Lee on Young and Goldman, 'Livelihoods, Natural Resources, and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding'

Helen Young, Lisa Goldman, eds.
SungYong Lee

Helen Young, Lisa Goldman, eds. Livelihoods, Natural Resources, and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. New York: Routledge, 2015. 544 pp. $84.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-84971-233-0.

Reviewed by SungYong Lee (University at Otago) Published on H-Diplo (June, 2016) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

The linkage between environment, conflict, and peacebuilding is no longer a new agenda. This topic, which was once treated as a niche area, has quickly moved into mainstream academic discussions since the early 2000s. A significant number of studies have explored the roles of environmental factors as key motivating sources of conflict and as catalysts to escalate and sustain conflicts. Out of various environment-related issues, climate change and natural resources have attracted particularly serious academic interest.[1]

Yet, compared to the study of the relations between environment and conflicts, the exploration of how environmental issues influence postwar peacebuilding is at an early stage of its development.[2] Although many practical reports have been produced so far, most of them have summarized lessons from field practice or have solely analyzed highly limited thematic/geographic areas. In this sense, Livelihoods, Natural Resources, and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding attempts to move beyond the limitations of previous discussions by introducing and examining a wide range of varied opportunities and challenges faced by contemporary peacebuilding programs.  

As the title indicates, the central theme of this edited volume is people’s “livelihoods,” a subject that frequently offers the most urgent challenges to peacebuilding. When the minimum conditions for a sustainable livelihood are critically affected by insecurity, market distortions, demolition of social infrastructure, and lack of regulations, vulnerable populations are likely to engage in military warfare as an attempt to survive.

To summarize the core discussion, this volume is composed of four parts that highlight different dimensions of the subject. Part 1 demonstrates that, since livelihood is associated with various aspects of peacebuilding, developing consolidated peace requires incorporation of livelihood initiatives into a wider peacebuilding process. The five chapters in this part discuss structural and practical challenges to such an integration, as well as a number of strategies utilized by peacebuilding agencies to tackle these. Specifically, they introduce a number of examples including the promotion of access to natural resources in rural Afghanistan; forest management in early postwar reconstruction in Cambodia; formidable challenges faced by natural resources management in Aceh, Indonesia; and the significance of natural resources management in dealing with the conflicts in the rural (pastoral) areas of Kenya and Afghanistan.

Part 2 explores more adaptive and innovative forms of peacebuilding that aim to reflect local contexts in conflict affected societies, each of which is unique and constantly changing. For instance, the case studies of a peace park in the Balkans and of ecotourism in Rwanda/Uganda explore the utilities and limitations that cross-border cooperation for peacebuilding have presented. Moreover, other chapters discuss new innovations, such as a livelihood-based approach to increasing the effectiveness of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex-combatants (DDR); the provision of viable livelihood alternatives to management youth (un)employment issues; and the BioTrade initiative to support natural resources management (conservation of biodiversity, in particular).

Part 3 pays attention to the roles of state institutions, legal arrangements, and policies. Both successful and failed institutional or policy reforms for effective resources management are well highlighted in this section. The case studies of post-World War II Japan and Afghanistan present the challenges facing external interveners trying to reconstruct resources management, while the case study of Somalia demonstrates how natural resources can be maliciously exploited when government capacity is minimal. In addition to this, one chapter highlights the roles of local institutions in Mindanao, Philippines, while another chapter examines how resilience can be promoted through the examination of different examples.

Part 4 is a short section composed of one chapter that forms the conclusion of the volume. Although it is shortest section of the book, I found it informative, theoretically insightful, and practically useful in exploring how to comprehend, examine, and address contemporary issues relevant to livelihoods. (Hence, if readers do not have time to go through the whole volume, they may be able to capture the key discussions by reading this final chapter.) The first part of this chapter presents a historical overview of how the academic and practical discussions on livelihoods have evolved followed by some conceptual and theoretical frameworks that can be utilized in future studies. The remaining part aims to integrate the key findings and arguments presented in the previous sections; however, rather than presenting a simple summary, it attempts to reinterpret and organize varied suggestions and lessons into the wider research contexts.

To me, the most outstanding feature of this edited volume is the vast amount of information collected and analyzed by over thirty researchers and practitioners. It is particularly outstanding that many chapters offer detailed descriptions of how natural resources management programs operate, what types of challenges they face, and how the program operators attempt to deal with such challenges. Just as an example, Glaucia Boyer and Adrienne Stork’s chapter (in part 2) explains how issues of natural resources affect DDR programs phase by phase by utilizing specific examples found in Uganda, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Colombia, and Indonesia. In this regard, this edited volume will be perfect reading for those who want to get a real sense of what the nexus of environment, conflict, and peacebuilding actually means in practice.

Moreover, the academic contribution of this book should be considered as a part of its umbrella project, Environment Peacebuilding. As a pioneer project that systematically examined the links between environment and peacebuilding, the venture has discovered and integrated hundreds of insightful field stories relevant to the themes of high-value natural resources, including water, land, and the restoration of natural resources. These research outputs were publicized in the form of serialized reports, news articles, and edited books. By completing this sixth edited volume, the project has created one of the most comprehensive information sources in this field of study.

Having said this, readers should not expect to see highly theory-driven discussions in this book. Although it contains a number of interesting conceptual and theoretical discussions, such as four types of links between social identities, natural resources, and armed conflict (Arthur Green) and the framing of sustainable livelihood (Helen Young and Lisa Goldman), the volume does not aim to develop these to fit into established theories. Instead, it pays most attention to offering a wide range of practical suggestions for making natural resources management more effective, both from problem-solving approaches and from more critical and normative perspectives. A few suggestions that I found particularly insightful are: partnership with local communities, comprehensive (integrated) approaches that take all key stakeholders into consideration, the needs of security assurance, more sustainable funding, and income (employment) generation as an important incentive.

In terms of presentation, the chapters in this volume show a wide variation in style and discussion focus, and in their type of analysis. Whereas some authors provide descriptions of ongoing issues (for example, Michael Lenner), others present more reflective and conclusive discussions (for example, Matthew Pritchard). Some chapters are quite concise, highlighting key discussions only (for example, pieces by Carol Westrik and Todd Walters), while more analytical chapters attempt to build more comprehensive discussions (for example, essays by Lorena Castro and Adrienne Stork). While most chapters examine contemporary peacebuilding programs implemented in the post-Cold War period, some examine “older” examples like the post-World War I Japan case study of Harry Scheiber and Benjamin Jones. The level of analysis also varies according to the authors. Such a wide variation in style is probably unavoidable as the editors attempted to get perspectives of different types of contributors. However, some readers may feel the current form of the volume is perhaps a bit messy and difficult to follow.

Overall, I am glad to see another highly informative source of data on environmental peacebuilding. Regarding the readership, this publication should be ideal for researchers and postgraduate students who aim to conduct further studies on this topic, rather than for the general public who might need a more concise, organized, and accessible introduction.


[1]. Just a few examples include Jon Barnett, “Security and Climate Change,” Global Environmental Change 13, no. 1 (2003): 7-17; Clionadh Raleigh and Henrik Urdal, “Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Armed Conflict,” Political Geography 26, no. 6 (2007): 674-694; Idean Salehyan, “From Climate Change to Conflict? No Consensus Yet,” Journal of Peace Research 45, no. 3 (2008): 315-326; James R. Lee, Climate Change and Armed Conflict: Hot and Cold Wars (New York: Routledge, 2010); and Jürgen Scheffran, Michael Brzoska, Hans Günter Brauch, Peter Michael Link, and Janpeter Schilling, eds., Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict: Challenges for Societal Stability (Berlin: Springer, 2012).

[2]. A few recent references are Birgitta Liljedahl et al., Environmental Impact Assessment in Peacekeeping Missions: Challenges and Opportunities (Stockholm: Swedish Defense Research Agency, 2007); Steven Spiegel and David Pervin, Practical Peacemaking in the Middle East, vol. 2, The Environment, Water, Refugees, and Economic Cooperation and Development (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014); Carl Bruch et al., “Post-Conflict Peace Building and Natural Resources,” Year Book of International Environmental Law 19 (2009): 58-96; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment (Nairobi: UNEP, 2009); and UNEP, Greening the Blue Helmets: Environment, Natural Resources and UN Peacekeeping Operations (Nairobi: UNEP, 2012).

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Citation: SungYong Lee. Review of Young, Helen; Goldman, Lisa, eds., Livelihoods, Natural Resources, and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. June, 2016. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=46794

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