Keeping the peace

Sophie Ravier, 33, works as an environmental officer of the UN Department of Field Support, which is in charge of logistical support for UN peacekeeping missions. TUNZA asked her about the relationship between peacekeeping, conflict and the environment.

To what extent is conflict driven by natural resources?

Environmental factors are rarely, if ever, the sole cause of violent conflict. But UNEP was involved in recent research suggesting that in the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts have a link to natural resources. Since 1990, at least 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources, whether ‘high-value’ resources like timber, diamonds, gold, minerals and oil, or scarce ones like fertile land and water. Climate change is also seen as a ‘threat multiplier’, exacerbating threats caused by persistent poverty or weak resource management institutions.

What is UN peacekeeping?

It’s a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for lasting peace. In 1948, for the first time, the Security Council deployed UN military observers to the Middle East to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Since then, there have been 63 UN peacekeeping operations globally.

Keeping the peace

UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Field operations have evolved from ‘traditional’ missions involving strictly military tasks to complex ‘multi­dimensional’ enterprises designed to ensure the imple­ment­ation of comprehensive peace agreements and help lay foundations for sustainable peace. Peacekeepers, comprising civilian, police and military personnel, do everything from helping to build sustainable institutions of governance, to human rights monitoring, to security sector reform, to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.

How does peacekeeping impact the environment?

Often, the countries to which thousands of peacekeeping personnel are deployed have very little infrastructure. All these extra people produce waste, which can impact the local environment if not managed properly. Moreover, tem­porary peacekeeping missions deployed in remote areas often generate their own power using a lot of fuel – emitting greenhouse gases and sometimes causing soil pollution.

In water-scarce areas like Darfur or Chad, the local com­munity may see the UN mission as competing for resources. So we must carefully manage all resources properly to avoid possible tension.

What steps are you taking to make peacekeeping more sustainable?

We’ve identified the need to improve peacekeepers’ environ­mental footprint, so in 2009 we developed an internal environmental policy. Key areas include waste, energy, water, hazardous substances, wild animals and plants, and cultural and historical resources management. An environmental officer is to be appointed to each mission.

The mission in Sudan (UNMIS) now uses wastewater treatment plants, reducing the consumption of water. And the Timor-Leste mission (UNMIT), among others, organized events around World Environment Day. In 2009, 13 missions participated in the UNEP Billion Tree Campaign, pledging and planting 117,848 trees.

Can the greening of peacekeeping missions affect the mission’s host country after the mission is over?

It’s really too early to tell, but certainly by practicing good environmental management and setting a good example in its own operations, the UN should have a positive influence on local communities, which should help support their transition from post-conflict recovery to sustainable development after peacekeepers leave.

To find out more about UN peacekeeping visit www.un.org/en/peacekeeping; for more on Sophie’s department visit www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/dfs.shtml; and for more on what the UN is doing about their CO2 emissions visit www.greeningtheblue.org/what-the-un-is-doing/department-peacekeeping-operations-dpko.
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This post is also available in: French, Spanish