A growing body of knowledge exists on the importance of the environmental dimension of sustainable development. Yet natural resources such as forests, wildlife, water sources and agricultural lands continue to be exploited and degraded during armed conflict, threatening long-term peace and security.
In Central and East Africa today, illegal trafficking in minerals, wildlife, timber, charcoal and narcotics is financing illicit activities and supporting armed groups and criminal networks. In Somalia, for example, it is estimated that the illegal trade in charcoal represents annual revenues of up to $384 million for insurgents and terrorist groups.
Strengthening natural resource governance and improving monitoring in conflict-affected states can help prevent resources from fuelling conflict, direct much-needed revenue towards economic revitalization and contribute to more lasting peace. Conversely, failing to protect and manage these resources in an equitable way only exacerbates the vulnerability of those who depend on them the most, especially the poor.
The safe disposal of weapons of war is also of critical concern. This is one of the challenges that the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons currently face in Syria, where the destruction of chemical weapons and production facilities must include strict environmental safeguards to prevent chemical contamination, new environmental “hotspots” and public health risks. Environmental contamination also includes land mines and unexploded ordnance, which pose a particular threat to women and children who are often more vulnerable due to their daily activities.
On this International Day, we stress the critical importance of protecting the environment in times of armed conflict and restoring the good governance of natural resources during post-conflict reconstruction. We also recognize the important role that natural resources play in supporting the livelihoods and resilience of all members of society, especially women, and the implications of sustainable natural resource management for conflict prevention and peace.