Environmental and socioeconomic impacts of armed conflict in Africa

December 20, 2010, 10:51 am


caption Conflict in Darfur, Sudan, has displaced thousands of people. Here IDP with makeshift shelters in a temporary camp in northern Darfur, December 2004. (Source: J. Prinsloo)

Armed conflict may have multiple, long- and short-term impacts on development, and on environmental and human well-being. The affects, even of internal conflicts, are felt at various spatial levels, within the immediate area of conflict, and often in neighbouring countries. Conflict may undercut or destroy environmental, physical, human and social capital, diminishing available opportunities for sustainable development.

Conflict impacts on human well-being, reducing quality of life, the capabilities of people to live the kinds of lives they value, and the real choices they have. It results in the loss of lives, livelihoods and opportunity, as well as of human dignity and fundamental human rights.

caption landmines have severe human costs. (Source:P. Jeffrey/ACT)

Livelihoods are directly affected through decreased access to land, and inadequate access to natural resources, as a result of exclusion, displacement and the loss of biodiversity. Conflict can set in motion a cycle of degradation and human vulnerability. Human vulnerability refers not only to the exposure to negative environmental change, but also to the ability to cope with such change through either adaptation or mitigation. Conflict contributes to the breakdown of social cohesion and the disruption of local governance systems; this in turn may result in established safety nets becoming unavailable. The increase in social and economic vulnerability, as result of conflict, may in the face of environmental and land degradation, trigger new tensions and conflict over critical resources, such as water or food. The incidence of poverty may increase, not only through the loss of livelihoods but also as a result of a growing inability of people to cope with change. This loss of resilience is also directly linked to diminished access to public services, resulting in, for example, an increasing incidence of ill health, a contraction in formal employment opportunities, the destruction of subsistence livelihoods, and other entitlements failures which affect consumption and nutrition, as well as the weakening of social cohesion and heightening insecurity. The use of landmines, for example, has severely limited access to land, both during the conflict and in the long term. Conflict is estimated to result, on average, in production losses of 12 percent and to undercut growth in the agricultural sector by 3 percent per year. War, therefore, by increasing the gap between food production and need, aggravates poverty and hunger, and consequently promotes continued dependence on food aid.

caption Figure 1: Refugee influx adjacent to national parks. (Source: UNEP/DEWA/GRID 2005; data from UNHCR 2004)

The full impacts of landmines on human well-being and livelihoods, and ecosystems are not well understood; and there is a need for systematic and comprehensive study of their impacts. These costs cannot be measured in only economic terms; landmines are designed to maim, and the resulting bodily harm, for example to limbs and reproductive organs, can have severe psychological impacts on those affected. For example, due to prejudice and cultural factors in some communities, injured unmarried women may have reduced opportunities to marry and have children. Landmines are cheap to use but extremely expensive to decommission. A single mine can often be bought on the black market for US$3, but may cost anything between US$200-1,000 to remove, depending on where it is placed.

The destruction and decay of infrastructure not only affects the provision of essential services but leads to a breakdown in communication, through the loss of roads and telecommunications. This may increase the extent of isolation already experienced by rural communities; it may further diminish their sense of citizenship and contribute to a shrinking of civil society. Infrastructural decay results in the loss of market and other economic opportunities. The Department for International Development (DfID) reports that in the 20 years from 1980 to 2000, Africa lost over 50 percent of its infrastructure as a result of conflict. For example, in southern Sudan there is no viable road network, and Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are entirely dependent on air transport due to the collapse of infrastructure.

Local, national and international issues are all significant in generating and perpetuating conflict, and interact in different and changing ways. At the local level, controversies over resource access can be a factor in the formation of armed groups, which are often linked to larger national or international “political” conflicts or economic interests. This may result in the militarization of the local socioeconomic space, including increasingly bloody competition over economic infrastructure and resources, extraction systems and trade networks. In some cases, this may be manifested in rent-seeking behaviour by those with access to military power, or even direct appropriation and transfer of assets. This militarization may limit access to markets for local people, pushing up transaction costs and effectively driving up the cost of living.

The displacement of people is a major social and economic cost of serious conflict, in the short term as well as in post-conflict periods. Typically, the casualties of modern armed conflicts are civilians. Because conflict often takes on ethnic overtones, and because modern African conflicts generally involve militias and guerrillas rather than regular troops, it is all too easy for civilians to be targeted just because they share the same ethnic or cultural identity as an “enemy group.” Since 1960, more than eight million people have died directly or indirectly as a result of war in Africa, and projections suggest that by 2020 injuries caused by war will have become the eighth most important factor placing a disease burden on society. In a significant number of conflicts, violence has taken new forms, with the deliberate targeting of civilians and an increasing incidence of mutilations, violent rituals and rape. Specific groups, who rely on the collection of natural resources, or farming, as many people in rural Africa do, may be targeted. Women, for example, are often specifically targeted as they collect firewood or water. This “total war” effect, as well as ruthless counter-insurgency strategies employed by some states, can lead to forced displacement and the destruction of homes, crops and food stocks, exacerbating extreme poverty and food insecurity. As a result of the targeting of civilians, large areas can become depopulated and output of agricultural or pastoral production reduced, thus affecting local livelihoods and the national economy. Northern Uganda, where almost 2 million people are displaced on a regular basis, is a case in point. One major, and often lingering effect of such violence, is damage to the social fabric, including informal networks of trust and support, undermining governance and often natural resource management (NRM). This hinders the resurgence of institutions, including markets and NRM institutions, in the post-conflict period.

Children are a major target of conflict and violence. In a significant number of conflicts, including in Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Angola and Mozambique there has been the forced recruitment of child soldiers through, among other things, abductions. In 2001, there were estimated to be 200,000 child soldiers in Africa. Children may be killed or maimed by one group in order to undermine the morale of the other side. As a result of violent conflict, there has also been an increase in the numbers of street children (UN 1999).

caption Figure 2: Conflict contributes to rapid urban growth in Luanda, Angola. (Source: Cain 2004)

Displacements impact directly on neighbouring countries, as refugees flee across international boundaries. However, impacts on neighbouring countries are not limited to these population movements and there may be multiple affects on social cohesion and economic opportunities. There are often complex cross-border links at different levels and between different actors, this includes cross-border operations of armed opposition groups, the international and local arms trade, and the sale of natural resources, narcotics, and other commodities used to sponsor conflict. Around centres of conflict, there are often extended zones of “bounded instability” which experience sporadic violence. Long-term situations of “neither peace nor war” can therefore ensue. International border zones are especially conflict-affected. Typically, these zones of friction are the most politically and economically marginalized, with weak state administrative structures. They are often also, because of their remote nature, havens of biodiversity. The influx of refugees across national borders into areas adjacent to national parks has contributed to immense pressure on these protected areas, often undermining NRM.

Displacements of people also have direct impacts on receiving communities and countries. The burden placed on local infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and sanitation facilities may be considerable and difficult to bear.

Conflict also has macro-level impacts. These include a decline in state capacity, associated with a shrinking revenue base and reduced public spending, and economic stagnation as a result of a fall in exports, hyper-inflation, exchange rate depreciation, disinvestment, and capital flight. The economic impacts, however, are seldom confined to the country of conflict. Countries bordering conflict zones may need to increase security expenditure in military and non-military sectors. Additionally, they may incur new costs in relation to refugees and losses from deteriorating regional trade.

A further feature of conflict is the collapse of public institutions or the inability of these institutions to cope. Conflict can lead to large areas coming under the control of non-state actors. There may be a weakening of environmental institutions and governance systems, resulting in lower managerial capacity. Environmental and other relevant agencies are handicapped through lack of funds or loss of personnel. Low levels of monitoring and evaluation may contribute to biodiversity loss and encourage illegal and unsustainable trade in natural resources. Natural resources in these zones may be exploited at unsustainable rates in order to purchase weapons, or simply to enrich members of the controlling forces. Foreign or multinational companies are often involved in resource exploitation in such zones, for example timber in eastern DRC.

Some of the environmental problems associated with landmines include: habitat degradation, reduced access to water points and other vital resources, species loss, alteration of the natural food chain, and additional pressure on biodiversity. When landmines are found in national parks, game reserves and other conservation areas, they undermine the tourist trade and affect the ability of managers and others to do their work. Endangered or vulnerable species can also be directly affected by landmines. In Angola, thousands of animals including antelopes and elephant fell prey to landmines, and in Mozambique, more than 100 elephants have died. In some cases, landmines have even been used by poachers, as a field of mines can kill or wound an entire herd of elephants, to obtain ivory illegally. Conflict may also have negative impacts on biodiversity in neighbouring countries. In the CAR, for example, traditional hunting of elephants using spears was transformed when small arms started to become readily available due to conflict in neighbouring Chad and Sudan. By the late 1990s, the elephant population had fallen by about 90 percent from levels known during the 1970s, and the rhinoceros population had completely disappeared.

In some cases, conflict can lead to “positive” outcomes for the environment – for example, some areas that become “no-man’s lands” can become havens for wildlife – but the livelihoods of the majority of people rarely, if ever, improve through conflict.

Impacts of conflict on urban areas

caption Box 1: Impacts of war and peace. (Sources: Arvind and Vines 2004, ECA 2005, UNDP 2005, US Department of State 2006a, US Department of State 2006b)

It is estimated that one in three African city-dwellers lives in life-threatening conditions, with the number of the urban poor expected to reach 404 million in 2015, or 46 percent of the population, compared to 241 million people in 1990; this percentage is expected to increase. Conflict can have a distorting affect on settlement and production systems, making a bad situation even worse.

Increased urbanization can be a factor. In Angola, for example, a combination of war-related factors resulted in rapid and unplanned urbanization. The population of the capital city, Luanda, doubled from 1990 to 2001, and the proportion of the total population living in the capital is the highest of any country in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This was in part due to the effects the war had in rural areas, including reduced access to agricultural land because of landmines, related chronic food insecurity, isolation from markets, and the general threat of violence against civilians. Displacement was used as an instrument of war by all parties to the conflict. Between 1.3 million and 2 million people fled their homes from 1992 to 1994, moving primarily to urban areas. Between 1998 and 2002, when hostilities ended, an additional 3.3 million persons were forced to flee their homes.

Infrastructure deterioration is particularly significant, due to a loss of investment as well as a reduced ability to maintain these structures. This has implications for health, communications, education and overall well-being. More than 50 percent of Luanda’s population, and most that live in the musseques, do not have access to piped water. The peri-urban and musseque population is forced to pay for water pumped from the Bengo River and distributed by informal sellers. Incredibly, the poor in Luanda pay up to 10,000 times more per litre for water than do the wealthier inhabitants who live in formal settlements.

The population of Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, has also suffered greatly as a result of war. As in Angola, urbanization rates increased rapidly because of the war, with, for example, rates of 40 percent in Maputo Province in 1991.

Conflict timber

caption In conflict and postconflict situations, the sustainable management of forest resources faces many challenges. (Source: D. Wilke)

In several parts of Africa, timber has become associated with violent conflict. The links between timber exploitation and conflict are essentially of two broad types:

  • First, revenues from the timber trade may be channelled towards activities that perpetuate conflict, such as the purchase of weapons. Thus, “conflict timber” is defined as “timber that has been traded at some point in the chain of custody by armed groups, be they rebel factions or regular soldiers, or by a civilian administration involved in armed conflict or its representatives, either to perpetuate conflict or take advantage of conflict situations for personal gain… conflict timber is not necessarily illegal”.
  • Second, the exploitation of timber may itself be a direct cause of conflict. This may be because of disputes over, for example, ownership of forest resources, the distribution of benefits, local environmental degradation, or social conflicts caused by immigration of timber workers. In some countries, especially when other sources of income are lacking, there is little attempt to ensure that timber production is sustainable or socially responsible.

Poorly defined or unjust land tenure regimes may exacerbate local struggles over access to timber, which can lead to displacement of forest-dwelling communities. Also, timber exploitation may have secondary effects, such as increased cultivation along new “timber roads” and the clear-felling of forests may exacerbate local tensions. More dramatically perhaps, military intervention in another country (often through proxies) may be motivated by a desire to control timber trade in that country.

Timber is a commodity that can be easily transformed into cash to perpetuate conflict. It is relatively simple to extract and process, requiring only chainsaws and vehicles for transportation, rather than the sophisticated equipment used in oil exploration or deep underground diamond mining. Although it is bulky and has a relatively low weight-to-value ratio (especially compared to diamonds, for example), it is a common commodity and therefore, illegal operators can be difficult to trace among the large numbers of buyers and sellers on the global market.

caption Infrastructural damage is a serious consequence of war and conflict. Shown here what remains of the airport at Greenville, Liberia, in 2005. (Source: Y. Katerere)

Armed conflict can have very different effects on timber production, depending on the actors involved, the geographical location of forests, and other factors. In Liberia, civil war allowed powerful actors to take control of the timber industry, grant timber concessions to unscrupulous firms, and buy weapons with the proceeds. Indeed, some timber operators doubled as middlemen in arms deals and in the trade in “blood diamonds”. Usual guidelines for timber harvesting were not followed and those protesting against the trade were beaten, tortured and illegally detained. According to some estimates, the trade in 2000 should have generated a total of US$106 million in taxes. However, only US$6.6 million in tax was actually collected by the government. Sanctions on the timber trade were imposed by the UN in 2003 through Security Council Resolution 1521 and the situation remains problematic, with groups of former rebel troops controlling key timber-producing areas and imposing illegal “taxes” on those transporting timber and other goods.

In the DRC, by contrast, conflict had the effect of reducing the amount of timber being harvested in some areas. The rebel groups, who took over much of the country in the late 1990s, imposed such heavy taxes on timber companies, and the security situation was in general so poor, that many ceased to operate. Some armed groups, having looted the remaining stocks of felled timber, appropriated the equipment belonging to timber companies, making further large-scale timber production difficult. In some areas, timber was extracted to the benefit of local armed groups, as well as neighbouring countries involved in the conflict. At least one neighbouring country that intervened in the conflict was rewarded with logging concessions.

Timber exploitation has negative effects even in countries which are unaffected by violent conflict. As mentioned above, the timber trade, particularly when unregulated, may be associated with negative social and environmental impacts. The opening of new roads in remote forest areas permits the expansion of illegal trade in bushmeat; while logging methods often reduce biodiversity and have a major impact on the livelihoods of poor, resource-dependent communities. At the macrolevel, and especially in countries with few valuable resources other than timber, the trade is associated with corrupt practices, nepotism and tax-dodging. This undermines democracy and reduces the amount of money available for government-led development. Globally, illegal logging on public lands is estimated to result in annual losses of revenues and assets of more than US$10,000 million. Losses are estimated at US$5.3 million annually in Cameroon, US$4.2 million in Congo, US$10.1 million in Gabon, and US$37.5 million in Ghana.

Regulation of “conflict timber” has been even more problematic, due partly to lack of political will in importing countries. However, there have been efforts at the international level to address the issue more comprehensively. The Africa Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (AFLEG) process, which has been facilitated by the World Bank and other organizations, is designed to fit within the NEPAD umbrella. It aims to galvanize international and multistakeholder commitment at high political levels to strengthen capacity for forest law enforcement in Africa, especially in regard to illegal logging and associated trade. At a Pre-Ministerial Meeting in 2002, government representatives from across Africa recognized that armed conflicts have had disastrous impacts on many forests in Africa, and that illegal logging has funded conflicts which have resulted in the destruction of both traditional and modern forest management institutions, rendering law enforcement impossible. The AFLEG Ministerial Conference convened in Yaoundé, Cameroon from 13 to 16 October 2003, brought together ministers from Africa, Europe and North America to consider how partnerships between producers and consumers, donors, civil society and the private sector could address illegal forest exploitation and associated trade in Africa.

Environmental impacts of conflict in Liberia

caption Where natural resource management systems break down, the illegal use of snares to support the bushmeat trade may increase. (Source: Source: D. Wilke)

Liberia has been affected by a total of 14 years of civil war. The conflict has had grave social, economic and environmental impacts. In 1990, one million people – almost a third of the entire population, estimated at 3.3 million – fled the country. By the end of 2003, about a third of these people was still living as refugees in neighbouring countries. Since 1989, about half a million people have been killed in war-related circumstances, and of these, 50 percent were civilians. The conflict also involved large numbers of child soldiers, often supplied with narcotics by militia commanders, and involved in traumatizing attacks on civilians and other atrocities.

The war devastated the economy, which was struggling even before violence broke out, halving gross domestic product (GDP) and completely halting production in key sectors of the economy such as the export trade in iron ore. Since the end of hostilities, the economy has begun to recover, growing at around 15 percent in 2004, primarily as a result of donor support. One side effect of the conflict is the increasing pressure that has been put on forests. This was particularly the case after sanctions were imposed on the trade in diamonds, which was linked to the arms trade and enduring violence in Liberia and the subregion. With diamonds becoming harder to sell, increased emphasis was placed on the production of timber. In 2002, timber exports accounted for more than half of the foreign exchange coming into the country, and more than a quarter of total GDP. Since then, in terms of the UN Security Council Resolution 1521 of 2003 an embargo on the export of timber from Liberia has been imposed.

Deforestation is also the result of increased dependence on charcoal for fuel. Due to infrastructural breakdown as a result of the war, the current availability of mains electricity is just 1 percent of what it was prior to the war. Supplies of kerosene and cooking gas were also disrupted by the war. Consequently, charcoal is the only option for 99 percent of the population. As a proportion of the GDP, charcoal production increased from 2 to 9 percent in 1999. However, during the most violent and unstable periods of conflict (between 1994 and 1996) commercial production of charcoal actually decreased, because of the dangers and difficulties of transporting the commodity in the war zone.

Between 1990 and 2000, forest cover was reduced by 2 percent per year, which amounts to 76,000 ha per year. The Forestry Development Authority, which is meant to regulate the industry has been unable to fulfil its mandate due to lack of capacity. For example, the Authority has only received a fifth of its annual budget since 1990 and employees are owed large sums in unpaid wages. Access to many parts of the country is difficult, due both to the lack of official transport, and the continued presence of armed groups (of ex-combatants) in many areas.

The formal sector has been badly hit, not just in terms of reduced markets but also war-related damage to public infrastructure and private facilities. Fuel storage depots in Monrovia harbour, for example, have been poorly maintained and sustained damage, leading to extensive localized pollution.

Mining is also a problematic sector, but one on which thousands of Liberians rely upon for their livelihoods. For example, prospecting and mining, and hunting have became widespread in Sapo National Park (SNP) due to conflict. Since 2003, intensive mining in the park has occurred and two major mining settlements – called Iraq and Baghdad – were established with a population of between 3,500-5,000 people. Research, in the region of Iraq, showed that gold mining and trading is was the main economic activity, generating for some miners about 198.45 gram of gold a week. At a minimum price of U$9 per gram in Monrovia, this amounts to an income of U$1,786 a week. “Even though the actual income that accrues to the miners themselves may not be this high, it certainly points to the fact that the mining is actually paying off for the various actors in this economy”. The various negative environmental impacts of the alluvial mining techniques are barely regulated. Mining results in the discharge of large amounts of suspended solids into watercourses, and the release of large amounts of poisonous chemicals into the environment. For example, it is thought that for every gram of gold extracted, two grams of mercury are released into the environment.

Another problem is the extent of landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) littering parts of the country. In 1995, it was estimated that there were seven minefields in the country, containing a total of some 18,250 mines. Many of these have since been removed, although information is lacking on the exact number of landmines removed and the location of de-mining operations. Also, there is no systematic collection of data on landmine casualties. Human casualties continue to be a problem. In 2003, two children were killed and another three injured when an anti-vehicle mine found in a swamp exploded after they tried to open it. In 2004, UXO that detonated in an agricultural field killed one person; a boy was injured in the capital city while playing with a hand grenade, and six people were injured in a UXO explosion in Monrovia. There is no mine/UXO risk awareness education being conducted. There is only one prosthetic workshop in the country, the other one having been destroyed in fighting in 2003, and access to healthcare for those injured by UXO is extremely limited. It has been estimated that only one in ten Liberians have access to any formal health care.

The trade in bushmeat – which includes endangered species, such as Pan troglodytes (chimpanzee) – has become so lucrative that many farmers have actually abandoned agriculture and now rely on hunting as their main livelihood strategy. Manis gigantea (giant pangolin) are sold for about US$1,000 each while a medium-sized Cephalophus niger (black duiker) goes for between $400-500. Colobus cercopithecidae (red colobus monkey) is sold for about US$200. According to the Sustainable Development Institute’s research, the bushmeat trade appears to also be providing employment for many traders, mostly from Monrovia and other urban towns.

It is not just terrestrial animals that suffer – all six Atlantic species of sea turtles Chelonia mydas (green turtle), Dermochelys coriacea (leatherback), Eretmochelys imbricate (hawksbill), Lepidochelys olivacea (olive ridley), Caretta caretta (loggerhead) and Lepidochelys kempii (Kemp’s ridley) fall prey to poachers. Years of political instability and civil wars have hampered conservation activities and sea turtle conservation initiatives in these countries may be negated by difficulties in establishing safe, long-term field projects and enforcing national legislation, or by shifting pressure on natural resources. Marine ecosystems are also affected by pollution from the many ships that have been damaged and sunk in the harbour. Furthermore, many ships are believed to fly under a Liberian “flag of convenience” (ie they are registered in Liberia for financial reasons). Some of these ships do not comply with international standards on the discharge of waste products, and have been associated with serious environmental pollution in the past.

Impacts on national parks in the Great Lakes region

For many years, the GLR has been characterized by a high level of insecurity and political instability; this has impacted negatively on the livelihoods of rural communities and the environment. Three of the four countries have experienced civil unrest and sporadic episodes of violence since independence; this has had cross-border effects particularly the movement of refugees and has contributed to regional tensions. The most dramatic events unfolded in the early 1990s, when communal violence erupted in parts of eastern DRC, and there was a resurgence of civil war in Burundi due to the assassination of the president, followed by genocide in Rwanda in 1994 during which more than 500,000 people are reported to have been killed. The resulting refugee flow into the DRC had a massive effect on the Virunga volcanoes region, as around 850,000 refugees (and genocidaires – those who had committed genocide) were living in close proximity to the Virunga National Park, relying upon it for firewood, timber and food to supplement that supplied by relief agencies. This resulted, among other impacts, in the loss of some 300 km2 of forest. As many as 40,000 people entered the park each day to harvest forest products and hunt wild animals, including elephant, hippopotamus, and buffalo. This blow to regional biodiversity was compounded by the resettlement of many refugees, who had been in exile for many years, in the Akagera National Park of Rwanda. In 1956, the Akagera was 331,000 ha; it has as a result of this settlement been reduced to 90,000 ha, less than a third of its original size.

caption Figure 4: Protected areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and major political/military divisions 2001. (Source: adapted from Hart and Mwinyihali 2001)

The Virunga National Park is located in an area of high population density, and is used by some communities for firewood, charcoal, artisanal mining and limited cultivation. Given the high level of land scarcity in the vicinity, there are many requests from local people, supported by local chiefs, that the park boundaries be revised and its area reduced. The Virunga and other national parks in the DRC suffered overexploitation during the war with different military groups establishing control of the parks (see Box 2).

Currently, one of the most serious problems for park management is the murderous activities of the remnants of former Interahamwe/Rwandan Armed Forces who carried out the Rwandan genocide and are intent on gaining control of neighbouring Rwanda through force. At least 80 of Virunga’s park staff have been killed by insurgents. These forces also remain a threat to local people, on whom they prey in order to survive. Their raids on local villages – which reportedly include villages of Hutus who refuse to send men to join them – are characterized by severe brutality and widespread sexual violence against women. They are reported to have bases in the Virunga National Park, and their presence has also been one of the reasons for international tensions and fighting between troops of various forces. Militia activities have also affected management of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern DRC, where fighting and widespread human rights abuses in and around South Kivu in late 2004 affected the ability of NGOs to help develop the capacity of the park management.

caption Box 2: Democratic Republic of the Congo: national parks overexploited. (Source: Hart and Mwinyihali 2001)

In Rwanda, there were serious environmental impacts of the civil war (1990-1994). Hundreds of hectares of high-altitude forest were cut down for fuelwood and timber by IDP, many of whom were forced onto steep, ecologically fragile hillsides in the denselypopulated northwest. About 15,000 ha of plantation forest were destroyed, and 35,000 ha damaged, during the conflict and the immediate aftermath. The resulting degradation has forced rural people into a vicious cycle of poverty.

The lack of protection for the national parks meant that poaching and harvesting of natural resources greatly increased. Indeed, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) used the Parc National des Volcans (PNV) to launch their incursion, and the area suffered as a result of the military activities there. For example, in 1991 the Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR) cut a swathe 50-100 m wide bordering an important trail through the bamboo forest in the park, in order to reduce the threat of ambush (Shambaugh and others 2001). Many animals were also killed in the Akagera National Park by the military (FAR and RPF) between 1990 and 1993.

In the south of the country, the Nyungwe Forest Park which is contiguous with the Kibira Forest Park in neighbouring Burundi, was affected by poaching in the years after the genocide. The last elephant was killed in 1999, and the number of ungulates was also seriously affected. In the PNV, on the DRC border in the northwest, the aftermath of genocide and war has been widespread poverty, which combined with few other livelihood options, encourages poaching. Research suggests that many households living within 2.5 km of the park are involved, either in terms of hunting wildlife in the park, killing wildlife that stray into fields, or buying bushmeat. The survey, which is likely to have produced conservative figures because of the sensitivity of the issue, suggests that 11 per cent of households near the PNV hunt in the park use snares. Almost a third admitted to killing animals that stray onto their fields, while a further third admitted to buying wild meat. Hunting was strongly associated with poverty, as well as close proximity to the park. In addition to local sale, animals are sometimes caught for sale further afield: in early 2004, a live baby gorilla (gorilla spp.) was found by police in a house in Ruhengeri, while poaching of chimpanzees was recorded in the same area in 2003. Birds are also reportedly poached for sale.

Uganda’s biodiversity has also been affected by violence, especially during the periods of extreme civil instability in the 1980s. During these periods, there was a breakdown in government capacity to manage protected areas, and there was massive exploitation of the unique Bwindi forest, in terms of gold extraction, timber harvesting, and hunting of wildlife. This impacted negatively on the tourism industry. In 2006, as a result of over 20 years of civil war in northern Uganda, up to 70 percent of the population live in extreme poverty.

Damage to national parks and biodiversity in southern Sudan

caption A woman collects firewood in Darfur, Sudan, December 2004. (Source: J. Prinsloo)

Southern Sudan is a haven for many species of rare and endangered wildlife, including the Kobus kob (whiteeared Kob), elephant, black and white rhino, and many bird species. There are 19 conservation areas, three gazetted national parks, and a biosphere reserve. However, many species have been overhunted and have migrated from the country due to conflict-related disturbance. One example is the overhunting of antelope by the Murle people of Pibor state. The Murle live in a remote, marginal area with minimal links to markets and very little international assistance. Due to food insecurity, and also due to the availability of automatic weapons because of the war, antelope hunting has become much more destructive than in the past, and now threatens supplies of meat for local people and limits future potentials for wildlife tourism. A peaceful Sudan could attract significant revenue from adventure tourism, if wildlife can be sustainably managed.

In Western Equatoria, exotic forest plantations, including Tectona grandis (teak) and Khaya spp. (mahogany), are of considerable economic value. One tonne of dry teak is worth about US$5,435 on the world market, while green teak is valued at US$6,020. During the war, hundreds of hectares of teak trees were harvested from Western Equatoria with the involvement of foreign companies. The trade was not conducted in a transparent way, and it is unlikely that many local people received any benefits. Trade in mahogany is also worth large amounts of money that, in peacetime, could be invested in education and health. During the war, revenues have financed the military campaigns – or private bank accounts – of the warring parties. Lack of accountability has often led to the exploitation of community resources by “connected” individuals.

The mineral-rich south holds potential for intensive and small-scale mining. Chromite reserves in the southern Blue Nile are estimated at one million tonnes, but production has fallen by 80 percent since the 1980s due to the escalation of the war in this area. The Suri people of Boma County used to be able to make their livelihoods through their skills in gold prospecting, however, opportunities in this sector has decreased by two-thirds due to conflict and insecurity. Gold is also present in moderate quantities in Eastern Equatoria, and copper and diamonds have also been found, though the conflict has limited the extent of mineral surveying.

Such “war economies” give military leaders a vested interest in continued conflict, as the current situation of instability allows them to monopolize such trades, and avoid legal controls and taxation. Local communities should be granted rights to sustainably benefit from such resources.

Peace agreements ensuring sustainable management of natural resouces

caption In an effort to preserve the environment and also give back to the host country, UNHCR sponsors tree planting programmes in Mkugwa camp, Tanzania, 2002. (Source: L. Taylor/UNHCR)

It is increasingly common to address key sustainable development and environmental management in conjunction with other issues during peace negotiation processes. This is important because in post-conflict situations in countries particularly badly affected by war, peace agreements often serve as interim national constitutions.

The various protocols signed during negotiations for the end of the conflict in southern Sudan are good examples of this trend. The exploration of oil has been linked to the conflict for a number of reasons:

  • First, many of the oilfields are located near the historical boundary between the northern and southern parts of the country; these boundaries have been a source of controversy, especially since oil was discovered, because of potential revenue earnings.
  • Second, the oil installations have been the target of attack, and counter-insurgency operations have involved massive displacement of people as well as gross human rights abuses and thousands of deaths.

Under the Protocol on Wealth-sharing, signed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the Government of Sudan on 7 January 2004, 50 percent of net oil revenue derived from oilproducing wells in southern Sudan is to be allocated to the government of southern Sudan at the beginning of the pre-interim period. The remaining 50 percent is to go to the national government and states in northern Sudan. In the case of some boundary areas, a share of revenues will be distributed directly to representatives of the local communities. According to the Protocol on the Resolution of Conflict in Abyei (signed 26 May 2004), residents are to be citizens of both north and south Sudan. Net oil revenues will be divided six ways during the interim period: 50 percent for the national government, 42 percent for the government of South Sudan, and 2 percent each for (southern) Bahr el Ghazal region, (northern) Western Kordofan, Ngok Dinka people and Misseriya people.

During the Somali peace talks facilitated by IGAD in Nairobi, Kenya in 2003, a special technical committee was established in order to examine problems arising from conflicts over land access, which date back to colonial times. The committee advised the federal government to form and institutionalize a proper land tenure system, which pays special attention to properties currently or previously held by women. Further, the committee recommended that at least a quarter of the posts in all bodies of the legislature and the executive should be held by women. This was considered necessary because of the high level of gender inequality in land and property rights, a product of both cultural and war-related factors. The declaration requests the neighbouring countries to assist in the return of both public and private properties looted from Somalia by individuals, and it also calls for international organizations to assist in the return of Somali professionals from the diaspora and provide incentives to those willing to return.

Further reading

This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.




Programme, U. (2010). Environmental and socioeconomic impacts of armed conflict in Africa. Retrieved from


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