As conflicts over natural resources play out in Mali, spillover effects can be felt throughout the Sahel region. Shreya Mitra, Adviser for Climate Change and Security at International Alert, stresses the necessity of analyzing the underlying causes - internal and cross-border - and of applying conflict- and climate-sensitive approaches when responding to natural resource conflicts.
"Local natural resource conflicts in Mali have spillover effects to other sectors and to other regions. They are not geographically contained. And yet, when we are thinking about analysing these conflicts and developing responses, we think of them in isolation.
So really, we first need to understand: what are the local underlying causes of these conflicts? But equally have an eye towards what are the spillover effects. How are they leading to conflicts elsewhere? Because, as we know, conflict breeds other conflicts and with the pressures of climate change and population growth, the ability for these conflicts to expand out and become wider than where they are contained is much larger and is much higher.
And so firstly, we do to invest in conflict prevention because disputes over natural resources are ubiquitous in any country whose economy depends so heavily on them. In Mali for example, 80% of livelihoods depend on the use of land and water and so to ignore areas where pressures on natural resources are latent but where they are increasing really runs the risk of not treating the conflicts and nipping them in the bud when we can actually do something about it. And in terms of what we can do about food security, technical solutions to enhance agricultural productivity are an absolute must, whether that’s increasing rain-fed agriculture or livestock cultivation.
But any of these technical solutions in the absence of a conflict-sensitive approach and in the absence of a climate-sensitive approach will bring harm more than good, because often these responses require relying on fragile natural resources and there will be trade-offs whether we will invest in one livelihood over another, whether that’s farming over pastoralism or vice versa or investing in one region over another. And without a conflict-sensitive approach, we won’t be able to understand these trade-offs or even manage them."