How Much is Prevention Worth?
The goal of this report is to present the results from a unified conceptual framework so as to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and different trade-offs involved in conflict prevention. The context for the framework’s development is a radical rethinking of the peacebuilding architecture put forth by several reports published in 2015. One of these reports, an expert report that formed part of the review of the United Nations’ peacebuilding architecture, argued for shifting away from a narrow understanding of peacebuilding—where the aim is to avoid relapsing into violent conflict—toward an understanding that sustains peace. If this advice is heeded, the World Bank and the United Nations will need to leave behind the predominantly postconflict focus of peacebuilding and reimagine it as a more comprehensive enterprise where prevention is also included.
Such a shift in focus requires undertaking a cost-benefit analysis. In line with this, the aforementioned expert report asks: “If more global priority were consistently given to efforts at sustaining peace, might there not, over the course of time, be reduced need for crisis response?” (United Nations 2015, 42-3.)
The answer to this question is most likely yes. However, the goal of this report is to provide a much more quantitative answer—that is, the amount of resources that would be saved if global priority were consistently given to efforts to sustain peace. The answer to this question will obviously always be speculative, but there is enough data to dare a quantitative approach.
This report provides an empirical framework that aims to help decision-makers think about the different trade-offs involved in prevention. In particular, the framework will build a structure to analyze the interplay between three factors: the dynamics of conflict and peace; the costs of early and late interventions; and the suffering, damage and destruction caused by violent conflict.
The paper and additional information is provided through the World Bank webpage here. But the paper can also be downloaded here. This work relies on my academic work with Christopher Rauh which is presented here.
This project was part of a joint UN/World Bank report called "Pathways for Peace : Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict". Some of the most cited numbers of the report were provided by my paper. For example, in the joint press release by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim the 34 billion USD derived in the report get cited.
I also published a summary together with Gary Milante at SIPRI available here. In the summary we stress the relationship made famous by Benjamin Franklin “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Keywords: prevention, civil war, prediction framework, prediction of conflict, unsupervised learning, World Bank, United Nations,