On June 3, 2013, The Asia Foundation released The Contested Corners of Asia: Subnational Conflict and International Development Assistance, a major new study on subnational conflict, and the impact of international assistance to these areas.
This interactive site is a companion to that report. Use it to learn about the history of subnational conflicts, to see how development indicators in subnational conflict regions compare with national totals, and how much international aid is going to these regions. You can also explore responses to select survey questions from individuals living in subnational conflict regions in Aceh, Mindanao, and Southern Thailand.
Click a tab below, or anywhere on screen, to gain new insights on one of the most difficult challenges in developing Asia.
Subnational Conflict: “Armed conflict over control of a subnational territory, where an armed opposition movement uses violence to contest for political authority, and ostensibly, greater self-rule for the local population.”
Subnational conflict is the most widespread, enduring, and deadly form of violent conflict in Asia. These conflicts are among the world’s longest running armed struggles, lasting 40 years on average. Most of these conflicts take place in middle income countries with relatively strong states, regular elections, and capable security forces. Despite this, more people have died in subnational conflicts than fragile states over the past 20 years in Asia.
With more than half of the countries in South and Southeast Asia affected by subnational conflict, this is a story of minority populations lagging behind as most of Asia develops and prospers. While most of these conflicts only affect a small minority (around 6% on average) of the national population, more than 131 million people in Asia are living in these areas of protracted conflict.
The international community has provided nearly US$6 billion in official development assistance to subnational conflict areas in Asia over the past 10 years (excluding natural disaster funding). Despite this, the overall impact of international funding is unclear.
On June 3, 2013, The Asia Foundation released The Contested Corners of Asia: Subnational Conflict and International Development Assistance, a major new study on subnational conflict, and the impact of international assistance to these areas. The study constitutes a critical and comprehensive examination of this enduring form of conflict. The findings suggest that international assistance to these regions is heavily constrained by challenging local conditions and political dynamics, and is sometimes misguided in its assumptions and approaches, but occasionally has made positive contributions. Unfortunately, some of the mainstream development assistance models, including those designed for fragile states, are not well suited for subnational conflict areas. The study identifies the most critical contextual factors, strategic choices, and program characteristics needed for aid programs to be successful in subnational conflict areas, and illustrates some of the more promising approaches used to date.
Research for The Contested Corners of Asia: Subnational Conflict and International Development Assistance included three levels of data collection and analysis. First, the study undertook a regional analysis of conflict, development, and aid in the 26 subnational conflict areas in Asia, largely drawing on secondary data. Second, the research team conducted in-depth case studies in three major subnational conflict areas: Aceh (Indonesia), Mindanao (Philippines), and the southernmost provinces of Thailand, drawing upon original field research and survey data. Third, to draw conclusions on aid effectiveness and key characteristics of subnational conflict areas, the study made some cross-country comparisons, largely between the three country case studies.
The three country cases capture different stages on a continuum between active conflict and peace. In Aceh, the former armed resistance group signed a peace agreement with the Government of Indonesia, and subsequently integrated into provincial politics, taking control of the executive and legislative branches of the local government. In Thailand, by contrast, during the period of field research (2011-12), there were no active, open peace negotiations between the insurgents and the government, and there has never been a formal peace agreement. The Philippines case can be described as perpetual transition, with one peace agreement signed in 1996 and another in 2012, but with violence levels and uncertainty about the peace process remaining high.
For each case study, the project team selected 10 localities from across the conflict area as focal points for ethnographic research and perception surveys. The locality level selected was roughly comparable across the three countries, with an average population of 25,000 to 50,000. The research team used multi-stage, stratified random sampling to select the localities. While the sampling procedure differed slightly between cases, generally the stratification held socio-economic conditions constant, while capturing diversity in violence levels and the intensity (or presence) of international development assistance. To ensure accurate stratification, extensive data on aid flows, violence, and a variety of socio-economic indicators were collected prior to the locality sampling.
The Contested Corners of Asia study was a collaborative effort from The Asia Foundation and The World Bank. Many people and organizations worked together over a period from 2012 to 2013 to make the study come together. The project team consisted of Thomas Parks as Project Manager, Nat Colletta as Lead Expert, and Ben Oppenhiem as Research Specialist and Perception Survey Lead. Yip Hak Kwang was the research methodologist, and Anthea Mulakala acted as a Specialist in ODA to Conflict Areas. The project team’s advisory panel consisted of Judith Dunbar, James Fearon, Nils Gilman, Bruce Jones, Anthony LaVina, Neil Levine, Stephan Massing, James Putzel, Rizal Sukma, and Tom Wingfield. The case study perception surveys were conducted by MI Advisory in Southern Thailand, Polling Centre in Aceh, and Social Weather Stations in Mindanao. Many others were deeply involved in the authorship and publication of the individual reports. Please download the reports for more information on their roles.
The Contested Corners of Asia: A Visual Companion was led by John Karr, Director of the Digital Media & Technology unit at The Asia Foundation, and Senior Producer, Jon Jamieson. Jon Jamieson served as the project manager, and was assisted by ICT Program Coordinator, Michelle Chang Rodriguez. William Wang supervised the web and information design for the project with co-developer Johan Baversjo.
There is a common assumption that poverty and under-development are a major source of conflict, and that increased access to development in conflict areas will lead to reductions in armed conflict. However, the evidence is mixed. While subnational conflict areas typically have income levels below the national average, poverty levels vary considerably and in a few cases, poverty rates are actually lower than the national average. On several key development indicators, the subnational conflict areas show a remarkable degree of parity with national averages. For infant mortality rates, the majority of conflict areas are within 10% of (and sometimes above) the national average. Governments often spend significant public or donor resources on infrastructure development and services in subnational conflict areas. For example, in the conflict area in southern Thailand from 2003 to 2008, public expenditures on education (per capita) were 31.8% above the national average. Subnational conflict-affected populations are generally well educated. On literacy rates, subnational conflict areas are typically equivalent or better than the national average. In Aceh, the mean for years of schooling is above the national average, though Papua is slightly below. Mindanao is a major exception, with significantly lower education scores compared to the rest of the Philippines.
Click on an indicator button or conflict name to see how subnational conflict regions compare to their national averages.
Comparisons of key socio-economic indicators in subnational conflict areas across Asia were made to assess the level of development in these areas. The focus of this analysis was to determine how subnational conflict areas compare with the national average of their respective countries. For most of the subnational conflict areas in the region, provincial or state level data were used, and compared against national averages. Data is presented in terms of the ratio of the conflict area compared to the national average. The national average is a ratio of one. For the infant mortality and poverty indicators, any point above one indicates a worse rate than the national average. For the literacy and income indicators, any point above one indicates a better rate than the national average.
All indicator data is from the latest year that the data was made available in each of the countries. Not all indicator data could be acquired for all countries. In these instances, the conflict is greyed out.