Tropical zones are known hotspots of biodiversity, but particularly in the last 30 to 40 years, armed conflicts have broken out in some of the most densely forested regions: In Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote D’Ivoire in Africa; Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar in Asia; and Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua in Latin America; among many others.
Alistair Monument, practice leader for forests at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International, told NBC News that post-conflict environments are a golden opportunity when it comes to preserving forests because that’s when discussions about how best to use newly accessible land come into play between local communities, businesses and governments.
“The end of a conflict can pave the way for dialogue,” he said. “As conflict ends, all parties have a critical window of opportunity to identify a way forward that balances socioeconomic development and environmental conservation to help bring sustainability and stability to impacted people and areas.”
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Lessons from Asia
Monument, who recently visited Colombia to see some of the WWF initiatives here, spent years living and working in the Myanmar-Thai border area, which at first glance appears very similar to Colombia, teeming with forests that cling to high mountains. But that region, known as the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape, is home to tigers and elephants, as well as the Karen indigenous group who fought for decades against the Myanmar government for an autonomous Karen homeland.
In 2015, the government and several insurgent groups agreed on a nationwide ceasefire — which opened the door to a resurgence of rubber plantations.
”We need to have development, but we’re looking at ways to do it sustainably,” Monument said.
With rubber in high demand around the world, the resource has provided economic opportunities in the post-conflict zone. NGOs, along with national and local authorities, have been working to help select already degraded areas for rubber cultivation in order to preserve existing forest.