The prevalence of armed conflict in areas of high biodiversity is alarming, though not entirely surprising. According to “Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots” (abstract online), which was published earlier this year in Conservation Biology, 80 percent of the major armed conflicts between 1950 and 2000 took place in biodiversity hotspots. While natural resources are rarely the principal causes of conflict, their allocation and ownership are frequently among its drivers.
Thor Hanson et al. highlight what the conservation and development communities already know about rights to land and natural resources: They pose some of the most difficult and essential challenges to peacebuilding in nearly every conflict situation around the world.
Land-use and resource rights are often connected with essential services that need to be restored after conflict, such as rule of law and livelihoods. Resolving these politically contentious issues is typically beyond the purview of post-conflict development programs. Yet development programs can support the host government’s efforts by providing land-dispute resolution mechanisms and working to ensure access to justice. The international community and development actors must make more of an effort to address these issues within the existing frameworks of post-conflict stabilization, reconstruction, and recovery programs.
In addition, post-conflict peacebuilders must be aware of any existing tensions over natural resource exploitation, taking care to ensure that future revenues from natural resources directly benefit the local economy and community. To complement this, the business activities of private entities should be required to meet safety and quality standards. While this may be extremely difficult to achieve in practice, some certification programs, such as the Kimberley Process, are being promoted as ways to meet this goal.
Most biodiversity hotspots are in tropical regions, which are some of the poorest areas on the planet and often inherited highly unequal land-tenure systems from colonial land arrangements. Conservation organizations have the opportunity to influence and advance their agenda in many of these hotspots by involving themselves constructively in the post-conflict recovery process, by seeking partnerships with development organizations, and by identifying specific recommendations for post-conflict recovery and development planning–some of which is being done by UNEP’s Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch.
Most guidelines for conservation practices within recovery are not easily used by humanitarian aid workers on the ground, said Charles Kelly of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre in a video presentation: “You give a 30-page report and it’s not going to be read, and there’s going to be no action.”
Environmental considerations need to be more broadly incorporated into post-conflict development planning, peacekeeping operations, and training for soldiers and humanitarian workers. UNDP’s Environment and Energy Group is currently working to mainstream these issues throughout the agency’s work. And UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner recently announced that he has discussed plans with Alain Le Roy, UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, to integrate environmental awareness into UN peacebuilding efforts—“green advisors, so to speak, with blue helmets.”
While these new developments are promising, this work must extend more broadly to the humanitarian, peacekeeping, and post-conflict development sectors. As WWF Director of Humanitarian Partnerships Anita Van Breda told a Wilson Center audience, “The environment and humanitarian issues are integrated…and we need to learn how to work together more successfully.”
These communities have much to learn from each other, and their collaboration is essential to ensuring that post-conflict development planning sustains both the environment and peace in the world’s remaining biodiversity hotspots.
Adrienne Stork holds an M.A. in international environmental policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and is currently interning for the UN Development Program in the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration team of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.
Photo: Water sampling exercise at a UNEP capacity building course in Cote d’Ivoire, October 2008 (courtesy UNEP).