Michael Safi and Vidhi Doshi. September 16, 2016. Angry clashes in Karnataka as India’s water wars run deep. Bengaluru erupts in violence over water-sharing plans with neighbouring state Tamil Nadu, as country-wide shortages reach crisis levels. The Guardian.
Bruch, C., et al. July 20, 2012. Human Conflict: Targeting Natural Resources. Science 337:291-292
The special issue on Human Conflict (18 May, p. 818) largely ignores a central dimension of violent conflict: the complex role of natural resources in the onset (Ross 2004) and conduct of conflict, peacemaking, and recovery from conflict.
Grievances over access to land have been central to wars in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nepal (Macours 2011, Kay 2002). Inequitable distribution of oil and gas revenues drove secessionist conflicts in places such as Indonesia’s Aceh and southern Sudan (Collier 2012).
Since the end of the Cold War, conflicts based on resources have grown rapidly in number: Armed groups in at least 18 conflicts have relied on revenues from diamonds, timber, coltan, and a range of agricultural crops from cacao to coca (UN 2009). For centuries, armies have targeted natural resources and the environment to deprive enemies of cover, food, and support (Austin 2000), and the increased use of resources to finance conflicts has enhanced their value as a military objective (Autessere 2010).
Between 1946 and 2008, 40 to 60% of all intrastate conflicts were linked to natural resources. Resource-related conflicts are more likely to relapse, and do so twice as quickly compared with situations following conflicts without a link to natural resources (Rustad 2010).
There is growing recognition of the role of natural resources in building peace. A 4-year research project coordinated by the Environmental Law Institute, the United Nations Environment Programme, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University found that between 1989 and 2004, 51 of 94 peace agreements had provisions relating to natural resources, and all major peace agreements since then have included natural resources (UN 2012).
This study’s analysis of experiences across more than 60 conflict-affected countries shows that successful peacebuilding can rely on aspects of natural resource management in terms of livelihoods and macroeconomic recovery; the provision of basic services, including water, sanitation, and electricity; governance and rule of law; and cooperation. For example, approximately 60 to 80% of livelihoods in conflict-affected countries depend directly on land, forests, and other natural resources; over 50% of a post-conflict country’s gross domestic product usually comes from agriculture and extractive industries; and 50 to 80% of exports (and sometimes more than 95%) come from natural resources (Bruch 2012, Lujala, ILO).
Austin, J. E., Austin, C. E. Bruch, Eds. 2000. The Environmental Consequences of War: Legal, Economic, and Scientific Perspectives (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge).
Autessere, S. 2010. The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding (Cambridge Univ. Press, New York).
Bruch, C, et al. 2012. International Law, Natural Resources and Post-conflict Peacebuilding: From Rio to Rio+20 and Beyond. Rev. Eur. Commun. Int. Environ. Law 21, 44.
Collier, P., et al. 2012. High-Value Natural Resources and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, P. Lujala, S. A. Rustad, Eds. (Earthscan, London), pp. 297–312.
Kay, C. 2001. Reflections on rural violence in Latin America. Third World Quart. 22, 741.
ILO. LABORSTA. International Labour Organization. (http://laborsta.ilo.org)
Lujala, P. S. A. Rustad, Eds., High-Value Natural Resources and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (Earthscan, London).
Macours, K. 2011. Increasing inequality and civil conflict in Nepal. Oxford Econ. Pap. 63.
Ross, M. 2004. Resisting cultural standardization: Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann and the revitalization of traditional music in Ireland. J. Peace Res. 41, 227.
Rustad, S.A., et al. 2010. “Rapid recurrence: Natural resources, armed conflict, and peace,” (Centre for the Study of Civil War, working paper, Oslo, Norway).
UN. 2009. From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment (Nairobi). United Nations Environment Programme
UN. 2012. Greening the Blue Helmets: Environment, Natural Resources, and Peacekeeping (Nairobi). United Nations Environment Programme.