PRFDHR Seminar: The Causes and Consequences of Ethnic Violence in Myanmar, Dr. Paula López Peña

April 27, 2021 - 2:30pm to 3:45pm
Speaker/Performer: 
Dr Paula López Peña, Yale University – Refugee Program and Department of Economics
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Admission: 
Free but register in advance

The Rohingya crisis is one of the world’s worst ongoing human-rights atrocities, but its causes are contested and its consequences are poorly understood. Dr. López Peña and her co-authors marshal a variety of existing and original data to shed light on its drivers, characteristics, and human cost. First, in contrast with the government’s preferred narrative, they show that violence against civilians in Myanmar clearly responds to economic motives: it increases during times when international rice prices are high, in places suitable for rice cultivation. They argue that these patterns are consistent with a rapacity effect – the government and majority ethnic groups use violence and looting to appropriate rice and rice-suitable land. Second, they find support for the hypothesis that the Armed Forces of Myanmar (the “Tatmadaw”) use violence against Rohingya Muslims to incapacitate the group, as opposed to merely deterring or responding to attacks from Muslim militias. The opposite is true in all other internal ethnic conflicts. Using a structural VAR approach, they demonstrate that the Tatmadaw responds with disproportionate force to shocks that precipitate conflict only when Rohingya Muslims – either civilians or militia members – are involved. Further, the Tatmadaw deliberately targets and kills Rohingya civilians, but not civilians of other minority groups. In a last step, they explore the potential toll of enduring systematic violence on mental health using data from a representative survey of Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar. They find that more than one-third of refugees meet the symptom criteria for depression, and the condition is more severe among those who experienced more than five traumatic events.
Dr. López Peña is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement and Humanitarian Responses (PRFDHR) at the Macmillan Center, and a lecturer at the Department of Economics both at Yale University. Her areas of research are applied microeconomics and development economics.
She studies how non-cognitive skills and adverse life events affect health and labor market outcomes. Her current projects focus on entrepreneurship, firm productivity, and the causes and consequences of violence.
Dr. López Peña’s recent paper investigates the mechanisms through which training in non-cognitive skills affects the mental health and economic lives of female entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, providing a basis for thinking about welfare beyond firm profits. In a separate study with large garment factories, she examines how training managers in organizational and communication skills affects employee well-being and labor productivity. She is a co-principal investigator of the Cox’s Bazar Panel Survey (CBPS), a longitudinal study which will create a representative panel dataset of Rohingya refugees and generate descriptive and causal evidence on the effects of refugee influxes on local economies and the impact of trauma on survivors. Her other ongoing projects include a field experiment to investigate the causes and consequences of domestic violence in Bangladesh, and an RCT that studies how bureaucrat autonomy and financial incentives can be used to increase the adoption of innovative policies.