Thinking differently about the environment

Pekka HaavistoA Finnish parliamentarian and a UNEP practitioner speak on natural resources as sources of conflict and as the basis for peace

Conflict in relation to resource use is a principal concern in East Africa. Kenya, in particular, is endeavouring to ensure security with respect to resource-based challenges.

David Jensen, policy and planning coordinator of Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch (PCDMB) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), examined natural resource issues recently at a seminar held at UNEP in Nairobi, with a particular focus on peace holding in the region.

With regard to UNEP's focus on natural resources and conflicts, the government of Finland has acted as a key partner.

Speaking on environment and conflict, and his work with UNEP over many years, Finnish Member of Parliament and Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Pekka Haavisto observed that peace holding, resource use and environmental management are interlinked in critical ways, and affect the world's poorest people in dramatic fashion.

Particular regard was paid at the same UNEP event by Pekka Haavisto to water use and availability in relation to population growth and human development. Water is a potential source of conflict across the world.

In Africa, governments are presently engaged in politically sensitive actions to secure and preserve water resources. Drawing an analogy in another resource, Mr Haavisto posed the question, "We all know about oil wars. We ask, can there be an oil peace?"

The underlying approach to resolution, then, would have a large component of reframing, redefining, of interpreting conditions, experiences and prospects differently - of using language differently, and of behaving more positively at state and corporate levels. Pekka Haavisto stressed that this applies, also, to the development of institutions where none have exited.

Returning to resources, redressing resource issues
Earlier, David Jensen had spoken of the "natural resource curse" - a phenomenon in which an abundance of natural resources actually leaded to impoverishment and conflict, relative both to other nations and to pre-existing socio-economic conditions.

He added that UNEP is currently assessing potentials for improved distribution of natural resources in Côte d'Ivoire - an economy that had been stable and growing until the collapse of cocoa prices in 1985, and the military coup of 1999. Associated with this is subsequent financing of military activity through sale of sales of diamond and gold and taxation of cocoa production.

David Jensen expressed the view that Côte d'Ivoire may address the environmental impacts of conflict by creating value-added processes for cocoa and rubber, to great jobs, by transformation of informal sectors to formal businesses, by improved energy distribution, by creation of a sizeable nature-based tourism sector, and by land reclamation and reforestation.

Opportunities for security and development
An organisational and institutional focus may be found in the work of the Global Centre on Conflict, Security and Development (CCSD) - which offers opportunities for research, knowledge-building and development, underpinned by efforts towards prevention and resolution of conflict or violent situations.

A significant initiative undertaken by CCSD is The Hive, a Web-based knowledge platform designed to connect practitioners, researchers, policymakers, individuals and organisations attempting to deal with issues of violence, conflict and societal, economic and political fragility.

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