UN Secretary-General António Guterres says since 1990, 75 per cent of civil wars in Africa have been partially funded by revenues from natural resources. He says the illegal extraction of minerals, timber, charcoal, and wildlife has fuelled violence in a number of regions.
“In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it has generated almost a billion dollars in revenue for rebels and criminal groups. Likewise, in the Central African Republic, the illicit exploitation of minerals by numerous armed groups and militias has contributed to sustain and prolong the conflict,” he said.
According to his address to the UN Security Council on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: The Root Causes of Conflict – The Role of Natural Resources, Guterres said the exploitation of natural resources or competition over them, could and does lead to violent conflict. Thanking the Bolivian Presidency for convening the debate, Guterres said preventing, managing and resolving such conflicts was one of the major and growing challenges of the time.
He said UN studies show that more than 40 per cent of internal armed conflicts over the last 60 years had been linked to natural resources.
Guterres said with the increasing impacts of climate change evident in all regions, the risks were only going to grow. He said other global trends such as growing population, increasing consumption, and environmental degradation were also placing significant and potentially unsustainable pressures on the availability of many natural resources.
“These include oil, gas, minerals, water and land,” Guterres said. “Unfair distribution of natural resources, corruption and mismanagement can and do lead to conflict, especially in countries with weaker institutions. These pressures can also exacerbate existing ethnic or religious divides within societies and across borders.”
Guterres said more needed to be done to regulate the provenance, sale and trade of minerals through cooperative arrangements involving civil society, governments and regional and international organisations.
He said a positive example was the Kimberley process, which succeeded in reducing the trade in conflict diamonds.
He said through certified extraction, production and fair trade practices, and with a focus on aiding local communities, lawlessness could be countered and tangible benefits brought to conflict-affected populations.
Guterres said shared natural resources had traditionally also been a catalyst for cooperation among States, communities and people
He said mutual benefits generally acted as an incentive for sustained peaceful dialogue, which in turn could generate cooperation and understanding in other areas.
“For example, benefit-sharing on water resources has a long history among the riparian States of the Senegal River Basin. In South America, Lake Titicaca, the largest freshwater lake on the continent, has long been a source of cooperation between Bolivia and Peru,” Guterres noted.
“And, from my own experience, the Albufeira Convention, agreed during my time as prime minister of Portugal, continues to promote good relations and cooperation on water management between Portugal and Spain. In Central Asia, progress is being achieved in the area of trans-boundary water management through ongoing consultations of Central Asian states supported by the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy. In Iraq, the UN mission is working to reinforce peace and stability through the development of a land disputes project to promote confidence-building among communities and increase inclusivity.”
He also said in the Lake Chad Basin, cooperation on water had also played a critical role in bringing countries together to address broader challenges of the region.
“In short, the United Nations recognizes the potential for shared management of natural resources as a means for preventing conflict and enhancing regional cooperation for peace and sustainable development,” Guterres said. “…As part of the Joint United Nations-African Union Framework for an Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security, I welcome the ongoing cooperation between our respective Organizations to support the Panel of the Wise in its efforts to improve prevention, mediation and the resolution of conflicts over natural resources in Africa.”
He said the UN also recognised that issues relating to land remained a critical factor.
“Following the initial Scoping Study in 2016 conducted by UN-Habitat, I have recently finalized a Guidance Note to ensure greater strategic convergence across the United Nations system to help address issues of land and conflict,” said Guterres. “There is a lot of work to do on this critical issue. If we address it effectively, we will go a long way towards creating a safe and sustainable world for everyone, now and in the future.”