Establishing sustainable peace in post-conflict countries: The role of Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment and cooperative resource management

Principal 25 of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992), states that “peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible” (Volume 1, principal 25). The truth in this is clear, as issues of environmental degradation and human conflict have always coexisted. From the collapse of Easter Island’s complex society to the modern warfare over African diamonds, environmental degradation has long caused conflict (Diamond, 2005, Chapter 2). However, I often ask myself if this relationship of dependence can be reversed. Since peace and environmental protection are indivisible, can environmental protection foster peace? In other words can cooperative environmental management be used as a catalyst for peacekeeping and conflict resolution?

This idea is coined “environmental peacekeeping” and many international institutions have officially recognized it. The United Nations Environment Programme has in fact partnered with their Department of Peace Keeping Operations, to conduct Post-Conflict Environmental Assessments (PCEAs) (Jensen & Halle, 2012). According to UNEP, “conflicts associated with natural resource [scarcity] are twice as likely to relapse into conflict in the first five years” (Halle, 2009). PCEAs therefore aim to identify the environmental impacts so that they can be restored and conflict-relapse, due to resource scarcity, can be avoided. PCEAs also help identify areas where environmental cooperation can be achieved.  The implementation of cooperative resource management projects presents a platform for dialogue and communication. Finally, the UN program of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants should incorporate natural resource management into its procedures (Halle, 2009). By incorporating ex-combatants in community based natural resource projects they are given a source of livelihood within the community that is independent of violence. This reduces their chance of relapse into armed groups and successfully reintegrates them into society (Jensen & Halle, 2012).

Sudan’s civil war, which ended in 2005, is a prime example of how PCEAs are necessary in post-conflict environmental management and how they aim to establish sustainable peace in areas of historical unrest (Sudan PCEA, 2007). Above is a video documenting the UN’s initiative to perform a PCEA in post-conflict Sudan.

The results of this PCEA show a need for better management in the waste sector and so UNEP partnered with a private recycling company, in a DDR initiative, to hire ex-combatants and reintegrate them into society (Jensen & Halle, 2012; Sudan PCEA, 2007).

Image from Sudan PCEA report showing need for waste management in Sudan. This present opportunity for the DDR recycling initiative.

Image from Sudan PCEA report showing need for waste management in Sudan, presenting opportunity for the DDR recycling initiative. (Source: Sudan PCEA, 2007)

Environmental peacekeeping presents a positive opportunity to utilize a common concern for the environment to achieve sustainable and lasting peace in areas of historical unrest.  In a world that so often stakes resource scarcity against human conflict, the ideology of environmental peacekeeping reconciles the two and strives for the protection of both environment and human rights. Despite this optimistic stance, a realistic look into the limitations of such peacekeeping methods must be considered. Major challenges include lack of funding, lack of political will, significant cultural differences, and lack of empowerment (Harari & Roseman, 2008). All these issues limits the efficacy of environmental peacekeeping; it may work on paper, but in practice it is a whole other issue.

References:

Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development – Volume 1. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm 

Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York, NY: Viking (Penguin Group).

Jensen, D. & Halle, S. (2012). Greening the Blue Helmets: Environment, Natural Resources, and UN Peacekeeping Operations. United Nations Environment Programme. ISBN: 978-92-807-3237-5

Halle, S. (2009). From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment. United Nations Environment Programme. ISBN: 978-92-807-2957-3    

Sudan Post Conflict Environmental Assessment (Sudan PCEA). (2007). United Nations Environment Programme. ISBN: 978-92-807-2702-9

Harari, N. & Roseman, J. (2008). Environmental Peacebuilding: Theory and Practice. EcoPeace & Friends of the Earth Middle East.

Carius, A. (2006). Environmental Cooperation as an Instrument of Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding: Conditions for Success and Constraints. Adelphi Consult (commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development)

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