All too often, conflict is interwoven with the environment around it. Natural resources can contribute to conflict, help finance conflicts, and be a target of conflict. But natural resources can also enable peacebuilding and support recovery from conflict.
Shortages of water and arable land can worsen existing ethnic and political tensions or cause old animosities to flare up, spurring violence and war. Some conflicts have been fuelled by valuable natural resources, such as timber in Liberia or minerals in Sierra Leone.
Today, it is critical to incorporate natural resources, climate change, and other environmental stresses into efforts to maintain and build peace in conflict-prone societies. Building peace means addressing the root causes of tensions, meeting the basic needs for life (water, food, shelter, and livelihoods), reintegrating former combatants into their communities, and strengthening governance.
Sustainable natural resource management can increase the chances that these peacebuilding measures will succeed, and thus help to prevent conflict from returning. Improving the management of natural resources can provide opportunities for more effective and equitable governance overall.
Pastoralists and farmers transcribe their agreed action points and recommendations to help restore stability in the region.
North Darfur: Water Harvesting
The Darfur region of Sudan has experienced, over the last half century, rapid population growth, periodic drought and a cycle of conflict that has displaced millions from their villages, many of whom now live in Internally Displaced Person camps near towns – putting pressure on the region's already strained natural environment.
Since competition over resources has contributed to conflict in the first place, worsening the natural environment so many depend on is neither sustainable nor supportive of recovery and peace.
In an effort to address this, UN Environment and partners, North Darfur State Government and Practical Action Sudan, show how effective and inclusive natural resource management can improve livelihoods and achieve peaceful relationships.
The Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project is funded by the European Union.
North Darfur: Natural resources strengthen cooperation
Since 2003, armed conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has scarred both people and the environment. The conflict, which has ranged across national borders, has eroded social cohesion and institutions, making it more difficult to sustainably manage natural resources and maintain livelihoods — and easier for armed groups to recruit young people.
To reverse the cycle of conflict and environmental degradation, UN Environment’s Wadi El Ku Catchment Management project sought to restore safe and sustainable access to natural resources, including fresh water, for the more than 700,000 people who depend on water and land in the area..
To develop solutions, the initiative worked with 30 villages, along with non - governmental organisations and authorities, to improve farming, animal husbandry, and forestry and water management, as well as to strengthen institutions. Working together, farmers and pastoralists created a three-dimensional map of the environmental pressures in the region.
Communities identified efficient water use as a key priority, so villagers built weirs to distribute rainwater for irrigation, increasing agricultural production without competing with other users of their shared water sources. Despite their diverging views, these efforts increased trust between groups, thus planting the seeds of peace.
A panorama of the Andes.
Peru: Tackling conflict to adapt to climate change
In Peru, the historically tense relationship between the Ica and Huancavelica regions has been further exacerbated by recent conflicts over the management of their shared rivers. Downstream Ica’s rapid economic growth was spurred by the construction of major dams and canals in the Andes, which store and divert water away from upstream regions like Huancavelica. The people of Huancavelica, who have not benefited from Peru’s market liberalisation or its overall economic development, felt excluded from the management of their water resources.
Both regions are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including extreme temperatures and increased rainfall variability. The national government and its development partners launched a project to help communities adapt, including efforts to use water more efficiently. The initiative provided training, technical assistance, and small-scale infrastructure to help the population cope with changing weather patterns and to make agriculture and pastoralism more sustainable.
But to be successful, the project had to first address the tensions between the two regions. In joint forums, people from Huancavelica and Ica shared their conflicting perspectives. While these dialogues did not fully resolve the conflicts, the open communication and opportunities to work together helped rebuild trust and improve cooperation, and served as the first steps towards cooperative water management
People participating in an EcoPeace event on the banks of the Jordan River.
For the communities on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, water scarcity, groundwater pollution, and solid waste management are critical challenges and shared burdens.
The “Good Water Neighbours” project was established in 2001 by EcoPeace, a civil society organisation, to raise awareness about the water problems shared by Palestine, Jordan, and Israel. The project uses their mutual dependence on shared water basins, including the waters of the Jordan River, which forms the border between them, as a basis for developing dialogue and problem solving. The initiative has built trust among Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis at the community level and strengthened political will at the national and regional level.
In the midst of the deadlocked conflict in the Middle East, EcoPeace encourages citizens to discover their common responsibility for water and realise the need to join forces to promote regional water security. The organisation is now applying this concept in Bosnia Herzegovina, and has undertaken trainings for civil society groups in other Balkan countries and South Asia. ”Good Water Neighbours” is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Middle East: Peacebuilding through water cooperation
The boundaries, names and designations shown on this map do not imply endorsement or acceptance by supporters or exhibitors of the ECC Exhibition and do not represent the views of the German government.
Middle East Eco Peace: Working together
Water and Energy: Working Together For More Security
In the Middle East, the consequences of climate change are already a reality of life. The region is one of the most water-stressed areas in the world, the average temperature is rising faster than elsewhere, and a massive reduction in rainfall is also expected for the coming years. Adding to the conflicts and quarrels – ranging from the Israeli–Palestinian conflict to Syria and Iraq as well as to rivalries between Iran and the Gulf states – access to and use of natural resources act as yet another crisis amplifier in the region: water is as important here as land ownership and as precious as access to oil.
Video published by onlinekas, 2017.
Jordan River, 2015
People participating in an EcoPeace event on the banks of the Jordan River.
Middle East Eco Peace
Originally founded as “EcoPeace” in 1994, the environmental non-governmental organization brings together Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis to promote cooperative efforts to further sustainable development and peace in the region.
Working with a water-saving agricultural technology
People getting water from a well