During the last decade, an increasing share of foreign aid has been provided to countries coming out of civil war or experiencing severe conflict. Most of these countries-like the Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia-suffer from a combination of conflict, a state in crisis, underdevelopment, and poverty.

Under most circumstances, poverty is greatly exacerbated by conflict, but it is also one of a number of factors that may contribute to violent conflict. Addressing what Frances Stewart has called "horizontal inequalities" is, therefore, likely to play a role in preventing the shift from grievance to violence, as well as in building and sustaining peace in postwar situations. In several countries that have suffered from protracted conflict, however, an approach focused on poverty has been slow to emerge.

To a large extent, peace-building missions have become statebuilding missions, first, because "fragile states" are seen as a risk both for their society and for international security and, second, because it is broadly assumed that one vital condition for sustainable peace is that the state apparatus has the capacity to exercise core functions of statehood in an efficient, nonviolent, and legitimate way. In the process, however, the extent to which the poverty and marginalization of large rural populations have spurred recent wars has been underestimated. As a consequence, donors and policymakers risk rebuilding the causes of war.

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