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Research Report

Dealing with Scarcity and Violent Conflict:

Bart Klem
Copyright Date: Oct. 1, 2003
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 38
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 7-7)

    This paper was prepared for the conference ‘Dealing with scarcity and violent conflict’ held in The Hague on July 3rd and 4th, 2003. This conference, jointly organised by the Conflict Research Unit (CRU) of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ and the National Institute of Public Health and Environment (RIVM), focused on water, land and forest as an issue of contention. Moving beyond the academic debate on the link between environmental scarcity and conflict, the conference explored ways of dealing with scarcity in a peaceful manner.

    This paper served as a background to the presentations and discussions at the...

  2. (pp. 9-18)

    Throughout human history, environmental resources have been an issue of contention. But it was only in recent times that the question whether the finiteness of resources itself is a cause of conflict became a controversial issue of debate. The staggering impact of modernity and human development has led numerous authors to observe that through excessive exploitation of environmental resources, development has a large potential to ignite violent conflicts. Others argue that resources may be one of the means through which a conflict manifests itself, but that they should not be seen as a primary cause.

    The debate on the finiteness...

  3. (pp. 19-24)

    As discussed in the previous chapter, the past decade of research in the field of environment and conflict has managed to produce some substantial findings and to place the resulting issues on the policy agenda. However, academic efforts have not succeeded in providing policy makers with clear tools for framing their policies. Research is still largely in its exploratory phase. Theory, concepts and empirical verification are still relatively weak. As a result academics have been unable to make wellfounded predictions.

    Academic attempts to explore environmental scarcity as a cause of violent conflict have produced new views and concepts. Theories encompassing...

  4. (pp. 25-35)

    Environmental scarcity may be an issue of contention between groups of people. Many cases - particularly at the intra-state level - may illustrate that scarcity has contributed to violence. However, scarcity may also be the basis of cooperation. As discussed earlier, there are many examples of (threatening) water shortage resulting in international water agreements, which in turn constitute a platform for broader structural cooperation between countries. Within the state there are also a number of examples of scarcity having induced cooperation and scarcity may thus act as a ‘catalyst’ for peace.43

    It has furthermore been noted that both conflict and...

  5. (pp. 37-38)

    There is a relative consensus that environmental scarcity may be a factor causing intra-state conflict. Whether it is either a necessary or a sufficient factor remains questionable. Alarmist theories predicting an apocalypse resulting from environmental degradation and overexploitation and from violence over increasingly scarce resources have mostly lost support.

    Scarcity may not only lead to violent conflict; it may also be a catalyst for peace. To complicate things, the absence of scarcity - abundance - of resources - has also been argued to be a factor that may generate conflict.

    There is a general consensus that political and economic factors...