Natural resources: a source of peace and prosperity
Disputes over natural resources – such as land, fresh water, minerals or fishing rights – are wide spread around the globe and often trigger violence and destruction were there is weak governance, high levels of corruption, and ethnic and political division. However, if resolved peacefully, such disagreements can lead to progress and development.
The region around Lake Turkana, which lies between Kenya and Ethiopia, is populated by fishing communities who fish for food and sell in markets of Kenya and Ethiopia. The richness of the area, however, has led communities to fight over fishing rights for several years, leading to the death of many people, the destruction of fishing equipment and the crumbling of businesses. As climate factors deplete resources, there are concerns fighting could get worse.
Since 2015, SAPCONE, a Kenyan based non-profit organisation, has been working within the Lake Turkana region to assist fishing communities to manage natural resources and conflicts in order to build peace and protect human rights. In particular, together with USAID and Mercy Corps, they have implemented PEACE III, a project that established a cross border fishing committee consisting of representatives from Kenya and Ethiopia whose role is to conduct dialogues, set informal guidelines and create early warning and early response systems between the conflicting communities.
The impact of PEACE III project is extraordinary. Since the committee has been established, conflicts in the waters of Lake Turkana have gone down, and production and trade of fish have increased. This is due to the continuous trucks of fish commuting to and from the lake to buy fish, as well as to the direct links that SAPCONE established between fishermen and the World Food Program - which is now buying food supplies for the Kakuma refugee camp directly from fisher communities. Moreover, the increase of income that peace brought, not only serves to enable communities’ members to send their children to school and pay for tuition fees, but the extra income has allowed them to form Village Saving and Loan Associations (VLSAs) of 10 fishermen where they contribute 5,000 KES (50 USD) per month to support members through the use of rotating funds.
This is the proof that when communities have strong local conflict management capacities they have not only greater stability and peace, but also better resilience to climate stressors and shocks. Understanding the close nexus between natural resources and conflicts is essential for a more peaceful and just world.