Epidemics are on the rise, yet the social disruption they engender is not well understood. This paper provides causal evidence of the impact of a rapidly spreading epidemic on civil violence and sheds light on its drivers. New data at high spatial and temporal resolution of the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa reveal that epidemics spark civil violence, especially in places with low trust in state institutions. Contrary to common narratives, opening new health centers lowers violence and only containment measures perceived as coercive trigger violence. The effects of the epidemic on social unrest persist several years after the outbreak ended.
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