Watch: Michael Renner on Creating Peacebuilding Opportunities From DisastersJuly 14, 2011 By Jason Steimel
Michael Renner is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute working on the intersection between environmental degradation, natural resource issues, and peace and conflict. Recently, Renner has focused on water use and its effects on the Himalayan region. In particular he’s working to find positive opportunities that can turn “what is a tremendous problem, into perhaps an opportunity for collaboration among different communities, among different regions, and perhaps…ultimately across the borders of the region,” he said during this interview with ECSP.
Renner stressed the opportunity that addressing shared environmental and disaster-related challenges presents to “break through the political logjam that exists in the greater Himalayan region and other parts of the world as well.”
The notion of shared needs and shared vulnerabilities might actually give rise to greater cooperation and trying to address the issues in a forward-looking way, said Renner. He pointed to the polar effects of the 2004 tsunami on conflicts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka as an example how disasters can provoke both constructive and inflammatory responses:
In the case of Aceh and the post-disaster dynamics that evolved – the sudden rise of goodwill, a sense that it’s impossible to carry on with the conflict because they need to really in effect address many of the underlying issues, including the conflict between the central Indonesian government and the Indonesian pro-independence movement – there we had a situation where that particular confluence of actors actually helped lead to a peace agreement.
Sri Lanka, however, was further shaken by the disaster, and soon relapsed into civil war.
“What this suggests certainly is that there are opportunities, but these opportunities are not necessarily being taken advantage of, and even if they are, they might not always work out in very positive ways,” concluded Renner.