War and armed conflict shred the fabric of sustainable development. They expand poverty, stunt opportunity and undermine fundamental human rights. No conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single Millennium Development Goal. As we look beyond the 2015 MDG deadline, we must recognize peace and security as a critical “fourth dimension” of sustainable development.
We must also acknowledge that durable peace and post-conflict development depend on environmental protection and good governance of natural resources. There can be no peace if the resource base that people depend on for sustenance and income is damaged or destroyed – or if illegal exploitation finances or causes conflict.
Since 1990, at least 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources such as timber, minerals, oil and gas. Sometimes this is caused by environmental damage and the marginalization of local populations who fail to benefit economically from natural resource exploitation. More often it is caused by greed.
In Afghanistan, some have voiced fears that recently discovered mineral deposits – worth an estimated trillion US dollars – could perpetuate civil conflict. In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, rich reserves of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold that could be used to raise standards of living for millions of people are instead being used to finance armed groups and prolong violence. And throughout Africa, elephant populations are being decimated to feed the global illegal ivory trade, which in turn is funding rebels, criminal networks and other destabilizing forces.
To date, six United Nations peacekeeping missions have been mandated to support the host country’s ability to re-establish control over its resource base and stop illicit extraction by armed groups. However, we need a greater international focus on the role of natural resource management in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to sustainably managing and safeguarding vital natural resources in times of peace and war. Let us do more to prevent conflicts over natural resources and maximize their benefits for maintaining and building peace. The resource curse must no longer be allowed to undermine the security of fragile and conflict-affected states and the foundations of sustainable development.