Challenging the Peace: Valuable Natural Resources and Peacebuilding

Challenging the Peace: Valuable Natural Resources and Peacebuilding

High-value natural resources have historically been associated with dozens of armed conflicts, millions of deaths and the collapse of several peace processes, and both case studies and statistical evidence confirm that such resources play a role in sparking and fueling armed civil conflict. According to recent research, between 1970 and 2008 the portion of armed civil conflicts that were in some way related to high-value natural resources ranged from 30-60 percent each year.

Why is peace so difficult to achieve and sustain in the presence of these resources? High-value natural resources can directly increase the risk of conflict in a number of ways—when access to revenues motivates or finances belligerent movements, for instance, or when grievances are created by unmet expectations or inequalities in the distribution of revenues, jobs and other benefits. The negative side effects of resource exploitation can also play a direct role. The risk of conflict can be indirectly increased when resource sectors undermine economic performance and the quality of governance institutions. Thus, the three main avenues that lead from natural resources to armed conflict are resource capture, resource-related grievances and adverse effects on the economy and institutions.

In conflict-ridden countries endowed with high-value natural resources such as oil, gemstones, timber and valuable minerals, peace brings high expectations for development and prosperity. When conflict dies down, governments are expected to get mining and exploitation underway to boost the economy and provide incentives for keeping the peace. Done right, managing high-value natural resources can reinforce peacebuilding objectives by improving livelihoods, creating jobs, rebuilding infrastructure, fostering democratization, strengthening civil society, compensating victims, and supporting disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Revenue from natural resources can also become an important source of foreign currency for cash-strapped governments, helping them become less dependent on international assistance.

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