Call to bring natural resource management to peace-building


KARACHI: States, intergovernmental organizations and other partners need to step up efforts to better integrate natural resource management into post-conflict reintegration programmes, according to a new UN report.

The report entitled “Role of Natural Resources in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration – Addressing Risks and Seizing Opportunities’, launched in New York stresses that natural resources, – which in many conflict-affected countries, can be used to fuel and finance armed groups – can also play a major role in bringing about sustainable peace.

The report further suggests that incorporating natural resources into plans for reintegration and recovery can also help to mitigate potential conflicts, such as disputes over land or water. The report also emphasizes that natural resources, such as minerals, oil, gas and timber and need to be properly managed in order to achieve these goals.

It notes that, despite the opportunities that they present, plans for the fair management and distribution of natural resources are usually excluded from peace negotiations and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes, which have become an integral part of the UN’s post-conflict peace consolidation over the last 20 years.

“Natural resources need to be managed properly as part of a well thought-out peace process”, he stressed. “For example, access to land needs to be taken into consideration, especially for vulnerable groups, such as women, who play a particularly important role as they are primarily responsible for providing food, water and other basic resources for households.”

The report encourages UN Member States and the international community to focus on reducing the risks posed by natural resources for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters, while offering increased opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for communities as a whole.

The development of this report was supported jointly by UNDP and UNEP’s Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding (ECP) Programme. It is the first public report of a UNDP-UNEP Joint Initiative on Reintegration, Livelihoods Recovery and Natural Resources.

The report was funded through contributions from the European Union and the Governments of the Netherlands and Finland. Since 1990, one-third of UN peacekeeping operations have taken place in areas where the conflicts have been economically fuelled by, or otherwise driven by, natural resources. The ways in which these resources can potentially lead to conflict are numerous. For example, transboundary dynamics – including unequal or inflexible land use, environmental degradation, migration of people and wildlife, and illegal exploitation – can spark discord between communities.

Moreover, in times of war, wildlife and natural resources can be severely exploited. Studies indicate that militias in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are behind much of the country’s illegal logging, mining, charcoal production and poaching, in particular of gorillas. An illegal trade in timber and minerals is estimated at between $14 million and $50 million annually, and has helped to fuel longstanding civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has left over 5.4 million people dead and nearly 2 million displaced.

It is estimated that over half of the mines in eastern DRC – which has a total mineral wealth estimated at US $24 trillion – are under the control of armed groups. While DDR programmes have featured prominently in the UN’s peacekeeping mandates for decades, more recently, UNDP and UNEP have spearheaded efforts to incorporate natural resources into DDR-based solutions. In addition, the sound management of natural resources – and the ability of a government to develop and tax them – has a substantial effect on the government’s legitimacy and overall recovery. For example, in Sierra Leone, natural resources that were implicated in the country’s civil conflict (i.e., mineral resources) now make up 90 per cent of the country’s exports.

Across the UN system, experts are working to ensure that natural resources are used in ways that contribute to the solution to, and not the cause of, conflict. In that vein, the UN’s Policy for Post-Conflict Employment Creation, Income Generation and Reintegration – a three-track strategy focusing on economic recovery and ensuring that former combatants find decent work – has identified multiple entry points for natural resources.

To help stabilize income generation and provide emergency employment, for example, former combatants can take part in cash-for-work schemes, such as clearing debris. Community infrastructure development – such as building schools and setting up irrigation systems – can assist with local economic recovery.

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