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Conflict and resources

Environmental factors are rarely, if ever, the sole cause of violent conflict. However, it is clear that the exploitation of natural resources and related environmental stresses can become significant drivers of violence.

A peacekeeper opening a water tap from a UN water truck for two boys.

UN Photo/Ky Chung

A member of the Bolivian contingent of MINUSTAH opens a water tap for a young boy.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggests that in the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts have a link to natural resources, and that this link doubles the risk of a conflict relapse in the first five years. Since 1990, at least 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources, whether ‘high-value’ resources like timber, diamonds, gold, minerals and oil, or scarce ones like fertile land and water.

Climate change is also seen as a ‘threat multiplier’, exacerbating threats caused by persistent poverty or weak resource management. The Security Council recognized the possible security implications of climate change.

However, only a few peacekeeping missions have been clearly mandated to help the host country better manage its natural resources:

International Day

Every 6 November, the UN celebrates the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The UN and the Secretary-General also recognize the need to integrate questions of natural resource allocation, ownership and access into peacebuilding strategies in the immediate aftermath of conflict.