Past, present and future perspectives

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Armed conflicts, in addition to exacerbating environmental degradation and increasing human vulnerability, also cause a lot of damage to invaluable environmental resources, especially wildlife and biodiversity, as illustrated in the Box 3.11. This situation is the same with all the armed conflicts which have taken place or which continue to take place today in Africa.

Box 3.11 Conflicts and the environment
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Park rangers with impounded ivory, Central African Republic
Photo: Mathieu Laboureur / Still Pictures

The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been devastating to the country's wildlife, killing thousands of elephants, gorillas (which are among the world's most endangered animals, with only a few hundred surviving in the wild today) and other endangered species. After three years of fighting in the Congo, the number of okapis, gorillas and elephants has dwindled to small populations. Participants in the manysided conflict have plundered resources to fuel the fighting. Soldiers have slaughtered elephants for meat and ivory, and buffalo for meat.

In Garamba Park in northeastern Congo, an area controlled by Ugandan troops and Sudanese rebels, nearly 4 000 out of 12 000 elephants were killed between 1995 and 1999. In other parks and reserves, including Kahuzi-Biega park, the Okapi reserve and Virunga park, the situation is equally grave. In Kahuzi-Biega park, a zone controlled by the Rwandan and Rwandan-backed rebels, just two out of 350 elephant families remained in 2000- the rest must have fled of their own accord or may have been killed, because two tonnes of elephant tusks were traced in the Bukavu area late in 2000. The war has made both humans and wildlife vulnerable.

Source: United Nations 2001

Armed conflict not only contributes to the degradation of the environment, but also contributes to the breakdown of legal and institutional frameworks which are critical to environmental management. In Mozambique, the war which ended in 1992 resulted in the fragmentation and collapse of the management of protected areas (Chenje and Johnson 1994). It also foreclosed livelihood options for millions of people who were forcibly displaced to relatively safe areas but which, however, had more limited livelihood options (see Box 3.12).

Box 3.12 War causes health problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The number of people in critical need of food in the Democratic Republic of Congo remains at an estimated 16 million, or roughly 33 per cent of the country's population. The uprooting of rural populations and isolation from their traditional food sources, together with the declining economic situation, continue to be the underlying causes of this troubling situation, which is aggravated at Kinshasa, where about 70 per cent of the population of 7 million live on less than US$1 per day for food. Some 18 per cent of children in the inner city, and more than 30 per cent in the outskirts, suffer from chronic malnutrition. Less than 47 per cent of the population estimated to have access to safe drinking water.

Source: UN 2000

One of the results is that some large communities are forced to survive on food handouts or are forced to overexploit their immediate environment in order to survive. This becomes a vicious circle, where the poor overexploit their resources, limiting the environment's ability to recover. As the state of the environment deteriorates, the people's livelihood options also become limited, worsening their poverty and vulnerability. For example, the 1999 UN secretarygeneral report on the war in Angola, said that among the immediate consequences of the war were the higher level of malnutrition, especially among young children, and the dismal sanitation and health conditions which seriously increased the risk of epidemics (UN 1999). Box 3.12 also provides additional information on how armed conflicts impact people.