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We have neither eternal life nor unlimited means of gratification.  The concept of scarcity first originated in the field of biology by Thomas Malthus, an English scholar, who in his work "An Essay on the Principle of Population" used the term to describe the limited availability of resources relative to the growing population. The idea of scarcity had its roots in biology before being applied to economics.


Lionel Robbins first proposed the link between scarcity and economics in his 1932 paper - Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science-"Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."

When time and resources are constrained, they can be utilised in multiple ways to achieve various ends which can be distinguished according to their importance. Rational behaviour takes the form of a choice. Every act which involves time and scarce means for the achievement of one goal involves the relinquishment of their use for the achievement of another. Scarcity ensures that if we choose one thing, we must relinquish others we would wish not to have relinquished.

Economic factors have been the primary cause of all conflicts and scarcity is the root cause of pretty much all economic problems. So, there exists a positive correlation between scarcity and conflict especially in poor and underdeveloped or developing countries due to the social and economic problems. When resources are scarce, their value tends to increase. This increase in value creates incentives for individuals, groups, or nations to compete for and secure those resources. Conflicts from the pursuit of scarce resources can lead to tensions and, in some cases, even wars. Economic scarcity can be a catalyst for geopolitical rivalries, trade disputes, and territorial conflicts, as nations strive to gain control over valuable resources such as oil, minerals, or fertile land. Therefore, the competition to secure scarce resources can have profound economic and political implications, potentially leading to conflicts and wars.


“Wealth is not wealth because of its substantial properties. It is wealth because it is scarce” -  Limited resources lead to poverty and unequal distribution of wealth. This economic disparity breeds resentment and social unrest, potentially escalating into conflicts. Scarcity can also weaken the government's ability to provide basic services and address the needs of its citizens. This can lead to political instability, as people become frustrated with their leaders' incapacity to alleviate the effects of scarcity.


  • The ongoing conflict in Yemen, which began in 2015, has been exacerbated by scarcity of resources such as water and food. The country has been facing a severe humanitarian crisis, with limited access to clean water and widespread food insecurity. 

  • Since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan has experienced conflicts driven by competition over scarce resources, including oil, land, and water. These conflicts have resulted in displacement, violence, and a humanitarian emergency. 

  • The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, was driven by various factors, including scarcity of resources such as land and water. The competition between nomadic Arab herders and settled farmers over these limited resources escalated into violence and a humanitarian crisis. 

  • The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been fuelled by the scarcity of valuable minerals like coltan, which is used in electronic devices. Armed groups and militias fight over control of mines, leading to violence and instability in the region.

  • In Bolivia (2000-2005), protests and conflicts erupted due to the privatisation of water resources, leading to increased prices and scarcity for the local population. The scarcity of clean and affordable water became a focal point of the conflicts. 

  • One of the factors of the war between the US and Iraq was oil scarcity. The US had an interest in securing Iraq’s oil reserves. The desire for control over oil resources played a role in the conflict.

Historical Manifestation

The scarcity of resources has been a factor in several historical conflicts, such as the competition for oil in the Middle East and the fight for control over valuable trade routes throughout history. In primitive times, tribes fought against each other to expand their hunting grounds and increase their procurement of food supplies. In the early wars of history, great migratory movements resulted in a contest for food and wealth among civilizations. The Peloponnesian War fought between Athens and Sparta from 431 to 404 BCE, was driven by a combination of power struggles and resource scarcity. Athens relied heavily on imported grain, and when their supply was disrupted during the war, it led to economic hardships and fueled the conflict. The Punic Wars (264-146 BC) were a series of conflicts between Rome and Carthage fueled by competition for resources, primarily control over trade routes and access to valuable commodities like grain, metals, and slaves. The Crusades (1096-1291) were a series of religious and territorial conflicts between Christians and Muslims. The scarcity of resources, such as the desire for control over trade routes to the East and access to valuable goods, motivated European powers to undertake these military campaigns. In the American Civil War of 1861-1865, while the primary cause was slavery, scarcity of resources like land and economic opportunities played a role. The Southern states relied heavily on agriculture, particularly cotton, and feared that the abolition of slavery would lead to scarcity of labour and economic decline. The Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852) caused by a devastating potato blight, led to widespread scarcity of food in Ireland. The resulting starvation and desperation triggered social and economic upheaval, including conflicts over access to limited resources. Competition for limited resources also played a significant role in fuelling the violence and mass killings in the Rwandan Genocide (1994). The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) was an interesting case. The discovery of gold in California led to a massive influx of people seeking their fortunes. This sudden population surge created a scarcity of resources such as land, water, and supplies, which often resulted in conflicts among miners and settlers.


Therefore, understanding incidents of scarcity is crucial for anticipating and analysing future possibilities of conflict and working towards a more equitable society. When we study scarcity, we gain insights into the factors that can potentially lead to conflicts.

When there is a limited amount of something that many people want, tensions can rise, and people may fight to gain access to those resources. Scarcity can create a situation where people are willing to go to war to secure the limited resources they require or deem a necessity.

While scarcity alone doesn't guarantee the occurrence of war, it can certainly increase the likelihood of conflicts arising. So, understanding and addressing scarcity is crucial in promoting peace and stability.

By discerning the relationship between scarcity and conflict, we can identify areas where tensions might arise and take proactive measures to prevent or mitigate them. This knowledge helps us develop strategies for resource management, promote sustainable practices, and foster cooperation among different stakeholders. It enables us to address the root causes of scarcity and work towards equitable distribution and access to resources.

Moreover, knowledge of scarcity helps us design policies and interventions that promote social justice and reduce inequalities. By analysing patterns and trends related to scarcity, we can identify vulnerable populations and develop targeted initiatives to support them. This can include measures to improve access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities, which are essential for achieving a more equitable society.

In conclusion, understanding incidents of scarcity allows us to anticipate and address potential conflicts, promote sustainable resource management, and work towards a more equitable society by reducing inequalities and supporting vulnerable populations. By Lavanya Anand


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