Cause of Conflict: Natural Resources & the Environment

Without greater focus on the environment and natural resources during the peacebuilding process, intrastate conflicts are likely to escalate, says a report from the UN Environment Porgramme (UNEP), From Conflict to Peace building: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment. Conflicts with a link to natural resources are twice as likely to relapse within the first five years of peace. However, fewer then 25 percent of peace agreements for resource-related conflicts address these linkages, leaving many post-conflict countries vulnerable to relapse. “Many countries currently face development challenges relating to the unsustainable use of natural resources and the share of natural wealth.”

As the global population continues to rise, and the demand for resources continues to grow, there is significant potential for conflicts over natural resources to intensify.

Though environmental conditions are rarely the sole cause of violent conflict and war, they do play an important role as a “threat multiplier, which worsens existing trends, tensions and instability” that can ultimately lead to conflict.

Not only can natural resources help accelerate violence, conflict can also affect natural resources, destroying people’s livelihoods and effect the conflict cycle. During conflict, the environment can be transformed into a weapon of war that can endanger human health and disrupt and destroy livelihoods—for example when wells are poisoned or crops are burned. Therefore “The Environment itself can fall victim to conflict.”

The report has many conflict prevention and peacebuilding strategies that will successfully integrate natural resources and environmental issues which require the United Nations and international community. Some of the strategies mentioned are:

  1. Improve the ability for early warning and action “in countries that are vulnerable to conflict over natural resources;”
  2. Implement economic sanctions and develop new legal strategies to improve “oversight and protection of natural resources during conflicts” to minimize their use in financing and sustaining conflict;
  3. Address natural resources and environmental issues in the initial peacemaking and peacekeeping processes;
  4. Incorporate natural resources and environmental issues into integrated peacebuilding strategies in order to avoid a relapse into conflict;
  5. Help countries use their natural resources to promote economic growth, while practicing good governance and environmental sustainability.

Doing these procedures alone could result in a better economy, which would help to stop aggravating existing tensions and generating new conflicts.

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