquisition
Last month, the President of India promulgated the controversial Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance despite massive public opposition. This means that even though the bill outlining the amendments has not yet passed in India’s Upper House to legally become a law, its content would still be enforced. Multiple farmer organizations have collectively filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the ordinance, labeling it as “unconstitutional” and an unchecked exercise of executive power.

The bill amends various aspects of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013, which replaced the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The aim of the amendments is to facilitate development projects with greater ease by expediting land acquisition.

But many argue that the amendments violate property rights of vulnerable communities and risk exacerbating economic and social woes. While the 2013 Act made the consent of at least 70-80% of landowners mandatory for a project to be carried out, the new amendments no longer require any level of consent for projects that are for national security and defense, rural infrastructure, social infrastructure, industrial corridors and housing for the poor.

The amendments also no longer mandate a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) to be carried out for these five types of projects or any Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project if the government owns the land. Opponents of the amendment fear that the categories exempt from the consent and SIA requirements are so broad that nearly all land development projects can be carried out without them.

The new amendments also weaken the previous Act’s provision that decreed land be returned to its original owners if it remained unused for more than five years after its purchase. As a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India on Special Economic Zones found last November, land in India is often left undeveloped for long periods of time.

Opponents also criticize the amendments for increasing government officials’ immunity against prosecution. In the old Act, the head of the department that carried out the project would be responsible for any mismanagement or wrongdoing. Now, the head of the department and other civil servants are protected from prosecution until the government gives courts its permission to proceed.

The Modi government, which is behind the amendments, has defended them by asserting that they will attract foreign investors. Land acquisition laws for foreign companies have been riddled with red tape and slow bureaucracy. The World Bank rates India 142 out of 189 economies for ease of doing business. Many companies have dropped their investment plans after just a few years because of these impediments.

But lingering concerns remain about the government’s ability to carry out any provision of either the 2013 Act or its amendments. Indian bureaucracy is riddled with corruption, impunity and mismanagement. An estimated 75% of displaced people since 1951 are still awaiting rehabilitation. Many have not been given their due compensation.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: The New Indian Express, The World Bank, One Law Street, One Law Street (2), The Weekend Leader, The Hindu
Photo: The Wall Street Journal

violence in azerbaijan
As the world’s eyes turn to the ongoing struggle and possible ceasefire in Ukraine, another simmering conflict in Russia’s backyard seems to be flaring up. The long contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies in Azerbaijan but which is a self-declared independent nation and comprised of ethnic Armenians, has seen an increase in violence in 2014 and 2015.

The region devolved into a bloody war immediately preceding the fall of the Soviet Union that killed almost 30,000 people and displaced millions more. A ceasefire brokered by the Russians in 1994 left Karabakh and surrounding territories in the hands of Armenians but legally enveloped by Azerbaijan, which lost 14 percent of its territory in the deal.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has made great strides in socio-economic indicators including hunger, malnourishment, poverty, GDP per capita and the under-five mortality rate. While improvements can still be made, the country is squarely in the Upper-Middle Income country group and has met or is on its way to meeting all of its Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. Without diversification, however, the economy, which has seen a lot of growth since the early 2000s, may become unstable and create additional social problems.

In its relative state of peace since the turn of the century, Azerbaijan’s poverty rate has dropped from 46.7 percent in 2002 to 8.4 percent in 2011. The economy grew as people felt safe to invest in the country. Hunger very nearly has disappeared from most regions and other indicators are well on their way to the same status. But a rise in violence around the Nagorno-Karabakh region could reverse this progress.

Azerbaijan, claiming a double standard in the West’s handling of Crimea in Ukraine compared to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has increased its annual defense budget from $177 million in 2003 to $3.4 billion in 2013. It has purchased weapons from Israel, Turkey and Russia. Extra dollars mean not only a militarization in conflict areas, but also an economic focus shift from development to power.

The increased militarization of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, coupled with a penchant for violence on both sides, creates “the risk of a war by accident” according to the director of the Regional Studies Center, Richard Giragosian. War in the region could prove to be just as disastrous as last time, forcing millions to flee their homes without promise of return and killing thousands more.

The humanitarian crisis created by war between the two countries could be devastating. Rampant hunger, poverty, displacement and violence among neighboring ethnic groups could reverse the progress made by Azerbaijan in the last two decades. While the threat of open war is relatively low, any increase in violence stokes tensions anew, pushing the region further from peace.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Economist,  BBC,  UNDP,  Knoema
Photo: The Guardian