Forests are used as cover for guerrilla warfare, and as such, they become danger zones that few people are likely to enter. This often means the forests are less likely to be logged or hunted in. Once the fighting ends, the forests are no longer seen as dangerous.
Often post-war reconstruction demand resources, and forests offer the raw material to help rebuild an economy and society. The period is usually marked by political instability and weak policy implementation, allowing rampant exploitation of natural resources.
The researchers say the negative effects are derived from a mixture of reduction or suspension of conservation activities due to security concerns and diversion of international aid resources to peacekeeping. But they also note positive effects, such as release of pressure on ecosystems and on natural resources due to settlement changes, creation of buffer zones, and reduction or suppression of certain economic activities.
For Sri Lanka, which boasts the highest biodiversity density in Asia and high endemism, the post-war forest cover loss has been dramatic. Nepal’s showcase success with community forestry saw a gain in canopy cover in the mountains, but pressure on forests increased in the Tarai plains where 52% of the population lives.
Nepal saw 33% post-war deforestation and Sri Lanka 32%, although the respective duration of the conflicts was 10 years and 26 years. There were also similarities in the problems experienced in the two countries: higher levels of erosion, flooding, landslides and other natural disasters post-war, due to increased deforestation.
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“The issues for all surveyed countries are similar: corruption at different scales, lack of funding for the entities in charge of forest and environmental management, inadequate policies and their poor implementation,” Grima said.
Peru’s conflict ran for more than 30 years, with the rate of deforestation in the five years after the end of major fighting in 2011 up 58% from the five years before. Ivory Coast’s post-war deforestation rate was 82% higher than in the last five years of conflict.
For all four countries, Grima said the solution is community-based forest management to get around the limitations of the central government.
The study concludes that former war zones need support for ecosystem services, which in turn could reduce the probability of areas becoming the focus of future conflict.
This article originally appeared in Mongabay.