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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 12, special issue: Environment

Natural Resources and Peacebuilding: Challenges and Opportunities in Afghanistan
Shamim Niazi

This article summarizes how natural resources, such as water, land, forests, and extractives can maximize peacebuilding opportunities in Afghanistan. It also reviews the linkages which exist between natural resources and peacebuilding and how Afghanistan can achieve sustainable peace through the appropriate use of natural resources. The last three decades of war and continuous insecurity have damaged the Afghan social fabric and government structures and have caused economic turmoil. Despite a huge amount of aid from the international community, Afghanistan is still struggling to achieve enduring peace and stability. There is fear that, once the international forces have left, Afghanistan will again become a battle field for regional powers. However, recent assessments of natural resources have made both the people of Afghanistan and the international community optimistic that their effective use could lead not only to economic, social, political and environmental growth, but also to sustainable peace.

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Since the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Government in 2001, fundamental reforms in a plethora of national sectors ranging from oil and gas to infrastructure building and agriculture have taken place. A new system of governance and an overhaul of planning and decision-making processes (with assistance from the international community) are helping to build a new Afghanistan. Today, natural resources are seen as a major opportunity to provide solutions to ongoing development and economic growth problems. Recent studies of natural resources, such as oil, gas, copper, iron and gemstones suggest there is potential for economic growth which would make it possible to overcome challenges in relation to development and insecurity.

Afghanistan’s natural resources - its land, water, forests and mineral deposits - are critical to the country’s prospects for a peaceful and prosperous future. Effective natural resource management can contribute to conflict prevention. By creating structures and rules for managing and sharing natural resources, natural resource management brings order, predictability and trust to situations where otherwise competition and conflicting interests would be rife. More than 80% of people in Afghanistan rely on natural resources for their livelihood. And yet, until 2007, the government of Afghanistan (GoA) did not consider the environment sector independently and did not provide sufficient resources to mainstream environmental sustainability across government. A number of high-profile development projects in recent years have been shown to be unsustainable or very costly, often due to their failure to include environmental aspects. Moreover, UNEP believes that if water, forests, land, drugs, and extractives are not managed properly, this will jeopardize the country’s economic recovery and its already fragile security situation. This paper looks at five major natural resources that could either help to build peace or trigger conflict in Afghanistan.