›April 8, 2015 // By Linnea Bennett
Wilson Center Premieres ‘Healthy People, Healthy Environment’ and ‘Transcending Boundaries’ at Environmental Film Festival›
Environmental security and international development aren’t typical movie-going fare, but at the 2013 DC Environmental Film Festival, ECSP premiered two short documentaries with unique environmental stories: Healthy People, Healthy Environment: Integrated Development in Tanzania shows how improving health services and environmental conservation can empower coastal communities in Africa; and Transcending Boundaries: Perspectives from the Central Albertine Rift Transfrontier Protected Area Network explores the opportunities for “peace parks” along the shared borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
›“Traditionally, natural resources have been thought of as a source of conflict…but what we’ve been trying to do is look at the other side of the story, which is that natural resources, in terms of their quality, can create that impulse for conservation and cooperation,” said Saleem Ali, professor of environmental studies and director of the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security at the University of Vermont, while speaking at the Wilson Center.
This narrative around peace parks or transboundary conservation areas that are used for peacebuilding is a relatively recent field of research, said Ali. “It’s one thing to have a protected area on a border and have cooperation between friendly parties – like the U.S. and Canada,” he said, “and it’s a totally different thing to explore this in areas where there’s a history of protracted violent conflict.”
Yet, Ali said, we have “a good institutional framework for understanding what kind of parks could potentially be developed.” Cooperation between Ecuador and Peru in the Cordillera del Condor protected area, for example, is an incidence where transboundary conservation was actually written into the peace process between two warring states. Recent tragedies on the Siachen glaciers highlight another case where calls have been made to use peace parks as a way to demilitarize a contentious border over which India and Pakistan have long argued.
Questions remain though about the capacity of conservation processes to sustain peace, and “whether micro-conflicts that might arise through any conservation being practiced can be managed effectively.” Peace parks established in South Africa after apartheid, for example, produced “micro-conflicts between the haves and the have-nots – the classic conflict between conservation as an exclusionary arena versus a more inclusionary vision.”
“A lot of those organizations have learned from those past mistakes and we’re moving in the right direction,” Ali said, “but that’s still an area that requires far more research, and also more applied work, to find the right mix of conservation and economic development.”
Geoff Dabelko on Finding Common Ground Among Conservation, Development, and Security at the 2011 WWF Fuller Symposium›Bridging the divide between the conservation and security communities “requires that we check some stereotypes at the door,” said ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko at the World Wildlife Fund’s Conservation Forward: Ideas That Work and How Science Can Effect Change symposium. Changes in global climate, as well as environmental threats more local in origin, require us to “find ways to minimize threats [and] maximize opportunities…from the dialogue between these different communities – and get out of our silos to do that,” said Dabelko.
However, this dialogue faces real challenges and concrete trade-offs. “There are big imbalances in terms of the resources that these different communities have,” and this often cuts the conversation short, he said. The conservation and security communities are also orientated towards some very different objectives and toolsets. But “given the levels of stress that our natural systems are under, given the level of dysfunction that are political systems are exhibiting, to me, it suggests that it’s a call for all hands on deck,” asserted Dabelko.
“The relationship between environment, natural resources, and violent conflict” is not the “only part of the story,” he said. Conservation goals can be achieved by preserving biodiversity on military sites and demilitarized zones, and through the Department of Defense’s new focus on reducing energy consumption. In the past, Russian-Norwegian-U.S. cooperation around de-commissioning Soviet-era nuclear submarines protected fragile Arctic habitats, prevented potentially dangerous technology from reaching world markets, and built confidence between recent adversaries. The dual potentials of “peace parks” in fragile and insecure borders across the Middle East have also garnered attention.
“Too often…natural resources are viewed as luxury items – what you worry about once you get rich, democratic, and peaceful,” yet, the environment is an “essential ingredient” for peace, Dabelko said. It is often “key to restoring livelihoods and jump-starting the economy” in conflict affected countries.
“Under a rubric or umbrella that we’re calling ‘environmental peacebuilding’ we have systematic efforts to…break those links with conflict,” he said. The future “concern is that because of environmental change, growth in population, growth in consumption,” and rampant inequities, climate change will act as a “threat multiplier.” “A risk analysis frame” is required to think through not only the risk of failing to act but also the risk of acting in ways that have the potential to create conflict if done poorly.
“We’re talking about changing access to resources and introducing money into uncertain political contexts – who gets it for what. That can be done well and that can be done poorly, and if you are talking to the folks in the conflict community, that’s often an inflection point for when conflict is a potential,” Dabelko said. In the context of potentially troublesome adaptations such as biofuel production, hydropower projects, and REDD+, this means taking seriously the well-worn, but apt, mantra of “do no harm” and working to maximize the “triple bottom line” of development, peace, and climate stability.
A question and answer period, moderated by USAID’s Cynthia Gill, followed the presentation with fellow speakers Anne Salomon of Fraser University, Michael Jenkins of Forest Trends, and Martin Palmer from the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (available below).
›In seeking ways to connect conservation with peacemaking, the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security (IEDS) has released a study that examines an expanded role for the international wetlands treaty, the Ramsar Convention.
The Ramsar Convention: A New Window for Environmental Diplomacy? describes the wetlands convention, its place within the international environmental treaty world, and its potential to enhance environmental security during this dynamic time of increasingly insecure water supplies and climate change. With more than 40 years of work, the treaty has been quietly and effectively conserving wetlands and increasing recognition of the need to build international cooperation around them. The treaty has also helped define wetlands within greater biogeographic regions and led to formal identification of transboundary wetlands.
In the article, we set out to combine information from the convention’s 234 listed wetlands (13 of which have formal transboundary plans) with the Global Peace Index, which ranks countries using 23 indicators, such as number of conflicts, conflict deaths, military expenditures, and relations with neighboring countries. The result is a prioritized list of countries most in need of tools of conflict resolution.
Working within the framework of the convention builds capacity between high-conflict-risk nations and has potential to develop otherwise-difficult-to-establish trust because the process is transparent and all stakeholder voices are heard. This can be important even when the existing conflict has nothing to do with international wetlands.
The convention is active in many countries with ongoing conflicts, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, and efforts there may help inform the ongoing debate as to the efficacy of conservation as a tool for peacemaking.
As environmental conditions continue to evolve rapidly, the need for institutions that can work in the transboundary environment will increase. The established international infrastructure of the convention has the potential to be a greater force in peacemaking. Further research may help focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and reveal ways for more effective peacemaking efforts.
Suggestions for ways to enhance the convention’s role in environmental diplomacy include working more closely with researchers and practitioners directly involved in the environmental peacemaking field, increased focus on developing capacity for increased flexibility to react to dynamic conditions, and more active promotion of formal transboundary agreements.
Pamela Griffin is an independent scholar at IEDS where she focuses on the diplomatic potential of transboundary wetlands.
›October 27, 2011 // By Kate DiamondGidon Bromberg, co-director of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME), says in this short interview with ECSP that his outlook on rehabilitating the Jordan River has changed completely over the last five years. We had been “laughed at” for trying to restore the waterway, he said; now though, “we are very confident that the Jordan River south of the Galilee down to the Dead Sea will be rehabilitated.”
By building a cross-border peace park and encouraging collaboration between Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians on water scarcity and quality issues, FOEME aims to improve environmental and security problems that bind the three groups together.
The Jordan River has become so polluted that visitors, many of whom are devout Christians making a pilgrimage to one of the religion’s most sacred sites, have been barred from its waters due to health concerns. Furthermore, more than 98 percent of its fresh water is diverted for agricultural work, meaning that the pollutants that end up in the river are highly concentrated.
But today, Bromberg said, sewerage is being removed on both the Israeli and Jordanian sides and there is a commitment to do the same from the Palestinians. For the first time in 60 years, there are concrete plans to return fresh water to a river that is “so holy to half of humanity.”
Sources: The Age, Friends of the Earth Middle East, The Guardian, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
›December 7, 2010 // By Wilson Center Staff
Excerpt from the Center for a Better Life:
Afghanistan is more than war and turmoil; it has a long and colorful history, strong cultures and a stunning landscape. It has enormous biodiversity, as it sits at the crossroads of what biologists call “biological realms.” The country, therefore, has plants and animals that also occur in Europe, northern Asia, India, south Asia and Africa. It has nine species of wild cats, which is the same as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an estimated 800 plant species that occur nowhere else in the world. In other words, Afghanistan is worth attention in terms of its biodiversity alone.These natural resources are also critically important from the people’s perspective. After 30 years of conflict, more than 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population relies directly on natural resources for their livelihood. Most of the inhabitants are rural and desperately poor by world standards. Child mortality is the highest in the world, and their infrastructure is mostly broken down and inoperable. The economy is donor-dependent, and the Afghan government is still in its infancy. Outside the capital of Kabul, governance sometimes seems non-existent. As a result, movement away from the major population centers can be very risky due to the presence of various insurgent groups.
And yet, what is seldom mentioned in newscasts and media is that the Afghans are proud and resilient. They want what everyone else wants: education for their children, healthcare for the young and elderly, and reliable livelihoods to support their families. Then they want to get on with their lives in their own unique, culturally diverse way, free of violence and conflict.
Understanding these things is one reason why the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been successful in Afghanistan. When hearing of the Society’s field work in this war-torn country, most people are surprised. They wonder how, with its pressing problems, Afghanistan can afford the time, let alone the resources, to conserve its remaining wildlife and wild places. But this is one of the core strengths of WCS – to offer assistance in conserving natural resources at a practical level within a country in need, like Afghanistan. As one of the oldest conservation organizations in the world, with more than 100 years of field conservation experience, the Society has extensive seasoning under extreme circumstances. Currently, WCS has more than 600 projects in place with 3,000 staff; and, many of these projects are in the most remote areas of the world.
Since 2006, USAID has supported WCS’s work in Afghanistan within three geographical areas – the northeast in Badakhshan Province’s Wakhan District, Bamiyan’s central province and the eastern, forested Nuristan province. Experts chose these areas because they believed they held the largest numbers of untouched remaining wildlife; this presumption generally proved correct. Through the years, WCS has created trust by having conservation teams on the ground and working year-round with local communities. Similar trust has been established with the relevant ministries by WCS’ central office, located in Kabul, through continuous presence and assistance.
Results are impressive. More than seven pieces of environmental legislation were enacted; 10,000 Afghans received conservation training; the first biological surveys in 30 years were completed (which doubled as crucial skills development exercises for Afghan scientists); the first wildlife/domestic stock disease assessments were accomplished, with corresponding human health effects, plus many more exemplary achievements. One of the more intriguing results was WCS’ ability to build local governance in the most remote communities, thus connecting communities that had seen no real government representatives for years. This link extended to district authorities then to provincial authorities, and finally to the Kabul central government. This extension of Afghanistan’s rule-of-law is paramount because it improves governance, which is one of the more crucial strategic needs in the country today.
How was a non-governmental conservation organization able to contribute to governance and rule-of-law? It is simple. Wildlife conservation is usually a non-confrontational issue, and most people, when exposed to the process, take an active interest and express opinions. Rural people have grown up with and are surrounded by wildlife everyday; they have local knowledge and feel comfortable discussing how things have changed. They want to be empowered to make natural resource decisions in the areas in which they live. WCS staff encourages local people to discuss species protection with their local and provincial governments. In some instances, WCS workers have taken government officers into communities that cannot recall ever seeing a government official. These processes and contacts evolve and can be used as basis for non-conservation related discussion. These processes and relationships become the building blocks for extending governance and empowering local communities. And, the process works.
Continue reading on the Center for a Better Life.
David Lawson is the Wildlife Conservation Society Afghanistan country director.
Photo Credit: “Bamiyan Band-e-Emir,” courtesy of flickr user USAID Afghanistan. USAID and WCS have been working in the Band-e-Amir lakes region since 2006 to create a national park.
›“The use of the term ‘peace’ is in many circles still considered taboo, because immediately people think you are talking about something that is utopian,” said University of Vermont Professor Saleem Ali at a recent TEDx event on sustainability. “But I’m here to tell you that peace is pragmatic. Peace is possible.”
Ali points out the value of peace to every sector of society and, using an example from Ecuador and Peru, argues for the utility of the environment as a peacemaker. Other longstanding conflict areas like Cyprus, Iraq, Israel, and Korea are also ripe for environmental peacebuilding efforts, he says.
Professor Ali has written for The New Security Beat before on the strengths and weaknesses of viewing conservation and sustainability efforts through a strictly security lens. He points out that environmentalists must tread a fine line when assigning causality between the environment and conflict, but even when natural resources or climate are not central to a conflict, environmental peacebuilding can still play a role in creating shared ground (sometimes literally) between combatants.
“Treasures of the Earth,” Ali’s latest book, examines the thorny subject of how best to balance resource extraction in developing countries with long-term sustainability. Recent examples, such as Angola and Liberia’s blood diamonds, the DRC’s conflict minerals, and concerns over Afghanistan’s potential reserves have shown the difficulty in striking that balance.
“Ultimately, conflict trumps everything else” in terms of what we ought to be concerned with, Ali argues, and therefore, anyone, no matter their profession or capacity, should keep the pursuit of peace in mind – and all options on the table – when making decisions that affect others.
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