Urbanization rate

Urbanization rate is expressed here as the percentage of total population living in cities, urban or peri-urban areas. Although Latin America is the most urbanized region according to a recent report by United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation (UN-Habitat), there is a large subnational heterogeneity. In addition to this, lower levels of urbanization tend to be associated to higher levels of poverty and a much more fragile presence of State institutions.

Dependency rate

Dependency rate expresses the proportion of people in "inactive" or "dependent" ages against those in working age. In concrete terms, it highlights the proportion of dependents for each individual in working age. According to the Population Reference Bureau Handbook (PRB Handbook 2011), this classical indicator corresponds to a measure of the proportion of people with ages:

(a) under 15 years old;
(b) above 65 years;
divided by
(c) those ranging from 15 to 64.

Values above one mean that there is more people in dependent age than in working age in a given society. Most governments in developed countries are worried with this indicator due to the ageing of population and its consequences to their respectives social security systems. In the case of Latin American sub-national regions, the problem lies in the other end of the dependent population. High levels of dependency usually mean more children and an incomplete demographic transition, with all the problems related to it: high infant mortality, poverty, and low levels of sanitation and other social policies.

Demographic density

Demographic density constitutes a measure of area occupation by human settlements. It is expressed as the number of inhabitants per squared kilometer. Denser areas usually are accompanied by high levels of urbanization. Notwithstanding, the reverse is not true, areas with low demographic density can present both low and high levels of urbanization. This difference is key to understand how mining and agrarian regions split into two groups, one highly urbanized (and usually connected to national and global production networks) and another group of hinterland, rural, areas where the presence of peasant and indigenous communities are common. Demographic density also serves as a thermometer of the political visibility of corporate and State action. Decisions affecting urban areas usually gain strong visibility while their impact on rural areas are not perceived or experienced by the majority of population. A frequently employed misconception about these low density areas considers them are "deserted". Many central governments and companies foster the dissemination of this idea to gain support to the implementation of mining or agricultural innitiatives in order to "conquer the desert" and "promote development" in these regions. In this context, local communities are disregarded or forced to adopt and adapt top-down models economic activity, based on the justification that these models promote the development of the country as a hole.

White (%)

This indicator is measured as the percentage of individuals whose auto-definition in censuses is equal to “white” or the mother tongue is “Spanish”. This is maybe the most controversial indicator on this list. This is due to the fact that ethnicity is always a disputed category and, in consequence, particularly difficult to measure (not to mention to compare). Countries identify ethnic minorities in many different ways, limiting comparisons and changing their classifications over time according to political interests or social pressure (Loveman 2013).
There are limited data sources to compare countries and regions concerning the subject of ethnicity. The most useful and with the highest degree of standardization among countries is the national census. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive survey on ethnicity, with sufficient geographic detail and available for all (or at least some) countries in Latin America. This problem is worsened by the different measurement strategies in censuses that range from color of skin, “race”, belonging to an indigenous group, mother tongue, most used language, etc.
Despite all these limitations, this “generic” proxy for ethnicity is useful, since it incorporates a key aspect of environmental conflicts in many areas. One fundamental characteristic in recent environmental conflicts is their ethnicization. Peasant and poor communities vindicate or “invent” ethnic traditions and ancestral origins (using Hobsbawn terms) in order to gain voice in decision processes and, consequently, to obtain rights and legal protection.


Mining (% GDP)

The proportion of mining or fossil fuels in the composition of the regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is an important indicator, since it allows researchers to identify those regions where mining is a salient (or predominant) economic sector. Mining regions tend to be associated with high levels of economic concentration. One classic explanation to this phenomenon could be a form of sub-national "Dutsch Desease", where the incentives for the use of land and other resources are desistimulated or overshadowed by the higher returns generated by mining activities. In Latin America, many regions present a clear duality between mining as the main economic sector and subsistence agriculture/pasture as the major source of occupation. This duality produces a particular pattern of social segregation among those related to mining and those who are excluded from/by it.

Agriculture (% GDP)

This measure indicates the proportion of agriculture in the composition of the regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is a key indicator when it comes to differentiate between rural, poor, regions from those characterized by dynamic and export-oriented agribusiness areas. While the rural hinterland present weak ties with both national and global economies, agribusiness regions are usually urbanized and possess a higher level of State presence. In many respects, it is reasonable to expect that they would behave differently in terms of socio-environmental conflict. The classification of rural areas according to different profiles also allows researchers to identify cases and perform comparative analyses to assess empirically the usually unquestioned assumption, made by some neoextractivist studies, that all rural and mining behave similarly in regards to conflict and patterns of natural resources exploitation.

Mining (% labor)

The percentage of mining in the labor market is an ancillary indicator for the assessment of the relevance of mining in the regional economy and society. The more people working directly in this sector, the higher will be its impact on the region. Nonetheless, it must be highlighted that the proportion of mining workers in the overall working force is usually small. The only exception is on local mining districts, where they can represent a more significant part.

Agriculture (% labor)

The percentage of agriculture in the labor market is a very important indicator for productivity in agriculture and economic duality. While in mining there is a strong association between sectoral GDP and sector labor force participation, in agriculture the reverse is true. Most agribusiness regions are characterized by high levels of mechanization and the application of intensive technology, as well as machinery, in production. The result is high levels of productivity, the employment of subsidiary urban services (machinery, fertilizers, seeds, etc.) and the reduction of labor force directly employed in agriculture. The contrary happens in rural hinterlands. These regions present an elevated number of individuals working in agriculture with little productivity, subsistence economy and reduced added value both in the production process and the final products. Thus, the relevance of this indicator comes from the fact that, alongside with the percentage of agriculture in the GDP, it signals to fundamental differences within agriculture that could lead to different responses in terms of conflict.

Exports (US$ FOB per capita)

This indicator represents the number of US dollars exported by each region per inhabitant in a given year. It is a relative measurement of the insertion of regional economy into global markets. Most studies and narratives on socio-environmental conflict emphasizes the relevance of commodity exports as triggers of conflict over the environment. In this sense, globally connected regions characterized by the exports of commodities would serve as a contextual base for the emergence of disputes on natural resources exploitation and the distribution of the wealth generated by it. Therefore, determining the level of internationalization of regional economy could be of great interest, especially when this information is combined and compared to other dimensions, such as demographic structure, state density, or the most salient economic sector in the region.

Exports (%)

While the previous indicator (exports US$ FOB per capita), highlighted the degree of insertion into the global economy, this measure expresses the relative role of each region in the overall national exports. In concrete terms, it is operationalized as the percentage of total national exports originated in the region. Given the fact that a not insignificant number Latin American States rely heavily on fiscal resources obtained through exports, the more regionally concentrated exports are, the more strategic exporting areas become for the State, sub-national governments, as well as for private and civil society actors. Nonetheless, there are no clear hypotheses on the role of this indicator on socio-environmental conflict. Does it enhance or reduce the likelihood of conflict? Is the State more present or dense in these regions? And, if yes, what kind of State presence can be observed and how does it affect the emergence of conflict?


State Density Index

This index is an adaptation of the SDI Index developed by the Peruvian Office of the United Nations Development Program (UNPD, 2009).

Basically, it is an additive index composed by four dimensions:

(a) doctors per 10,000 inhabitants;
(b) net secondary enrollment rate;

And the percentage of individuals with access to:

(c) piped water and sewerage; and
(d) electricity;

The usefulness of this indicator is based precisely on its capacity to express synthetically the territorial coverage and extension of some fundamental public services. Besides, this index presents the property of being decomposed in order to express different reach of the State according to social groups or strata (sex, age groups, urbanization, ethnicity, etc.). It also provides a broad picture of what kind of State is being mentioned, when case studies focus on a particular region and the role of the State when it comes to socio-environmental conflict.

Paved Roads (km/thou. km2)

This measure indicates the density of roads in terms of the length, in kilometers, per thousand squared-kilometers of area. This is a useful proxy for the presence of the State. Roads in general, but paved roads in particular, are close to public goods, especially in rural areas. One central characteristic of these goods is that they are usually provided or strictly regulated by State action. There are few incentives to private companies to directly produce them, without subsidy or concession of the State. Even after granting the concession to a private enterprise, governments keep direct control or suveillance over their traffic and maintenance. Besides, in poor countries, paved roads use to be located in richer areas or near the capital. In general terms, this indicator is suitable for identifying areas: (a) that are more densely populated; and (b) where the State is effective in present in terms of (transport) infrastructure.

Paved Roads (%)

The percentage of paved roads expresses the proportion of paved roads in each region. The previous indicator (paved roads km/thou. km2) signaled exclusively the extension of roads in a given area. The limitation of the last measure lies in the fact that more densely populated regions will always present higher extension than their sparser counterparts, even when the effectiveness of State action is held constant. The percentage of paved roads solves this problem offering a measurement for the effectiveness of State action. It allows researchers to assess the degree in which all roads in a given region (regardless their density) are paved or not. Areas with higher percentages demonstrate a more effective presence of State, while lower figures exposes deficient or insufficient State intervention. .


Crop land (%)

The percentage of crop land in a given region is a proxy for the intensity of agricultural exploitation of these areas for the production of food. Zones with higher proportions of land dedicated to crops tend to be associated to intensive export-farming and agribusiness. They are also usually related to conflicts around land grabbing and water. This indicator was created using satellite images in a collaborative research project between NASA and Columbia University: the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). The result is a georeferenced image indicating the intensity of crop lands in each cell covering the entire world.

The complete reference is:
Ramankutty, N., A.T. Evan, C. Monfreda, and J.A. Foley. 2010. Global Agricultural Lands: Croplands, 2000. Palisades, NY: NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). Accessed 04 july 2015.

Pasture land (%)

Likewise the previous indicator, the percentage of pasture land also works as a proxy for agriculture, but in a different sense. This variable represents "the proportion of land areas used as pasture land (land used to support grazing animals) in the year 2000" (SEDAC, 2010). Both rural and mining areas present significant amount of land dedicated to pasture. In some cases, this means intensive cattle breeding, in other cases just the existence of poor peasants with subsistence farming. It must be also emphasized that mining regions usually present a combination of very concentrated areas where mining sites are located and great extensions of pasture land. The source is the same of the previous indicator. For more information, please visit the (SEDAC webpage).

The complete reference is:
Ramankutty, N., A.T. Evan, C. Monfreda, and J.A. Foley. 2010. Global Agricultural Lands: Pastures, 2000. Palisades, NY: NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). Accessed 04 july 2015.

Baseline Water Stress

This indicator represents the stress in the usage of water in a certain ecosystem. It can be defined more precisely as the " the ratio of total annual water withdrawals to total available annual renewable supply, accounting for upstream consumptive use. Higher values indicate more competition among users" (WRI Aqueduct, 2014). The measurement employed here is the average water stress in those basins located within each region. Since the measure indicates competition in the use of water, it serves as a tool for identifying regions where conflicts around water can potentially emerge. The data source is the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas.

Mining facilities (total)

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) compiles a database on most mining activities around the world. Among the data covered, we can find the type of commodity exploited, the overall yearly capacity, and the geographical location of mines or processing plants. The source is the Mineral Resources On-Line Spatial Data (USGS MRData). The indicator presented here is the total count of all mining and processing plants in each region for the five selected countries. In general terms, it is a gross indicator of regional concentration of mining operations in South America.