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Throughout history, natural resources have been the cause of many conflicts. While scarcity of resources such as water has been the cause of conflict among communities for the remaining water supply, the abundance of expensive resources such as diamonds has also been a cause of conflict in countries such as Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia, and Angola which have experienced decades of civil war over diamonds. [1] Other countries where natural resources are the cause of conflict are Guatemala, Nepal, and Yemen. [2]

While control over natural resources become a source of conflict, the conflicts that take place have been the cause of severe damage to countries’ environment as well. Research data indicates that 90 percent of the major armed conflicts from 1950 to 2000 occurred in countries which contain biodiversity hot-spots, heightening their impact on the environment. [3] While some damages to eco-systems and natural resources due to conflicts are intentional, others are indirect impacts. Irrespective of the manner in which the damages occur, their impacts remain over many years and increase the vulnerabilities of those affected by conflict. One of the many examples of conflicts creating grave impacts to the environment and natural resources could be the Persian Gulf War, in which over 500 oil wells were torched and destroyed.

Focusing on the important role that natural resources play in creation of conflicts and the impacts the environment endures due to them, many efforts at peace building in post war contexts turn to concepts that interlink resilience building in the post war/conflict areas with environmental protection. With impacts of phenomena such as climate change that affects the available resources, scientists project many conflicts to erupt in countries where natural resources are more vulnerable to such impacts, many of them in Asia and the Pacific. [4] And it is highly important that environmental management ensures that resource depletion does not lead to communal impacts which in turn lead to conflicts.

Initiatives which combine environmental protection with peace building include negotiations for resource sharing, as well as collective communal actions for resource utilization and protection. Good governance is key to avoiding conflicts due to unbalanced access to resources. And an increased awareness on ecosystems contributes to better protection of existing resources and a decrease in the scarcity of resources.

Many stakeholders in countries that have experienced civil wars and conflicts have engaged in practicing environmental peace building. This includes the United Nations as well as national governments and civil society organisations which have engaged in creating awareness, as well as taking active initiatives focusing on both environmental protection and peace building as a combined effort. Examples of such actions could be the development of the Forest Law and Policy in Liberia (2006) which aimed to prevent corruption and illegal logging.

Such efforts embrace the concept of environmental peacebuilding which focuses on integrating natural resource management in conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery to build resilience in communities affected by conflict. [5] These efforts focus on how natural resources such as land use or control over water and ecosystems could be better structured in order to avoid conflicts, as well as how the supply of resources could be better governed in post conflict areas.

This article is an introduction on how environment and conflicts interlink, and aims for a better understanding of ways to address conflicts through environmental and ecosystem-based systems as well as through good governance. It is published as a first step to articles on different issues of focus for a better understanding of how natural resources can be the cause of conflicts, as well as how impacts and vulnerabilities increased through climate change and resource depletion can be addressed through strategic and well managed ways to ensure that conflicts based on resource distribution are avoided.


[1] Conflict and Natural Resources, The Environment and Literacy Council, Retrieved from: https://enviroliteracy.org/land-use/conflict-natural-resources/

[2] Curwin, Daniel, “How Resource Wealth Fuels War,” The National Interest, Retrieved from: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-role-natural-resource-wealth-armed-conflicts-12195

[3] Ibid

[4] Blondel, Alice, “Climate Change Fuelling Research Based Conflict in Asia and the Pacific,” UNDP (2012) Restrived from: https://www.uncclearn.org/sites/default/files/inventory/undp304.pdf

[5] Environmental Peacebuilding, Retrieved from: https://environmentalpeacebuilding.org/