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Sustainable Development through Natural Resource Management

Published in Corporate Saturday, 27 September 2014 17:22

By Anant Mishra, Former Youth Representative, United Nations

Global trends such as demographic changes, increasing environmental degradation and climate change are placing significant and potentially unsustainable pressures on the availability and usability of natural resources such as land, water and ecosystems. Disputes over the management of natural resources such as land, water, timber, minerals and drugs, drive many regional conflicts, and often serve to exacerbate existing ethnic, political and regional divisions.

Communities fight over scarce resources such as productive land and irrigation water. Powerful stakeholders use natural resources as instruments of coercion to exert control over others.
International Framework and Committee Specific Action
In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development was held in Rio de Janeiro. During this meeting, the General Assembly established the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) entrusted with the monitoring and promotion of the implementation of the outcomes including Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan, which includes a section discussing the conservation and management of resources for development. Within this section are chapters discussing atmospheric protection, combating deforestation, protecting fragile environments, conservation of biological diversity, control of pollution and the management of biotechnology, and radioactive wastes. The CSD has acted as the preparatory committee for the implementation of Agenda 21.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in 2002 (Earth Summit 2002). The Johannesburg Declaration was the main outcome of the summit with the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation as an action plan, which highlights the importance of multilateralism. Type II partnerships were developed arising in opposition to the state-centered previous approach to sustainable development policy. The partnerships facilitate the inclusion of private and civil actors into the management of sustainable development.
In 2012 the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio +20, was held as a 20-year follow up to the 1992 meeting. The primary result of the conference was the nonbinding document “The Future We Want” which supports the development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of measurable targets aimed at promoting sustainable development globally. Eight key recommendations were made to the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) including strengthening its governance through universal membership, increasing its financial resources, and strengthening its engagement in key UN coordination bodies. States agreed to explore alternatives to GDP as a measure of wealth in an effort to assess and pay for environmental services provided by nature, such as carbon sequestration and habitat protection. The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development is currently preparing a proposal to create a new generation of SDGs as mandated by “The Future We Want”.
In 2008, ECOSOC organized a series of panels and roundtable discussions on “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regards to sustainable development”. They released the publication Achieving Sustainable Development and Promoting Development Cooperation through its Department of Economic and Social Affairs to deliver the Council’s recommendations on sustainable development.
Case Study: Afghanistan
Natural resources have created numerous conflicts in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. The division of water at local and cross border levels, disputes over land ownership, the regional drug trade, and the illegal smuggling of high value timber have all generated conflict. Recent government investments in mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, if not managed carefully, could exacerbate these problems as the resources are highly valuable. An estimated 70-80 per cent of Afghans rely on agriculture, animal husbandry and artisanal mining for their daily survival and these assets must be harnessed to fund basic government services. Natural resources have been used as instruments of coercion as upstream farmers control access to irrigation water for downstream communities. Additionally, natural resources- such as hashish and poppies used to make narcotics- are used a source of illicit revenues that have built a powerful war economy and are sustaining serious corruption. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, responsible for roughly 90% of the global supply, and the drugs trade accounts for an estimated 16% of GDP13. Water and land are needed to grow these illicit crops. Disputes over water and land were the two most commonly reported reasons for violent conflict, accounting for 55% of all cases in a 2008 survey.
Ongoing wars have left Afghanistan’s land system in shambles. A mix of formal and traditional institutions governs a patchy and uncertain land tenure system. Created in 2011, the Afghan Land Authority has struggled to manage the growing demand for land, as the amount of productive land is constrained and the population grows. Additionally, land grabbing by powerful elites has bred resentment among local people. Afghanistan currently lacks effective mechanisms to resolve land disputes. More land must be brought into productive use through better irrigation and soil conservation techniques while a system for dispute resolution must be created.
War, underinvestment, and inadequate management have degraded Afghanistan’s irrigation network and water storage capacities. There is an increased demand for water while droughts and floods are frequent. Marginalized groups, including women, are given inequitable access to water. More efficient irrigation systems, drought resistant crops, and public awareness campaigns could help to reduce competition for water. The supply of water could be increased through water harvesting and infrastructure investments.
Since 2002, Afghanistan has received nearly $30 billion in civil aid. Some projects have aimed to improve natural resource management directly, for example, through irrigation upgrades and checking dams. Others have unanticipated impacts on access to natural resources. For instance, road-building programs have affected the local value of land. Investment promotion programs have facilitated mining in environmentally sensitive areas. ECOSOC has passed resolutions for support for counter-narcotic measures and programs, such as E/2007/11, and on the situation of women and girls, such as E/2007/11.

A Future to save
In order to combat the issue of natural resource management, the resource and conflict context must be considered. The elements of traditional or customary natural resource management must also be assessed in order to avoid duplication of institutions and strengthen existing systems. Safeguards must be set in place in order to make sure that the situation is not inadvertently worsened.

Last modified on Monday, 29 September 2014 15:34

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