Conflict Threatens Both Nature and People in Biodiversity Hotspots
Arlington, Virginia – In a startling result, a new study published by the
scientific journal Conservation Biology found that more than 80 percent of the
world’s major armed conflicts from 1950-2000 occurred in regions identified as
the most biologically diverse and threatened places on Earth.
Titled "Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots," the study by leading
international conservation scientists compared major conflict zones with the
Earth’s 34 biodiversity hotspots identified by Conservation International (CI).
The hotspots are considered top conservation
priorities because they contain the entire populations of more than half of all
plant species and at least 42 percent of all vertebrates, and are highly
"This astounding conclusion – that the richest storehouses of life on Earth
are also the regions of the most human conflict – tells us that these areas are
essential for both biodiversity conservation and human well-being," said Russell
A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International (CI) and an author of
the study. "Millions of the world’s poorest people live in hotspots and depend
on healthy ecosystems for their survival, so there is a moral obligation – as
well as political and social responsibility - to protect these places and all
the resources and services they provide."
The study found that more than 90 percent of major armed conflicts – defined
as those resulting in more than 1,000 deaths – occurred in countries that
contain one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots, while 81 percent took place within
specific hotspots. A total of 23 hotspots experienced warfare over the
Examples of the nature-conflict connection include the Vietnam War, when
poisonous Agent Orange destroyed forest cover and coastal mangroves, and timber
harvesting that funded war chests in Liberia, Cambodia and Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC). In those and countless other cases, the collateral damage of war
harmed both the biological wealth of the region and the ability of people to
live off of it.
In addition, war refugees must hunt, gather firewood or build encampments to
survive, increasing the pressure on local resources. More weapons means
increased hunting for bush meat and widespread poaching that can decimate
wildlife populations – such as 95 percent of the hippopotamus slaughtered in
DRC’s Virunga National Park.
"The consequences extend far beyond the actual fighting," said lead author
Thor Hanson of the University of Idaho. "War preparations and lingering
post-conflict activities also have important implications for biodiversity
hotspots and the people who live there."
In total, the hotspots are home to a majority of the world’s 1.2 billion
poorest people who rely on the resources and services provided by natural
ecosystems for their daily survival. Environmental concerns tend to recede or
collapse in times of social disruption, and conservation activities often get
suspended during active conflicts. At the same time, war provides occasional
conservation opportunities, such as the creation of "Peace Parks" along
"The fact that so many conflicts have occurred in areas of high biodiversity
loss and natural resource degradation warrants much further investigation as to
the underlying causes, and strongly highlights the importance of these areas for
global security," Mittermeier said.
The study concluded that international conservation groups – and indeed the
broader international community – must develop and maintain programs in war-torn
regions if they are to be effective in conserving global biodiversity and
keeping ecosystems healthy. It also called for integrating conservation
strategies and principles into military, reconstruction and humanitarian
programs in the world’s conflict zones.
"We encourage support for local conservationists and protected area staff
during conflict periods, but we in no way suggest intentionally putting people
in harm’s way," the study said. "Local staff often remains in conflict areas
precisely because those areas are their homes, making continued support both an
ethical imperative and a good conservation strategy."
The study’s authors are Mittermeier; Hanson and Gary Machlis of the
University of Idaho; Thomas Brooks of CI’s Center for Applied Biodiversity
Science (CABS); Gustavo Fonseca of the Global Environment Facility and
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil; Michael Hoffmann of the
IUCN-CI/CABS Biodiversity Assessment Unit; John F. Lamoreux of Texas A&M
University; Cristina Mittermeier of the International League of Conservation
Photographers, and John D. Pilgrim of Birdlife International.