The Curse of Resources

By Ruiqi Wei

Throughout the Milky Way that stretches 100,000 light-years across, there are said to be more than 100 billion stars. Among the eight planets of the solar system, although it seems that Venus always shines as stunning as the Roman goddess of beauty named Venus, and Moon since the birth of modern literature is often cited as a mysterious place where there is too much unknown that outlines the Moonage Daydreams of millions of readers, there is just no one like that is similar to earth.

It is the water that makes earth the one and only.

Water is known as the source of life, and about 71 percent of the surface of the earth is covered by water.

But in a world of more than 70 billion where the resources are limited, water, inevitably becomes a source of conflict.

Water is so indispensable to human life. Though it seems that water is yet sufficient, it is still seen very limited and global demand for freshwater never seems to shrink due to the inevitable population growth.

At the same time, climate change and environmental degradation are having a great impact on the regional and seasonal availability and quality of water.

The resulting competition over the governance and management of water constantly leads to conflicts with violence that ensues, depriving millions of their lives.

Generally speaking, water conflicts, just like any other conflicts, can occur either on the intrastate or interstate levels.

But the good news is, since there are more than a thousand ways to regenerate water at the mercy of technology innovation, such as atmospheric water generator as illustrated in previous sessions, fortunately let it be said that water in foreseeable years is not likely to be a root for conflicts.

However, is the reality of conflicts over the shortage of resources merely about water?

Certainly not.

Conflicts over unrenewable resources are thousand times worse than this. And the prospect for the solution to this kind of conflicts is also relatively bleak.

It is always said that the management of natural resources is one of the most critical challenges facing developing countries in this decade.

 And UN (2019) indicates that the overexploitation of non-renewable natural resources, including petroleum, gas, minerals and timber has often been known as a key factor in triggering, escalating or sustaining violent conflicts around the globe.

It is also concluded by UN (2019) that ‘increasingly the pressure on and competition for diminishing renewable resources, such as land, water and fisheries – a trend exacerbated by degradation, population growth and climate change – is driving new conflicts and obstructing the peaceful resolution of existing ones. There is increasing recognition that the challenges facing effective natural resource management (NRM) are heightened by the complex interplay between natural resources on the one hand, and economic, political, cultural and social dynamics on the other.’

But the whole story of the curse of natural resources is simply more than this.

Now dear readers, you are called upon to imagine such a scenario: You find yourself one day standing with a gun in your hand around a diamond mine, then someone walking close calling you the president of country A: a landlocked country situated in the middle of a continent marked by parched heat all year around, where the people are living a extremely hard life, forming a stark contrast to luxury of the corrupted elites.

And the one who just walks in your office tells you this: Coup is coming, mainly for the newly-discovered diamonds.

Well, this example might not be convincing enough.

What I am trying to tell through this scenario is, conflicts can really be brought up over the ownership of natural resources in poor-governed countries trapped in poverty, especially those which are already marked by constantly unstable domestic context.

Not only is the management of natural resources always seen as one of the reasons why conflicts are always happening, rent of natural resources is also a barrier to development as demonstrated in the case of failing states, as collier argues.

It is argued that that countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources.

It is called the paradox of plenty.

After this point, we finally can reach the conclusion that abundance of natural resources seems to be not good, contrary to what most of us initially expected. Thus can we say the lack of recourses is likely to be the secret to avoid conflicts?

Wrong again.

Lack of resources leads to conflicts, but in another manner. Well, usually invasions.

As history has proved us thus far, countries typically invade other countries to seize resources, which certainly seems to provide the reason for most of the colonization across the globe and countless wars both on intra-state or inter-state level.

So after the comprehensive illustration of the intertwined relevance between resources and conflicts, what will seem to be our medicine?

The answer is not only the technology innovation that enables us to explore sustainable alternatives that can substitute un-renewable resources, making the importance of resources going down thus leading to the decline of conflicts, it is also the cooperation and sustainable way of managing resources that make conflicts less likely.

I still remember those days I spent as a kid always assuming the ownership of resources is all good since we always assume the more the better.

But the reality is the less I know the better. As I got to learn more and more, I just realized that saying either abundance or scarcity of resources makes conflicts less likely is simply inaccurate.

But knowledge is power. We can always find a solution through the power of “knowing”.