Nairobi, 11 March 2009 - The impact of peacekeeping operations on critical natural resources is being highlighted this week at a gathering of military and civilian aid experts at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Studies from various post-conflict countries suggest that the demand for critical natural resources such as wood and water by peacekeepers can be significant. In vulnerable environments, this could have an impact on peacekeeping itself.
Through better planning and management practices, however, this demand could be drastically reduced and even contribute to overall recovery, peacebuilding and development prospects in crisis-affected regions.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The primary role of international peacekeeping forces and aid agencies is to keep the peace and support vulnerable communities during difficult and distressing times."
"But they also have the responsibility to ensure that their presence and operations have a minimal ecological footprint and do not aggravate environmental degradation, which may be a dimension of the conflict," he added.
The meeting, hosted by UNEP and co-organized by the Swedish Defence Research Agency, the UN Department of Field Support, the UN Mission in Sudan, and the Environmental Law Institute, looked at concrete ways to integrate sustainable practices into peacekeeping and relief operations.
These include new technologies to ensure water and energy efficiency, or alternative construction techniques to minimize deforestation.
"There is a growing awareness of the need for action", said Mr. Steiner, "and momentum is now building to find ways of protecting the environment and the long-term livelihoods of affected communities. Some agencies are already leading the way. Their examples of good practice must be built upon to promote this important agenda."
The UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, for example, is investing USD 5 million to green the operations of its 10,000 troops spread across 25 bases. Supported on a pilot basis by the Government of Sweden, the mission is introducing new technologies for the treatment of waste and the efficient use of water and energy, with the ambitious goal of reducing water consumption by 30 percent, energy expenditure by 25 percent, and the volume of waste by 60 percent.
Experts are especially concerned over situations where natural resources and the environment have played a role in triggering or fueling conflict.
The meeting will be presented with a new report, From Conflict to Peacebuilding: the Role of Natural Resources and the Environment, published by UNEP.
It says that at least eighteen violent conflicts since 1990 have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources and at least forty percent of all intrastate conflicts over the last sixty years have had a link to natural resources.
Preliminary findings from a retrospective analysis of intrastate conflicts over the past sixty years also indicate that conflicts associated with natural resources are twice as likely to relapse into conflict in the first five years of peace.
The report concludes that the way that natural resources and the environment are governed has a determining influence on peacebuilding and post-conflict stability. The report demonstrates the need for those linkages to be addressed in a more coherent and systematic way by the UN, Member States and other stakeholders, including peacekeeping forces and relief agencies.
Experts are recommending that the international community can, by adopting sustainable procurement policies make a major contribution to more sustainable peacekeeping and relief operations-from the timber used for construction and water for drinking up to livestock for feeding troops.
Darfur is cited as a case in point. With the collapse of traditional livelihoods in Darfur, many people are turning to unsustainable means of subsistence, some of which are supported by the need for new accommodation for the peacekeeping and humanitarian community. This rapid urbanization is causing an unprecedented demand for timber: over 52,000 trees worth of wood are consumed annually to fuel brick-kilns and provide for infrastructure projects.
This in turn has led to the number of sawmills and carpentry workshops nearly tripling in the four major towns of Darfur and put pressure the region's forest reserves-reserves that have already declined by a third since the early 1970s.
Water is also of concern. While the current conflict has so far coincided with years of above average rainfall, a single year of drought could cause considerable suffering and further conflict. A contingency plan is urgently needed for both the potential social impacts and the peacekeeping mission itself.
Notes to Editors:
UNEP-ICRC workshop on the protection of the environment during conflict
In addition to today's meeting on mitigating the environmental impacts of peacekeeping operations, UNEP, together with ICRC, is organizing a two-day technical workshop on 11-12 March, bringing together fifteen senior experts from a range of backgrounds (legal, academic, military, UN and NGOs) to examine the bodies of international environmental, human rights and humanitarian law governing the protection of the environment during armed conflict.
These bodies of law have grown exponentially over the last 20 years, but the linkages established between the three have so far been timid and isolated when it comes to the environment. The limited number of cases that have been brought before the judiciaries to sanction damages to the environment during hostilities can be seen as evidence of the weakness of the existing legal framework and current system of protection, and of the resulting reluctance of States and individuals to engage in such lawsuits.
The objective of the meeting is to identify the gaps and weaknesses within the existing legal framework and propose an action plan of steps that need to be taken to enhance implementation, enforcement, and eventually reach a higher level of protection for the environment during armed conflicts.
The new UNEP report From Conflict to Peacebuilding: the Role of Natural Resources and the Environment is available online at: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/pcdmb_policy_01.pdf
For UNEP's research on timber and on drought risks in Darfur, see:
Destitution, distortion and deforestation: The impact of conflict on the timber and woodfuel trade in Darfur, available online at: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/darfur_timber.pdf
The case for drought preparedness: Report of the UNEP mission to review water resource management at IDP camps and host communities in Darfur during February & March 2008, available online at: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/darfur_drought.pdf
For more information please contact
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 733 632755 or when traveling +41 79 596 5737, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Silja Halle, Communications Advisor, Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, on Tel: +41 79 634 08 99, or E-mail: email@example.com