Aid Under Fire: Development Projects and Civil Conflict

Governments and multi-lateral donor organizations are increasingly targeting development aid to conflict affected areas with the hope that this aid will help government efforts to reduce conflict and stabilize these areas. 

The expectation is that implementing development projects such as roads, schools, and hospitals will increase popular support for the government – effectively  “winning hearts and minds” of the people- and reduce popular support for insurgents making it more difficult for them to recruit rebels and carry out attacks.

Joe Felter, a Senior Research Scholar at CISAC, with Benjamin Crost at the University of Illinois and Patrick Johnston from the RAND Corporation published Aid Under Fire: Development Projects and Civil Conflict in the June edition of the American Economic Review that challenges this conventional wisdom.

In this article, Felter and his coauthors provide evidence that a “winning hearts and minds” strategy can backfire in some cases. When insurgents believe that that the successful implementation of government sponsored development projects will lead to an increase in support for the government and undermine their position they have incentives to attack or otherwise sabotage them thus exacerbating conflict in the near term.  

Ironically, increases in violence associated with government sponsored development efforts can in some cases be interpreted as an indicator that these efforts are targeting insurgent vulnerabilities effectively.

This article adds to Felter’s previously published research on the challenges of stabilizing conflict areas through development aid and economic assistance. See

Modest, Secure and Informed: Successful Development in Conflict Zones with Eli Berman, Jacob Shapiro and Erin Troland in American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings 2013

Can Hearts and Minds be Bought? The Economics of Counterinsurgency in Iraq with Eli Berman and Jacob Shapiro in the Journal of Political Economy 2011

Do Working Men Rebel? Insurgency and Unemployment in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines with Eli Berman, Jacob Shapiro and Michael Callen Journal of Conflict Resolution 2011.