Measure for Measure: How Well Do We Measure Micro-level Conflict Intensity?
Rich measures of micro-level violent conflict intensity are key for successfully providing insight into the legacy of civil war. Yet, the debate on how exactly conflict intensity should be measured has just started. This paper aims to fuel this awakening debate. It is demonstrated how existing and widely available data - population census data - can provide the basis for a useful measure of micro-level conflict intensity: a fine Wartime Excess Mortality Index (WEMI). It is argued that the proposed measure is particularly well suited for studying the legacy of civil wars that are characterized by a large death toll and by different forms of violence. The measure is illustrated for the case of Rwanda and it is shown that, in a straightforward empirical application of the impact of armed conflict on schooling, the estimated impact varies widely across WEMI and a large set of alternative conflict intensity measures for Rwanda. While the conflict intensity measure proposed in this paper requires further study and one probably needs a combination of various methodologies, this finding suggests the need for a careful understanding of what underlies the different measures and methodologies in use.
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