In an increasing number of the world’s regions, environmental changes such as droughts and floods negatively impact vital resources, like water and land. The vulnerability of societies to these changes depends on the societies’ sensitivity and capability to cope with the changes. The consequences of environmeantal changes are most noticeable when they turn into violence. Many scholars believe that the future will be marked by a renaissance of resource conflicts. As the world's reserves of oil, uranium, water, land and many other resources are limited, and some of them close to depletion, conflicts are becoming increasingly acute and the risk of violence increases. Both resource scarcity and resource prosperity can fuel social conflicts. This is often the case when access to resources and their profits are unevenly distributed. The type of resource often determines the type of conflict. For example, diamonds can easily be smuggled to finance a rebellion. Land and water tend to be a source of conflict between groups who depend on these resources for their livelihood, for example farmers and pastoralists.

Resource conflicts influence the objectively and subjectively perceived human security on the ground and thus the potential for conflict and violence in vulnerable societies, especially when violence is perceived as the only viable option. This raises the question of how the potential for violence and security risks fuelled by natural resources can be overcome and how alternative strategies can be promoted. Here, political, economic, social and cultural institutions play a central role in resource governance, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The Peace Academy carries out research to mitigate conflicts related to natural resources and environmental change.

Projects with a Focus on Environmental and Resource Conflicts

Land reform in post-conflict environments must address a wide range of issues—for example, the coexistence of multiple land tenure systems, legal ambiguity, conflicting claims, and unclear boundaries or access rights. Therefore, access to and control over land often remains a sensitive issue in the aftermath of war and may precipitate tensions between traditional and state institutions over spheres of authority. The success of post-war land reform is usually determined by the development of accountable bureaucratic institutions, transparent land markets and economic development, and less by their de facto impact on the renegotiation of authority or social cohesion in post-conflict contexts. 

This project aims to understand whether the unintended consequences of land reform may pose a security risk to or facilitate post-war social cohesion—a key factor for stability and peace. Our research integrates a security perspective with an emphasis on state-customary authority interdependencies, as well as the community and political security which is particularly important in the context of long-term land governance changes and questions of social cohesion. The project will be conducted as an in-depth case study of land reform in Sierra Leone including qualitative data collection during field research through participant observation and interviews with state agents, customary authority representatives, members of civil society organizations, and international organizations. In contrast to rather technical studies on the impacts of land reforms, this project contributes an original perspective to the peacebuilding field and seeks to develop security policy concepts for practitioners and policymakers. 

Principal Investigator:Dr. Anne Hennings
Project Duration:06/2022 - 05/2024
Project funded by:Gerda Henkel Foundation

Failure of public administration in natural resource sectors is strongly linked to civil conflict and human insecurity. In recent years, acknowledgment of the security-dimension of natural resource management sparked a dramatic increase of reform measures on peacebuilding and development agendas. While the devastating effects of bad natural resource governance on human security are a major motivator for transformative efforts, studies evaluating the success of reform strategies predominantly focus on the administrative macro-level, neglecting their impact on the individual and collective security of populations affected by conflict and resource extraction/destructive exploitation. This research project aims to fill this gap by investigating resource sector reforms through the analytical framework of human security. To this aim, the research project will conduct an in-depth case study of a natural resource sector that is linked to conflict proneness and that has been subject to ambitious reforms: The forest sector in Liberia. Through extensive field research and an exploratory research design, the project aims to shed light on the direct and indirect linkages between resource sector reforms and various dimensions of human security.

Project Directors:Dr. Sascha Werthes, Dr. Nina Engwicht
Project Coordinator.Charlotte Dany
Project Duration:02/2018 - 07/2020
Project funded by:Gerda Henkel Foundation

Since the late 1950s/early 1960 the thesis of a so-called resource curse (also known as the paradox of plenty) regularly stimulated debates about a conflict-resource-nexus. Generally the term describes the empirical observation that countries with an abundance of natural resources (like fossils and certain minerals) are prone to (violent) conflict, grievances in the extractive industries, less or predatory economic growth, less democracy and limited chances for (sustainable) development than countries with fewer natural resources. In sum, there still is a vivid academic debate about theories and reasons for observed adverse outcomes. Although the resource curse might not be universal or inevitable, most experts believe that wealth of natural resources, the management of natural resource wealth more specific, affect certain types of countries or regions under certain conditions.

Especially when thinking of former war-economies the management of natural resource wealth is increasingly recognized as a risk factor for peacebuilding processes in these post-conflict societies. While the need for security-sensitive natural resource management is slowly gaining the attention of national and international policy makers, measures aiming to foster good governance in natural resource sectors rarely take into account the impacts of natural resource management on the security and well-being of conflict-affected populations. This research project takes a human security perspective on natural resource governance in post-conflict societies. In a comparative study it investigates two cases of resource sectors strongly linked to violent conflict in the West African region: The diamond markets in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been linked by violent conflict and have since undergone comparable changes in governance. Through analysis and systematic comparison of these two cases, the project will determine how resource sector governance transformation impacts human security on the micro-level of communities affected by conflict and resource extraction.

Project Directors:Sasha Wertes, Nina Engwicht
Project Coordinator:Christina Ankenbrand
Project Duration:10/2017 - 02/2020
Project funded by:German Foundation for Peace Research

Forests are one of Liberia’s most important resources. In addition to their economic and conservation value, forests are a vital source of food, charcoal and medicines for a large number of people in one of the poorest countries in the world. The history of forest management in Liberia has been rife with unsustainable and unaccountable practices that culminated in the funding of the Liberian civil war through the international trade in tropical timber. This project aims to enhance forest governance in Liberia by supporting communal forest management. Community forestry is a key element of present day forest governance in Liberia. The core idea of community forestry is to empower local communities to manage their forests sustainably and to ensure that they are the primary beneficiaries of the commercial use of their environmental assets. In reality, however, community forestry has been characterized by the consequences of a lack of education, corruption and unequal power relations that prevent communities from effectively protecting and profiting from their natural resources. This project is a collaboration between the Peace Academy Rhineland-Palatinate and the Liberian grassroots organization Foundation for Communities Initiatives. The project aims to enhance the role of women in forest governance bodies. By providing women with a comprehensive education on community forestry and enabling them to take up concrete positions in the management of their forests, the project aims to make community forestry more transparent, equitable and to broaden the scope of its beneficiaries. In addition, the project will help communities affected by large-scale forestry to develop alternative income opportunities to secure their livelihoods.

Project Directors:Christina Ankenbrand
Project Duration:01/2019 - 01/2020
Project funded by:Gerda Henkel Foundation

Natural resources have been intimately tied with social conflict in Liberia. As they continue to play a central role in Liberia’s post-war economic strategy the question arises how conflicts surrounding the extraction of natural resources can be mitigated. The country’s only national park and its surrounding forest areas represent a micro-cosmos in which the conflicting dynamics of environmental conservation, the protection of local livelihoods and the economic use of natural resource deposits come together. Sapo National Park is among the most unique and most threatened ecosystems worldwide. The 700 square-mile forest is home to numerous protected and endangered species, including the pygmy hippo, forest elephants, the giant pangolin, western chimpanzees, and various rare duikers. International organizations and national agencies have put the need to conserve the park’s outstanding biodiversity high on the policy agenda. At the same time, the forest has traditionally provided a livelihood for local populations relying on its resources for meat, charcoal, medicine as well as subsistence income from chainsaw milling, hunting and mining. Though resource extraction within the park is prohibited, several large-scale concessions within the park’s vicinity increase the pressure on local populations and wildlife.

This project investigates how Liberia struggles to reconcile the need to preserve its protected forest with the needs of local communities relying on forest resources for their survival.

The project is funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Gerda Henkel Foundation and is part of the “Uncovering Security – Emerging Threats” programme, run by the two donor organizations and the Stanley Foundation. The programme aims to bring together journalists and academics to collaborate on emerging and underreported security threats.

Project Director at Peace Academy RLP:Dr. Nina Engwicht
Project funded by:

Thomson Reuters Foundation,

Gerda Henkel Foundation

PhD Projekte mit Schwerpunkt Umwelt- und Ressourcenkonflikte

Comparative governance analysis in the environmental sector and an analysis of land use conflicts in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru

The project is part of the project PRODIGY.

The MAP region is located in the south-west of the Amazon basin, around the triple-border of Brazil, Peru and Bolivia and characterized by an extraordinarily high biological and social diversity. The trinational initiative for the creation of the MAP region evolved in the second half of the 1990s and joint the local capacities to foster regional development through cross-border cooperation, joint management, solidarity and mutual support.

To conduct the comparative governance and conflict analysis, I will subdivide the research process into four main steps: (1) actor mapping and network analysis, (2) analysis of economic, socio-political and cultural context, (3) comparison of governance systems, (4) conflict analysis.

The research contributes to a better understanding of actors and institutions involved in land governance processes in the three countries and to understand conflicts that arise from the prevalent governance systems.


Principal Investigator:Rebecca Froese
Region:Brazil, Peru, Bolivia
Funded by:University of Koblenz-Landau as part of a BMBF project

Diverting Disasters: A Multi-method Analysis of Flood Management and its Conflict Implications in Pakistan

Principal Investigator:Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah
Project start:02/2018
Funded by:University of Koblenz-Landau

Water Abundance Is Not Yet Sufficient - Water Related Conflicts in Kenya and Uganda (Working Title)

Multiple studies link environmental changes to resource degradations, scarcity and violent conflict. However, also around water abundant areas people are prone to experience water shortages and therefore turn to conflictual behaviour. The PhD project, therefore, discusses the interplay between climate change, economic upgrading by political elites and low-key conflicts. It focuses on conflictive interests between political elites, investors, and local actors. It seeks out to develop a conflict and actor typology for conflicts arising between local actors linking these to national and international political and economic governance processes and their impacts on the water situation respectively.

Principal Investigator:Julia Renner
Project start:10/2017
Region:Kenia, Uganda
Funded by:University of Koblenz-Landau