›From climate change to coltan, poverty to population, and water to war: These are the 10 most popular New Security Beat stories of the year. Thanks for your clicks, and we’ll see you in 2009!
1. Desertification Threatening China’s Human, Economic Health
2. PODCAST – Climate Change and National Security: A Discussion with Joshua Busby, Part 1
3. In the Philippines, High Birth Rates, Pervasive Poverty Are Linked
4. Climate Change Threatens Middle East, Warns Report
5. Population, Health, Environment in Ethiopia: “Now I know my family is too big”
6. Guest Contributor Colin Kahl on Kenya’s Ethnic Land Strife
7. Coltan, Cell Phones, and Conflict: The War Economy of the DRC
8. “Bahala na”? Population Growth Brings Water Crisis to the Philippines
9. Population Reference Bureau Releases 2008 World Population Data Sheet
10. Guest Contributor Sharon Burke on Climate Change and Security
›December 23, 2008 // By Rachel WeisshaarZimbabwe’s current cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,100 people and sickened nearly 24,000, prompting the United States, the United Kingdom, and some African nations to press for sanctions on—and the resignation of—President Robert Mugabe. The impoverished country ranks 151 out of 177 on the UN Human Development Index and has an average life expectancy of 34 for women and 37 for men. Although it has suffered yearly cholera outbreaks since 1998, this year’s epidemic dwarfs previous ones. The epidemic is being aggravated by severe food shortages and the country’s high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and is expected to continue through the end of the rainy season in March.
After opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai came out ahead in the March 2008 presidential election, Mugabe promised to implement a power-sharing deal with Tsvangirai. Instead, he has continued to persecute opposition leaders and supporters, forcing Tsvangirai to flee to Botswana. Yet the past several days have witnessed a striking hardening of Western and African governments’ rhetoric against Mugabe. “We have lost confidence in the power-sharing deal being a success with Mugabe in power. He has lost touch with reality,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer on Sunday. Could cholera have been the last straw?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2004, 81 percent of Zimbabweans had sustainable access to an improved water source, and 53 percent had access to improved sanitation. If anything, these figures have likely declined since then, as Zimbabwe’s economy and infrastructure have continued to crumble. Doctors and nurses protested earlier this month over poor working conditions and unpaid wages. “We are forced to work without basic health institutional needs like drugs, adequate water and sanitation, safe clothing gear, medical equipment and support services,” said a letter from the Zimbabwe Doctors’ Association.
The case of Beitbridge, which is a major stopping-point for travellers bound for South Africa, highlights how domestic problems can quickly become international ones in today’s globalized world. According to the WHO:
The [cholera] outbreak was explosive, peaking between 14-24 November, and spilling over into neighbouring South Africa, where the area around Masina has since been declared a disaster zone. As of 10 December, the outbreak was slowly subsiding. Altogether, some 3456 cases had been treated as of the same date. As the Christmas holidays approach, traffic through Beitbridge is expected to increase, and could lead to larger outbreaks, with the potential for fresh propagation within both Zimbabwe and South Africa.You probably recall the global alarm over SARS in 2003 and extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2007. Disease is increasingly becoming a matter of foreign policy, state stability, and national sovereignty, and when—as with cholera and water and sanitation—the disease is due to poor environmental management, a country’s environmental health can also become the concern of other nations. “I don’t know how much longer people can let this [cholera epidemic] go on, claiming that it is somehow an internal matter. It is not,” said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this week. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has supported Mugabe, has a different view: Last Friday, he warned other countries not to use the cholera epidemic to “politically destabilize” Zimbabwe’s government. It seems that the debate over when disease becomes an international issue rages on.
Photo: Cholera patients in Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, receive treatment from the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières. Courtesy of Médecins Sans Frontières and Flickr user Sokwanele – Zimbabwe.
Armed conflict and its consequences concern us all. But where does war actually come from? In our new book, Sex and War: How Biology Explains War and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World, Thomas Hayden and I argue that warfare and terrorism are written in our DNA. But that doesn’t mean humanity is doomed to a future as violent as our past has been. Understanding the biological basis of our warring instincts, we argue, gives us our best hope of decreasing the frequency and brutality of warfare.
Biologically speaking, war is an unusual behavior—very few other animals intentionally set out to kill members of their own species. Along with chimpanzees, with which we share a common evolutionary ancestor, we humans have a rare and terrible behavioral predisposition: Our young males, in the prime of life, are prone to band together and attack members of neighboring groups. The conflicts currently underway in the the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Iraq, and elsewhere all have many proximate causes—political, religious, environmental, and otherwise. But contrary to long-held beliefs about the cultural roots of war, we argue that the behavior that makes the systematic slaughter of other human beings possible in the first place is based on a suite of evolved behavioral predispositions, which we call “team aggression.”
Anyone who has been in combat will tell you he fought not for a flag, or democracy, or some other abstraction, but for his buddy in the trench, his mate in the torpedo boat, or the soldier next to him in the up-armored Humvee. Intense loyalty for one’s immediate comrades, along with loss of empathy for the members of the enemy, are at the heart of team aggression, and of warfare and terrorism. These predispositions stretch back more than seven million years to our ape ancestors’ early battles for survival. We are all descended, by definition, from the victors of innumerable conflicts over resources, territory, and the right to mate. And we bear the marks of this legacy in the behaviors and impulses that spur us on to lethal conflict to this day, even when other solutions might be available.
The big question then becomes not, “Why do wars break out?”—that is the easy part—but, “Why does peace break out?,” as we know it often does. Far from condemning us to a future of warfare, understanding war’s biological roots can point us toward policies that increase the likelihood of peace, which also has deep roots in our biology. The first step toward peace is to do everything possible to grant women greater decision-making power in society. Team aggression is primarily a male drive, and while women are certainly competitive and capable of fighting bravely and ferociously, in the vast expanse of human history there is not a single record of women banding together spontaneously to attack their neighbors. Our book argues that when women have more agency, their societies become less warlike.
Population size and growth rates are two more key factors in the quest for peace. Rapid population growth increases competition over resources, increases unemployment, and boosts the ratio of young to older men, and all of these factors help facilitate extremism and violence. Experience shows, however, that when women have the opportunity to control their own fertility, family size and population growth decline—demonstrating that accessible, voluntary family planning programs are powerful tools for peace.
There is an aphorism: “If you want peace, understand war.” In Sex and War, we argue that understanding war also means understanding our own biology and evolutionary history. If we can do that, we can find more ways to help the biology of peace win out over the biology of war.
Malcolm Potts is Bixby Professor of Population and Family Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. For more media coverage of Sex and War, see Newsweek, Wired Science, and The Scientist.
›December 19, 2008 // By Wilson Center Staff“Governance is key. If you don’t have a competent government after the war, you’re not going to solve the problems that weren’t solved before the war because of incompetent governance,” said Charles Kelly at “Sustaining Natural Resources and Environmental Integrity During Response to Crisis and Conflict,” a November 12 event.
In this latest video from the Environmental Change and Security Program, Kelly discusses the importance of carefully planning and executing post-conflict environmental assistance, which can lead to renewed conflict if not implemented properly. He highlights ongoing post-conflict and disaster management operations in Sudan and Haiti, offering suggestions for the way forward.
›“Climate change of that scale [a 5° C increase] will cause enormous resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We’re not talking about ten thousand people. We’re not talking about ten million people, we’re talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently,” said Steven Chu, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for secretary of energy, at the National Clean Energy Summit this summer.
“As the world focuses on the outcomes of the meeting on climate change that just concluded in Poznan, Poland, I am sitting in a workshop in Nazret, Ethiopia, listening to a panel of farmers talking about the effects of climate change on their lives – less rain, lower crop yields, malaria, no milk for their children,” writes Karen Hardee on Population Action International’s blog. “They are acutely aware that farm sizes shrink with each generation and speak eloquently of the need for access to family planning so they can have fewer children.”
The New York Times reports on the fight for control over uranium deposits in northern Niger, part of its ongoing series on resource conflict.
The current volume of Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations examines global water governance.
On the Carnegie Council’s “Policy Innovations” website, Rebecca Laks reports on efforts to incorporate alternative fuels into refugee camps in order to reduce deforestation in the surrounding environment.
The Center for American Progress has released “Putting Aid and Trade to Work: Fostering Development for Sustainable Security,” along with related documents.
The Sabaot Land Defence Force and the Kenyan army have been fighting over the rights to land in western Kenya for years, and local women are suffering, reports IRIN News. Fighters from both sides often rape women, giving them HIV/AIDS.
“Cleaning the environment has been identified as major tool in waging war against mosquitoes” and malaria in Nigeria, reports the Vanguard.
›December 16, 2008 // By Will Rogers
“Young boys there say they want to grow up to be pirates,” reports National Public Radio’s Gwen Thompkins from Somalia, where piracy has become a lucrative practice, despite the international community’s sporadic efforts to thwart the hijacking of ships off of Somalia’s coast. As conditions in the country continue to deteriorate, more and more Somali youth have turned to piracy to make a living. With 45 percent of the population under 15, the 2008 Failed States Index ranked Somalia as the state with the most demographic pressure (tied with Bangladesh).
Somalia’s chronic poverty, political turmoil, and violence have fostered a “humanitarian nightmare,” with economic opportunity almost impossible to come by. And in Somalia, “there’s no fallback job…There is no real opportunity for people who need to make money,” turning many young men to piracy as a way to earn a living.
Though piracy has only made headlines over the last year, the roots of the problem go back more than a decade. “Illegal fishing is the root cause of the piracy problem,” one Somali resident told the BBC. For years, Somali fishermen struggled to compete against illegal fishing trawlers that cost many fishermen their livelihoods. The government’s inability to enforce fishing regulations drove many fishermen to raid illegal fishing trawlers, and this vigilantism eventually became the piracy that plagues the Gulf of Aden today.
Most Somali pirates are young, between 20-35 years old, mainly from fishing towns, and they can split an average of $2 million in ransom for hijacked vessels. As piracy continues to make global headlines, the lifestyle has become romanticized in Somali society. According to The National, “Marrying a pirate is every Somali girl’s dream. He has power, money, immunity, the weapons to defend the tribe and funds to give to the militias in civil war.”
Meanwhile, Somali pirates, who benefit from current lawless conditions, have been helping al Shabaab, the youth wing of Somalia’s Islamist movement, fund their insurgency against President Abdullahi Yusuf’s government. For example, according to the Telegraph, in April, al Shabaab secured a five percent cut of a $1.5 million ransom for a Spanish fishing boat and its 26-member crew.
Meanwhile, al Shabaab, which the U.S. Department of State has designated a foreign terrorist organization, has become an increasing concern for U.S. military officials, who suspect the youth terrorist wing has ties to al Qaeda. As hijackings become more high-profile—such as the Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks, or the Saudi supertanker carrying more than $100 million in crude oil—al Shabaab fetches more from each ransom, which could be used to fund attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In light of these possible linkages, the United States on Wednesday began circulating a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would permit foreign countries to hunt down pirates on land, in what is a growing trend by the international community to stop pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden.
According to the United Nations, Somali pirates have netted £80 million, or more than $120 million, in ransom payments so far this year. And despite threats made by the international community, this nascent and lucrative industry likely won’t hurt for recruits. Until Somalia has a functioning government and economy that can offer youth legitimate livelihoods, piracy will continue to be a thorn in the side of the international shipping industry.
Photo: A U.S. Navy rescue team provides assistance to the crew of the Ching Fong Hwa, a Taiwanese-flagged fishing trawler, which was released in November 2007 after being hijacked and held by Somali pirates for seven months. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
›The Center for Global Development’s interactive 2008 Commitment to Development Index rates 22 wealthy countries on how much they help poor countries in seven areas: aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology.
“Destitution, distortion and deforestation: The impact of conflict on the timber and woodfuel trade in Darfur,” a new report from the UN Environment Programme’s Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, says that saw-mills and wood-fired brick kilns are devastating Darfur’s fragile environment.
“If we are successful in reaching peak population sooner, at a lower number of people, rather than later with more people, we will be much more able to confront the myriad interlocking crises we face — a comparatively less crowded planet is an easier planet on which to build a bright green future,” writes Worldchanging’s Alex Steffen.
“In the case of the South American farms studied in this report, average simulated revenue losses from climate change in 2100 are estimated to range from 12 percent for a mild climate change scenario to 50 percent in a more severe scenario, even after farmers undertake adaptive reactions to minimize the damage,” finds a World Bank report on climate change and Latin America. Foreign Policy’s Passport blog comments.
In A Framework for Achieving Energy Security and Arresting Global Warming, Ken Berlin of the Center for American Progress sets out five sets of issues the federal government will have to address in order to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil.
“Ask any environmental organisation what it thinks about birth control; it’ll sidestep the issue, and say it’s not their place to comment. If a commentator says there are too many people on the planet, their words smack of authoritarian dictatorships and human rights violations, and echo traces of unpalatable eugenics. However, the reality is that every time we eat, switch on a light, get in a car, drink a beer, go on holiday or buy something to wear or use, we are adding to our environmental footprint,” writes Joanna Benn in BBC’s Green Room, in an article that generated a lively stream of commentary.
Land Conflicts: A practical guide to dealing with land disputes, a report by GTZ, is available online.
›December 11, 2008 // By Rachel WeisshaarGreen Warriors: Army Environmental Considerations for Contingency Operations from Planning Through Post-Conflict (summary) is a comprehensive new RAND report on the U.S. Army’s environmental record in combat and peacekeeping operations. Green Warriors, which was commissioned by the Army Environmental Policy Institute, gives four main reasons why the Army should care about its environmental impacts, particularly in light of its lengthening overseas engagements:
- The environment can threaten soldiers’ health (through disease, polluted air or water, or exposure to hazardous substances);
- The military can harm its credibility with local populations by improperly disposing of waste or by damaging farmland or water supplies;
- Reconstruction projects that improve environmental conditions can foster support for the United States and the host-country government it supports, improving economic growth and security; and
- Environmental problems are often transboundary, and it is important to avoid allowing deficient U.S. environmental practices strain our relationships with other countries, especially given their importance to U.S. military activities.
Green Warriors emphasizes that environmental considerations are particularly significant during the post-conflict phase of operations:
[L]ocals often care deeply about the environment, which can be critical to their survival, livelihood, and well-being. Vital environmental issues can include access to clean drinking water, effective sewage systems, and viable farmland (see Box 1.1). Restoring or building these basic infrastructures is often essential for the economic and social development necessary for stability. To the extent that such projects improve cooperation with locals, they can lower security risks, improve intelligence, and speed reconstruction.
According to Green Warriors, the Army possesses extensive environmental policies and regulations for domestic and permanent foreign installations. Yet there are extremely few environmental regulations for contingency operations. The authors make the following recommendations:
- Improve environmental policy and guidance. The Army Strategy for the Environment, the Army’s new field manual on stability and reconstruction operations (New Security Beat coverage), and DoD’s 2005 decision to elevate post-conflict operations to the same level as combat operations (DoD Directive 3000.05) all provide a foundation upon which to build a standard DoD-wide environmental policy.
- Promote an environmental ethic and culture that extends to contingency operations. The Army must encourage soldiers and commanders to recognize and embrace the strategic benefits of good environmental stewardship.
- Incorporate environmental issues more extensively into planning. Commanders should receive high-quality environmental information and analysis, and risk assessments should be routinely undertaken.
- Improve environmental training and awareness. Commanders, soldiers, and non-combatant personnel should receive training on environmental issues both prior to and during their deployment. This training should include lessons learned from field experience.
- Expand environment-related investment. The Army should invest in personnel with the skills to implement a global environmental program and expand research and development to create technologies that would minimize environmental impacts of Army’s operations.
- Use the concept of sustainability as a guiding principle. The Army Strategy for the Environment calls sustainability the “keystone” of the Army’s environmental strategy, and the RAND report encourages the Army to expand this principle into all aspects of its contingency operations.
In a memo released with the report, Addison Davis IV, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for environment, safety, and occupational health, says that “the Army has the power to implement most” of the report’s recommendations. The question remains: Is the Army’s leadership willing to do so?
Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Gabriela Campuzano, a water purification specialist with the 94th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, inspects one of three water storage tanks at a water purification project site at the Baghdad Al Jadeeda Police Station in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2008. The water site provides the local community with clean drinking water. Courtesy of Staff Sgt. Brian D. Lehnhardt, the U.S. Army, and Flickr.
Join the Conversation
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