Landmine Clearance and Economic Development: Evidence from Satellites, Surveys, and Conflict Events in Afghanistan
Associate Professor at the College of William & Mary
The widespread prevalence of unexploded landmines in many countries leads to thousands of deaths and injuries annually. In addition, landmines may impede the flow of goods and people; this not only restricts trade and labor flows, but also hinders access to schools and medical care, with potentially long lasting impacts on human capital accumulation. In addition, landmines block the productive use of contaminated land. We study the clearance of more than 15,000 hazardous areas in Afghanistan carried out since 1992. We confirm that much of the clearance is only carried out once conflict levels recede, suggesting that in many cases the gains from clearance are confounded with the benefits of lower conflict. We then identify a window during which a policy shift in clearance targeting created plausibly exogenous variation in the timing of clearance, which we study using a two-way fixed effects panel design. The clearance of hazardous areas leads to changes in land use observed using multispectral satellite imagery, as well as to increases in economic activity reflected in nighttime lights. These gains are greatest in rural areas whose market access is most dramatically improved by clearance of landmines around roads. These changes lead to lower rates of subsequent conflict. Finally, we provide suggestive evidence that support for the Taliban may also be linked to nearby landmine clearance activities.
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