11 October 2021

ETR: Vicious cycle between ecological degradation and conflict

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has released its second edition of the Ecological Threat Report (ETR). The report evaluates threats related to population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, and rising temperature in 178 independent states and territories. The outcome of the evaluation is then coupled with the national socio-economic processes of resilience to identify which countries are under security threats. For example, countries with higher populations growth are likely to suffer more from ecological degradation. 
The report indicates that several ecological risks exist independently of climate change. However,  climate change will continue to have an amplifying effect on ecological degradation and push countries closer towards their violent tipping points. The combination of fragile socio-economic resilience, severe ecological risk and rapid population growth are posing serious risks to societies.  
The main findings of the report refer to a vicious cycle between ecological degradation and conflict, wherein resource degradation leads to conflict, and the resulting conflict leads to further degradation of resources. To break the cycle, management of ecological resources and socio-economic resilience need to be improved.  
Since 2015, malnutrition and food insecurity have been rising at a steady pace. Factors contributing to the rise are complex. However, the report particularly points to population growth, scarce clean water and land degradation are among the key contributing factors.  
The report further recognizes three ecological hotspots that are likely to experience serious societal threats: 

  • The Sahel-Horn of Africa belt, from Mauritania to Somalia 
  • The Southern African belt, from Angola to Madagascar 
  • The Middle East and Central Asian belt, from Syria to Pakistan 

“The impact of ecological degradation on conflict is highlighted by the strong overlap between the countries with the highest levels of conflict[…], and those with the worst ecological degradation. Eleven of the fifteen countries facing the worst ecological threats are currently in conflict, and another four are at a high risk of substantial falls in peace. Examples include Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Niger, Burkina Faso and Pakistan.”

The report proposes several policy recommendations to improve the efficiency of interventions. Among the recommendations are: 

  • International organizations need to adopt new integrated approaches that combine health, food, water, refugee relief, finance, agricultural development and other functions. 
  • Many of the solutions to the ecological problems can generate income. An example is the supply of water that can then be used to grow food. If businesses can garner a profitable return from ecologically positive investments, funds will naturally flow towards solutions. 
  • Empowering local communities. Community-led solutions to development and human security lead to more effective programme design, easier implementation and more accurate evaluation. 

Read the report here

Photo credit:  Alex Proimos\Flickr