Conflict is a major driver of environmental change, and it has significant implications for development and human well-being (Ghobarah and others 2001, Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf 2002, Luckham and others 2001). Many of the conflicts in the region are internal and cross-border disagreements often relate to natural resource use. The challenges posed by conflict are discussed fully in Chapter 12: Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation.

Since 1970, more
than 30 wars have
been fought in
Africa, and the
vast majority of
them were
intra-state in origin.

Kofi Annan,
Secretary-General of the
United Nations
(UN 1998)

As discussed in that chapter, the implications of conflict are far-reaching:

  • Conflicts have led directly and indirectly to the deaths of many thousands of civilians. In 1998, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), noted that, “since 1970, more than 30 wars have been fought in Africa, and the vast majority of them were intra-state in origin” (UN 1998).
  • Conflicts affect how the environment is used. For example, landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) make land inaccessible and pose a physical threat to people and animals.
  • Conflict diverts financial resources away from development for the purchase of weapons and other military equipment.
  • Conflict threatens human well-being by increasing food insecurity, ill health, violence and crime. It may also affect education and health opportunities. It reduces access to essential material assets, including natural resources, which are the basis of livelihoods and well-being. This may include access to land, markets and information.
  • Conflict results in the destruction of infrastructure, and the deterioration of services due to neglect is common. Infrastructure such as roads, bridges, markets, clinics and schools are often targeted by combatants.
  • Conflict results in displacement of people, and the breakdown of social cohesion. Cross-border movement of people impacts on host countries, for example in terms of increased demands on natural resources. Refugee populations are among the most vulnerable social groups in the world.

The impacts of conflict cannot be assessed in quantitative terms alone. For example, there are unknown opportunity costs in terms of possible avenues for development which are blocked by insecurity. Conflicts can result in the transformation of the social, political and economic space, and often have the result of “militarizing” many aspects of life. Violence occurs not just between combatants, but also in the domestic sphere: the pressures of life during wartime often result in an increase in gender-based violence (Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf 2002) and the abuse of children. Conflicts and peace breaches make it more difficult to achieve cooperation, including cooperation over the environment. Women, in particular, become vulnerable to attack as they access natural resources such as firewood and freshwater in periods of war. The cultural fabric that constitutes communities can be torn apart. Management of natural resources is an important part of this cultural fabric, and one which is also vital for the provision of basic needs such as food, warmth and shelter.

The regional impacts of conflict are in many ways an incentive for regional solutions and cooperation, and there have been multiple regional responses that seek to improve cooperation around the environment. The AU, along with sub-regional bodies, plays a critical role in peace-building and cooperation. There is enhanced openness on the part of many African governments to discuss problems of conflict which were previously treated as “internal” and to seek regional or international solutions.