Natural Resources, Violence, and more Chaos

Dr. Richard Mathews spoke with us on Friday about natural resources, violence, and peacebuilding. Although I feel I have always known that the environment is involved in conflict (and often a victim), I was a bit struck by how much of a role the environment plays in not only the instigation of conflict but in the process of peacebuilding. I guess it makes sense. The land we live on and the environment in which we survive is vital to our existence. Dr. Matthews pointed out several challenges facing us in the 21st century, including a growing (and aging) population, economic inequality, security, public health, and others.

While these points didn’t surprise me too much, I felt drawn in by the case studies of peacebuilding he spoke about. Be it northern Pakistan or Sierra Leone, conflict broke out in places where an outside group came in and disrupted decades or centuries of stability. The exploitation of one resource (timber, diamonds) brings down the house of cards of an entire people’s livelihood. The speed of this downturn is incredible, but what is sad is how long, if ever, the population can ever recover. By the time the dust settles on the initial conflict, the cultural and societal framework  is so shaken up that no one knows how to heal it, often leading to further violence.

I was happy to hear Dr. Matthews talk about how peacebuilding does not happen in 2-5 years. I have often thought of this, particularly about a country like Haiti. After a conflict or natural disaster, the world pours in resources which likely are not used properly or get blockaded off and taken elsewhere. Then as quickly as the assistance had arrived, it is shut off and moved to the next crisis. Countries in this situation need a 5, 10, 15 and 20 plan to recover most likely. Each situation is unique and complex, making it all the more challenging. But without it we will just keep repeating a vicious cycle. Now who should be responsible for overseeing the country in such a comprehensive and long-term plan? Who knows. An actor such as the U.N. has the advantage of having a “big picture” of the situation. But such a task will take so much more than one organization to carry out. Just something more for me to think about!