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Conflict and natural resources

  • UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran
Environmental factors are rarely, if ever, the sole cause of violent conflict. However, it is clear that the exploitation of natural resources and related environmental stresses can become significant drivers of violence.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggests that in the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts have a link to natural resources, and that this link doubles the risk of a conflict relapse in the first five years. Since 1990, at least 18 violent conflicts have been fueled by the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources like timber, diamonds, gold, minerals and oil, or scarce ones like fertile land and water.

Climate change is not a direct source of conflict, but is seen as a threat multiplier that exacerbates resource scarcity and existing vulnerabilities. The Security Council has recognized the possible security implications of climate change. Farmer and herder conflicts are examples of conflicts that are driven, among other things, by competition over natural resources. Historically, the livelihoods of farmers and herders complemented each other and had longstanding agreements which allowed for peaceful dynamics between the two groups during the season of transhumance. However, over the past few decades, these arrangements have come under increasing pressure due to a multitude of factors. These include but not limited to competition over access to dwindling natural resources, adverse effects of climate change and evolving socio-economic patterns. These conflicts have led to rapidly escalating tensions and conflicts that have claimed thousands of lives between herder and farming communities.

Every 6 November, the UN celebrates the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The UN and the Secretary-General also recognize the need to integrate questions of natural resource allocation, ownership and access into peacebuilding strategies in the immediate aftermath of conflict.