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Renewed Effort Underway to Better Understand Challenges to Peacebuilding

Haiti's long-term instability may be linked to challenges in effective management of its natural resources. Here, denuded hills on the route from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel present a stark picture of erosion, a widespread issue. March 2009. Credit: Alex Fischer/CIESIN

In an effort to better understand the role of natural resources in peacebuilding, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), McGill University, and the University of Tokyo embarked on a four-year project to collect more than 150 case studies from over 60 countries, to distill lessons learned in the use of natural resources for peacebuilding. Some of these lessons formed the basis for discussion at a week-long series of events, beginning with a launch on April 24 of six volumes of case studies, hosted by the Finnish and Belgian Missions to the United Nations. The next day, a one-day conference was held at Columbia’s Morningside Campus to discuss how this new material could re-shape the discourse on post-conflict peacebuilding. The final piece in the week’s events was a two-day workshop, also hosted at Columbia, which aimed to explore approaches to teaching and training on natural resources management in peacebuilding contexts.

The conference identified many clear lessons. For one, many authors and experts recommended focusing on the role of local communities in managing natural resources as they transition out of conflict. They pointed to a case in Nigeria, where community-driven development played a significant role in avoiding conflict between competing groups by ensuring that all stakeholders’ interests were accounted for.  An Angola case study demonstrated how mapping technologies were used to identify and analyze conflicts over land ownership.

Where water is concerned, potential was identified for the informal sector within local communities to play a role in service delivery, filling the gap when the government lacks capacity as a service provider. A counter-argument was made that too much local autonomy undermines the establishment of the post-conflict state-to-citizen relationships and lines of authority, components crucial for long-term governance.

The volumes in this series have identified more than 100 different ways to promote natural resource governance in post-conflict settings. Their combined contribution is part of a renewed effort to build inter-disciplinary teams and research agendas to strengthen understanding of critical challenges to peacebuilding, with the end goal of reducing the number of fragile states.

Panelists respond to audience questions at the end of the first session. Left to right: Erika Weinthal, Duke University; Jon Unruh, McGill University; David Jensen, UNEP; Philippe Le Billon, University of British Columbia. Columbia University, April 25, 2012.
Blake Ratner, WorldFish, presents his findings. Columbia University, April 25, 2012.
Melanne Civic, National Defense University. Columbia University, April 25, 2012.
Suppiramaniam Nanthikesan, United Nations Development Programme, discussing his findings with the audience. Columbia University, April 25, 2012.
Matti Lehtonen, UNEP, Allan Cain, Development Workshop Angola, and Birgitta Liljedahl, Swedish Defence Research Agency, address the audience's questions. Columbia University, April 25, 2012.
Peter Coleman, AC4, Columbia University, discusses how social psychology approaches peacebuilding and natural resource management. Columbia University, April 25, 2012.
Panelists prepare to discuss their discipline's perspective on peacebuilding and natural resource management. Left to right: Benjamin Orlove, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University; Shama Perveen, Columbia Water Center, Columbia University; Jacqueline Klopp, Center for Sustainable Urban Design, Columbia University; Lisa Sachs, Vale Columbia Center for Sustainable International Investment, Columbia University. Columbia University, April 25, 2012.

This article is one in a series emerging from the conference, “Identifying Lessons for Natural Resource Management in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding,” held at Columbia University April 25, 2012, and co-hosted by the Earth Institute and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), UNEP, ELI, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University; in cooperation with the Advanced Consortium for Conflict, Cooperation and Complexity and the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment. For more information about the conference and the book series, please go to

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