How exploiting natural resources could fuel violent conflict

Author: Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post (USA), Published on: 24 March 2016

"How exploiting the Earth can fuel violent conflict"

At the end of May, the U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA) will convene for the second time ever in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and the environmental challenges facing today’s world. And it looks like one major theme to be addressed — one that’s a growing concern among world leaders and activists — is the link between violent conflict and an increasingly over-exploited natural world... It’s well-established that environmental crises can threaten food security, increase water stress, cause upticks in disease, undermine the economy and even displace entire populations of people. But an issue that’s starting to gain traction among scientists and policymakers alike is the connection between environmental instability and war, civil unrest or other forms of human conflict.

“I think we have, for a long time, overlooked often the root causes of conflict,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director. “When civil strife, civil wars, internal conflicts happen, the attention is on, so to speak, the immediacy of the battle zone.” But, he said, studies are increasingly suggesting that natural resources and the environment are often a central factor in these conflicts — and this can happen in three main ways. First, issues involving natural resources can be the direct cause of conflicts. Second, they can help prolong conflicts that already exist. And third, they can help revive conflicts that had paused or ended.

 

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