Anaya: Is natural resource development a blessing, a 'quick-fix, ' or a curse?
- ----- Original Message -----From: Jamie KneenSent: Tuesday, October 01, 2013 11:19 AMSubject: [PK] Anaya: Is natural resource development a blessing, a 'quick-fix, ' or a curse?
"The reasons for the resource curse frequently boils down to one simple
problem: this business model does not recognise the rights of the
indigenous peoples and local communities living on the land in
question." - United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya
Is natural resource development a blessing, a 'quick-fix,' or a curse?
19 September 2013
Geneva, Switzerland - Economic development is widely assumed to bring
the blessings of higher standards of living and to be a quick fix for
cash poor countries. However, there are many who look at economic
development and instead consider it to be a curse in the "global south"
- South America, Africa, and Asia - and also in parts of the more
industrialised world where indigenous peoples live.
All too often, development projects consist of a private, multinational
enterprise working with a national or local government to obtain access
to a natural resource, extract it, and then transport it elsewhere for
processing. Residents of the country have access to the extraction jobs
but processing, manufacturing and other higher-paying jobs that require
technical skills are cultivated elsewhere. At the same time, profits
from the project largely do not reach the people who bear the brunt of
its environmental and health impacts.
Economists have examined countries relying on natural resource exports
for economic growth found that the higher the reliance, the slower the
growth. Even worse, this development model often leads to greater
corruption and inequality. The typical government-business transactions
that provide access to these resources have been referred to
collectively as the "resource curse," an oft-cited yet oft-ignored point
that applies to many different sectors of natural resources, from
minerals to forest products to raw food staples such as palm oil.
A faulty business model
The reasons for the resource curse frequently boils down to one simple
problem: this business model does not recognise the rights of the
indigenous peoples and local communities living on the land in question.
I am referring to the indigenous inhabitants of the Amazon, for example,
or other communities like them throughout the world where the
government's claim ownership of the land and the right to give away the
resources as they deem best, and too many private enterprises are
willing to play along.
However, the land is not empty and the communities that are there were
established generations if not hundreds of years ago. In the case of
indigenous peoples, their connections to the land invariably have a
longer history than the government deciding what to do with the land.
According to the Rights and Resources Initiative, ownership of roughly
one-half of the global south is contested, directly affecting the lives
and livelihoods of over two billion people. This is no surprise, since
over sixty percent of the developing world's forests are administered by
governments - who all too often give it away for pennies per hectare,
for the sake of "quick-fix" development.
The tragedy is that resource deals in the developing world often target
the very people that rely on the land for their survival. They are often
deprived of their property, the crops that feed their families, and the
forests and land that support their livelihoods without being fully
incorporated into the decision-making process.
Deprived of participation and self-determination these folks see their
forests and fields quickly shorn of forests, biodiversity and wildlife,
destroying their own hope for meaningful economic development and
undermining their distinctive cultures.
For an example, consider the push for alternative fuels to help slow
climate change, which has led to large-scale biofuel plantations. When a
previously forested landscape is cleared to plant jatropha or other
biofuel vegetation, emissions result from the industrial clear-cutting
methods as well as the decomposition of the plants and woods. It takes
decades for the emissions savings from biofuels to compensate for
tree-clearing - and if peatland is cleared and drained, it takes
centuries. This is not sustainable, and it harms the people whose
material welfare and cultural patterns depend upon the land and its
Role of the media
As a United Nations investigator, I have travelled the world and seen
first-hand how these issues play out. Time and time again, I find that
the attention brought by the spotlight of media coverage keeps all
stakeholders honest and helps them act in a more responsible and
But what keeps me up at night is when there is no spotlight - where
resource transactions run roughshod over the people whose very existence
is seen to stand in the way of progress. Protests, whether through legal
action or street theatre, have few teeth when they can be disregarded
without worry. And the transgressions and human rights violations that
take place in the dark are unfathomable; one estimate found that the
global rate in which activists were murdered doubled between 2002 and
2011, and now exceeds two deaths a week.
We as a global society are at a moment, however, where we can turn the
page and write a new story of development, one in which the blessings of
the land are shared equitably. The United Nations is leading the
negotiations for new Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide
economic development and poverty reduction for the next 15 years. These
goals should include targets for the recognition of land rights that
include rights based on traditional use and occupancy; this would direct
attention and much-needed funding to ensure that economic development
works to genuinely benefit Indigenous Peoples and the local communities
that are on the front lines of natural resource exploitation.
Notably, industry, governments, Indigenous Peoples, and civil society
are starting to work together to shape a shared vision in these
negotiations. Their coordination - which will be advanced at a strategy
conference in Interlaken, Switzerland this week - holds the promise to
answer their shared problems of insecure land rights and contested
We have always viewed the natural resources of the Earth to be a
blessing, yet the history of "resource development" on the lands of
Indigenous Peoples mostly speaks to the paradigm of the resource curse.
It is time to embrace the land and its bounty like they do, transforming
development so that all can share in its wealth.
James Anaya is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples. He recently completed a report for the UN Human
Rights Council on "Extractive Industries and Indigenous Peoples",
available at http://unsr.jamesanaya.org.