Tag Archives: water conflict

Global knowledge platform for environmental peacebuilding

Last week, the organizations behind a series of books on post-conflict natural resource management featured previously on this blog announced the launch of a new “Global Platform for Environmental Peacebuilding“. The aim of the platform is to provide a tool for practioners, policy-makers and researchers and builds on the ambitious research project that is still being rolled out by the organizations involved:

The contents of the site were produced as part of a broad collaboration led by ELI, UNEP, McGill University, and the University of Tokyo, together with 225 researchers and practitioners around the world. Six books including 150 case studies and other analyses examining experiences from 60 conflict-affected countries and territories are being released to the platform, with 76 case studies already available online.

As of now, three of the six planned books have been in print for six months or longer, meaning that their contents can be downloaded for free on the platform. The most recent to come online is a volume on “Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding” that I edited together with Jon Unruh. For links to updates on these chapters kindly provided by some of the authors, please see my earlier TN post introducing the volume. Next in line for publication (in the next weeks) is a volume on water resources and peacebuilding edited by Erika Weinthal, Jessica Troell and Mikiyasu Nakayama. Happy reading!

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Week in links – Week 27/2012 – grab some sugar (or water) with your land?

Incredibly, its been about 7 months since my last WIL, but I thought I might dust the institution off now that the summer is upon me. As usual, it would be more accurate to describe this as a month in links, but here goes.

First, a moment to note the passing last month of Elinor Ostrom, a pioneering economist who decided that the commons might not actually be so tragic after all. At the top of my list of readings for whenever I eventually become an actual rather than frustrated academic. One of those scholars where even if one has yet to read her, one suspects she has colored analysis of these issues so thoroughly that her works will seem familiar.

Next, on the familiar theme of the global land rush/grab, a few items of interest recently. First, Grain just came out with a new report arguing that much of the land investment going on in Africa is actually targeting the scarce water resources necessary for large-scale agriculture – and in a manner heedlessly destructive of local, sustainable water management systems. Second, the Journal of Peasant Studies has been cranking out an amazing amount of analysis of the land grab phenomenon in all three issues of this year’s volume 39 (many articles available for free download).

And finally, Human Rights Watch released a grim report last month detailing the Ethiopian government’s self-inflicted land grab in the southern Omo valley, where a dam and state-run sugar plantations are expected to run 300,000 indigenous persons off their land, while ruining the livelihoods of a further 200,000 to the south in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region:

These developments – which threaten the economic, social, and cultural rights of the Omo valley’s indigenous inhabitants – are being carried out in contravention of domestic and international human rights standards, which call for the recognition of property rights, with meaningful consultation, consent, and compensation for loss of land, livelihoods, and food security, and which state that displacement, especially of indigenous peoples from their historic homelands, must be treated as an absolute last resort.

If that doesn’t drive home the message that sugar is the new palm oil, this video from Cambodia may. David Pred, who is pushing for the EU to take a more rigorous approach to human rights abuses related to Cambodian land concessions will hopefully guest post on the blood sugar phenomenon shortly.

Not that palm oil has reformed, mind you. The Economist provided a timely reminder of the inverse relationship between the money to be had from this lucrative form of monoculture and the chances of Indonesian-controlled West Papua ever being able to achieve ‘external’ self-determination in the manner East Timor did. Meanwhile, the ICTJ rather bravely attempts to promote a transitional justice approach to a situation in West Papua where the only transition seems to be toward more oppressive and militarized control and less chances of even meaningful internal self-determination (e.g. autonomy).

Update: See David Pred, Is the European Commission sweet on land grabbing? How trade benefits to sugar companies displace Cambodian farmers (23 July 2012)

The Economist on land and natural resources in Southeast Asia

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Economist has run a number of interesting pieces on housing, land and property (HLP) issues as well as natural resource disputes, in southeast Asia (readers be warned: the paywall arrangement now allows non-subscribers to view five articles for free every week, but I think the below pick just squeak in).

Beginning with Burma/Myanmar, a pair of articles from last week’s issue highlight the dark economic underbelly of the country’s current political reform process. A comment on the standoff over the opposition’s refusal to swear an oath to “safeguard” the current, military junta-installed constitution notes the risk that the political debate about the constitution may be a sideshow. Given that the reforms made so far have been enough to ease economic sanctions on Burma, and that the generals that have symbolically conceded political power continue to retain their economic interests, the Economist concludes that “all the boasts of political reform look less like a blueprint for democracy, and more like the generals’ pension plan.”

These concerns serve to reinforce earlier inferences (discussed here and here in TN) that a wave of dubious privatization that preceded the current round of political liberalization may have been intended to allow the military leaders of the country to cash in on their land and natural resource grabs. The extent of this rapaciousness is documented in a separate Economist article, which describes how the nearly feudal style of military occupation of the rebellious ethnic states in Myanmar has opened the door to both wholesale natural resource theft and drug trafficking:

On the back of its formal military role, the army has also built up a suffocating economic grip on the region. Across Myanmar, the national army has for years pursued a policy of “living off the land”. Battalions are obliged to become their own farmers and businessmen in order to feed themselves and pay their wages.

In my earlier comments on Burma (linked above), I raised the risk that liberalization could follow the same path as in Cambodia, where a neo-patrimonial regime has dangled the barest of fig leaves over its essentially predatory governance mode. The continuity of this tradition has been confirmed in this week’s Economist, which reports on the apparent killing by the Cambodian military of Chhut Vuthy, an activist against illegal logging who founded the Natural Resources Protection Group.

Remaining with Cambodia, it seems that what one does within one’s own borders is one thing, but that cross-border rapaciousness will not be tolerated. The Economist also reports this week that Cambodia has led fierce protests against a unilateral decision by Laos (cheered on by Thai construction interests) to begin construction of a massive dam on the Mekong River, despite a recommendation by a regional commission that further study on the downstream effects be undertaken.

Finally, HLP rights expert Daniel Fitzpatrick is quoted in an interesting report on East Timor. There, it seems the post-independence government succeeded to the ‘state land’ previously taken from smallholders by successive Portuguese and Indonesian occupiers, and is now facing a familiar dilemma. On one hand, justice requires some form of recognition of the claims of those previously dispossessed in the countryside. On the other hand, the lure of badly needed revenues from international concessions beckons.