Enduring societal damages following conflicts

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Enduring societal damages following conflicts

Santo Koesoebjono and Solita Sarwono*)

Anywhere in the world the populations and their environment can be hit and even destroyed by natural disasters, famine, epidemics, wars and conflicts. Populations are reduced in size by deaths and people fleeing the afflicted area.
Inter-state wars and more recently intra-state conflicts affect the demography of countries as reflected in shifts in the number of people, as well as in sex, age and ethnic group ratios. Mass migration and resettlement, both spontaneous and forced (e.g., by ethnic cleansing in Rwanda), is another relevant cause for shifts in the size of the population and sub-populations. Societal fabric is strongly disrupted.

The conflicts can be triggered by various reasons: struggle for independence, invasion, defending or expanding a religion, protecting natural resources, ethnic cleansing, frictions between local people and migrants, etcetera. Men and women, young and old die or flee out of the country to the bordering countries or to another continent or move to another region within the country. They become displaced persons, even in their own country.

The damage caused by disasters and conflicts can be material and immaterial. Its consequences are long-lasting and profound as reflected in the state of the infrastructure, environment, demography, politics, economy, socio- culture, medical care and health of the people. Long after the incidence, people in the affected regions are still licking the wounds from intense catastrophes they experienced.

Survivors (soldiers and civilians) suffer from post-war psychological trauma, deficiencies and diseases. They have to rebuild their living and natural environment with the poor means at their disposal. The 1999 conflict in North Maluku Province caused an estimated 3,000 deaths, 250,000 displaced persons and destruction of large number of houses, places of worship and other buildings. The four year Syrian civil strife resulted in more than 220,000 casualties, civilians outnumber soldiers. Around half of the Syrian population has fled their homes. Some six million people seek refuge or hide elsewhere within the country. Another six million fled to other countries.

Women, young children and the elderly live in fear, trauma and uncertainty, with scant support /assistance to meet their primary needs. Refugees move to neighboring countries, living in self-constructed shelters or temporary refugee camps mostly set up by the UNHCR. Others continue moving to more developed countries, mostly with the help of human traffickers.

Although intended as a temporary settlement, millions refugees are forced to remain in their camps for many years. Aid workers called them perpetual refugees living in “warehousing” where more than 100,000 persons are packed together, receiving support for their basic needs from the humanitarian aid organizations.

Demographic impact

The loss of a huge number of people of all ages following conflicts results in a dramatic irregularity in the population pyramid, i.e. shifting sex and age ratios. Family structure is disrupted. It will take a long time before the imbalances in sex and age composition will be restored.

Not only are adult men but young boys too are recruited and trained to become child soldiers, depriving them from getting education. High casualties of the male population result in an excess of women. This surplus of women will affect the marriage market. It is difficult for women to find a partner (except in the polygamous societies) which may lead to a decreasing number of offspring. On the other hand, in the post-conflict period survivors reunite and couples/partners resume the postponed marriage, resulting in the increase of births. This phenomenon was observed in Western European countries during the years following the Second World War causing the demographic event of “baby boom” (born between1945 and late 1950’s).

Conflicts also affect the labor force. In the post-conflict period, shortage of men forces women to be more actively involved in the economic activities. Girls take education and training to gain skills to earn an income. Women become the head of family and are responsible to support family life, for the education of the fatherless children and the care for their elderly parents, bereaved family members and friends. Ironically, wars and conflicts promote female participation in education and labor force. This also happened in Indonesia in the period of post-independence struggle and following the natural disasters, like tsunami in Aceh in 2004 and the earthquake in Yogya and surrounding (2006). Widows took over the husbands’ responsibility for family care.

The most vigorous impact of conflicts is the psychological trauma experienced by the combatants and civilians. To some people the trauma may last for decades and lead to depression or suicide. Many veterans in America and Europe take psychological counselling to help them heal the trauma. Unfortunately most victims of wars do not have that privilege and live with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

The younger generation plays a crucial role in the reconstruction of the country. They are assigned in the positions to replace the people lost in the conflict. This gives the youth a better chance to progress in their career. Unfortunately the younger generation may have neither the education/competence nor sufficient experience to do the job. In addition the burden of elderly care is increased as the number of working-age people is reduced by the conflict or disaster.

It has taken the Japanese and Europeans years to rebuild their economy after the World War II. Iraq has not recovered a decade after the fall of Saddam Husain. How large is the damage caused by the ongoing conflict prompted by Muslim radicals and how long will the new generation have to repair the destruction, form a great challenge not only for the people of affected countries but for the international community as well. Governments should brace their regions and populations to overcome the impact of disasters or conflicts.

*) Santo Koesoebjono, economist-demographer
Solita Sarwono, psychologist, sociologist & gender specialist,
Both authors reside in The Netherlands.

Wassenaar, Netherlands, 3 April 2015
Unpublished article

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