All too frequently, armed conflict is inextricably entwined with the environment. Natural resources can contribute to conflict, fuel armed conflict, and be targeted by combatants; natural resources can also facilitate post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery. Shortages of water and other natural resources can exacerbate existing ethnic and political tensions, and may contribute to the causes of war. The burning oil fields of Kuwait and Lebanese oil spills are but some of the vivid images of the environmental consequences of war, which include deliberate, incidental, and accidental effects. Since the 1990s, peacebuilding efforts are increasingly incorporating natural resource management to ensure the transition to a durable peace.
For the past decade, ELI has been a leading source of information on the environmental consequences of war.
Maintaining and building peace in fragile post-conflict societies requires consideration of natural resource management. Some conflicts have related directly to — or been fueled by — valuable natural resources such as timber or minerals, as in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other countries. In many instances, old animosities can flare up over control or use of land and other natural resources. Similarly, an inability to deliver key services (water, food, shelter, and other resource-dependent essentials for life) can destabilize fragile societies. Natural resources can also provide an opportunity for confidence-building measures, as with the 1994 peace treaty between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Improved governance of natural resources may provide models for more effective and equitable governance.
Peace-building entails a broad variety of initiatives, ranging from negotiation of the peace settlement, to post-conflict reconstruction and other measures to facilitate the transition to peace, and the ultimate shift from post-conflict reconstruction to long-term economic and social development. Transitioning to peace can help countries prevent a return to conflict, meet the basic needs for life (water, food, shelter, and livelihoods), decommission armed forces, address underlying causes of tension, and strengthen governance. Experience shows that transparent and sustainable natural resource management can improve each of these peace-building measures. ELI is working with UNEP, the University of Tokyo, and the Specialist Group on Armed Conflict & the Environment of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law to analyze lessons learned in strengthening post-conflict peacebuilding through natural resource management. ELI is also partnering with the Global Infrastructure Fund (GIF) Research Foundation Japan - with the support of the Center for Global Partnership (CGP) of the Japan Foundation - to strengthen post-conflict security and diplomacy by integrating natural resource management and infrastructure redevelopment into U.S. and Japanese Peacebuilding Initiatives. This work builds on ELI's experience in improving natural resource management in post-conflict countries.