In his research, Tobias Ide analyzed empirical data and records from 20 conflict regions in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. Seven of the conflicts over renewable resources he investigated escalated to violence. Over an extended timeframe, it regularly came to the use of force and there were several fatalities.
Under which conditions do conflicts over renewable resources turn violent? As a first step to answering this question, Ide identified potential catalysts in the data. The geographer then analyzed how these factors are combined in non-violent and violent conflicts, respectively. By doing so, he was able to show that conflicts only resulted in violence when three factors were simultaneously given: mutual negative attitudes and non-acceptance between the groups involved; minor differences in power between the actors involved; and major political changes, such as the introduction of a new political system.
The violent conflicts in southern Ethiopia confirm Ide’s findings. The arid Oromia Region is home to nomadic groups who often clash over water and grazing land. For years the frictions between these similarly powerful groups were largely non-violent in nature, but created a culture of suspicion and hostility. A drought in the late 1980s made the situation even more tense.
Yet it was only the change of government between 1991 and 1994, in the course of which the old communist-authoritarian regime was replaced by a democratic one, that ultimately brought things to a head. The political change brought with it new regulations on the allocation of resources, conflict arbitration and the commercialization of agriculture, exacerbating the previous tensions. As such, the region clearly reflects the interplay of low differences in power, growing hostilities and acute political change – and with them, the correspondingly escalating conflicts over land and water resources.
We see, then, that the scarcity of renewable resources alone does not automatically produce violent conflicts; instead, the political conditions and balance of power are crucial. Ide’s analysis shows: if any of the three factors can be counteracted, violence is unlikely. However, blocking political change and bringing about substantial power differences between rival groups is not in keeping with democratic values or human rights. Accordingly, the primary goal should be to promote mutual acceptance and reconciliation between the conflicting parties.
Free access to the publication in "Global Environmental Change" was funded by the Cluster of Excellence CliSAP.