Lead Authors: Chris Huggins, Munyaradzi Chenje, Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere
Contributing Author: Franck Attere

“Safeguarding the environment is a crosscutting United Nations’ activity. It is a guiding principle of all our work in support of sustainable development. It is an essential component of poverty eradication and one of the foundations of peace and security.”



Peace is a prerequisite for human development and effective environmental management, both of which are critical to Africa achieving national and regional goals, such as those of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its environmental action plan (NEPAD-EAP), as well as globally agreed objectives, including those of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which focuses on promoting economic development with a view to eradicating poverty and placing countries – individually and collectively – on a path of sustainable growth and development, recognizes the importance of peace:

“The three pillars of sustainable development, however, cannot be achieved without peace and security on the continent” (NEPAD 2003a).


“We are determined to increase our efforts in restoring stability, peace and security in the African continent. These are essential conditions for sustainable development, alongside democracy, good governance, human rights, social development, and the protection of the environment and sound economic management” (NEPAD 2002).

Cooperation at different levels – from local to national, to sub-regional, to regional, and to international – and peace represent the key to unlock many opportunities for sustainable development.

Peace, development
and environmental
protection are
and indivisible.

Principle 25, Rio Declaration

Conflict can only continue to exacerbate the problems faced in the region, as it impacts directly on economic potential and human well-being, shattering the very foundations of society. The data and information on the impacts of conflict in Africa are staggering: since 1970, more than 30 wars have been fought in Africa, seriously undermining regional efforts to ensure long-term stability, prosperity and peace (UN 1998). More than 350 million people in Africa live in countries that are affected by conflict (Michailof and others 2002). This has multiple implications for the real opportunities available to people, and it undercuts their capability to lead lives that they value. There is a strong negative correlation between conflict and human development: in 2005 most of the countries with the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) rankings were also those immersed in conflict or had recently emerged from it (OSAA 2005). The resources available to people are diminished – for example, through the loss of access to land and other natural resources on which livelihoods are based, and the loss of access to education and health care – and so is their freedom to choose. Severe military conflict in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is reported to cut life expectancy by four to six years and to contribute to a rise in infant mortality (Ghobarah and others 2001). Conflict increases the threat of bodily harm, and destroys the social and political networks on which social cohesion is based, consequently increasing the incidence of social exclusion (OSAA 2005). Women and girls face the risk of rape and kidnapping; in many of Africa’s conflicts this assault on women has been used as a weapon (OSAA 2005). In Rwanda, for example at least 250 000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide, and many were deliberately infected with HIV/AIDS; 17 per cent of internally displaced women and girls surveyed in Sierra Leone had experienced sexual violence – both war- and non-war-related – including rape, torture and sexual slavery (Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf 2002). During South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, the systematic physical abuse of women prisoners was an important aspect of that conflict (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2003, Russel 1989) Recognizing the importance of gender in conflict, in 2000 the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

By the end of 2003, more than half of the total 24 million internally displaced people (IDP) worldwide were found in 20 African states (Norwegian Refugee Council 2004). In 2004, there were almost 2.9 million officially registered refugees in Africa (UNHCR 2004), and many more people living outside of their country of origin without legal protection. By 2005, this number had risen to 4.9 million. Refugees and IDPs are amongst the most vulnerable people.

Armed conflict is a major expense, resulting in the diversion of essential resources from human and economic development. For example, the diversion of resources to finance war in Central Africa was about US$1 000 million annually, and more than US$800 million in Western Africa (World Bank 2000). Refugee assistance is an additional cost and has been estimated at more than US$500 million for Central Africa alone (World Bank 2000).

For Africa, therefore, there can be no alternative to peace and regional cooperation, and the environment is a key factor. Principle 25 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development emphasizes (UN 1992):

“Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.”

However, the issue of peace is much broader than simply armed conflict. The report of the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change – A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility – states:

“... we know all too well that the biggest security threats we face now, and in the decades ahead, go far beyond states waging aggressive war. They extend to poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation ...” (UN 2004).

Africa has made considerable progress towards building peace. In 1998, there were 14 countries who were in engaged in armed conflict or civil strife; by August 2005, the UN Secretary-General reported that only 3 countries were engaged in major conflict although many more countries were involved in civil strife of a lower intensity (UN General Assembly 2005). Most countries have greatly improved their governance systems, yet for many a combination of historical, external and internal factors continue to contribute to conflict.