Fewer fights: Well-managed resources help keep conflict at bay
In our global wrap-up, Poland is the latest example where a rebounding apex predator species, once treated as a national pest, helps bring stability to ecosystems.
1. United States
The success of Operation Ceasefire, a community-driven effort to reduce gun-related incidents in Oakland, California, is offering other cities a holistic model for tackling violent crime. Prompted by a spike in homicides, Oakland launched its third version of a focused deterrence strategy in 2012. Under Operation Ceasefire, police meet regularly to review recent gun violence and identify individuals who are at risk of getting involved in future incidents, either as victims or as perpetrators. Community organizations provide services to candidates to change their trajectory, including one-on-one counseling from life coaches who have often overcome similar challenges. Shootings and homicides dropped every year from 2012 to 2018, even as the population in the Bay Area city grew, amounting to a 49% reduction over six years.
Why We Wrote This
In this week’s progress roundup, careful planning for the needs of people and the natural world benefits all. One study says that armed conflicts are rare in places where natural resources are well managed.
The program relies on city funding, as well as the participation of local churches, nonprofits, and businesses. Despite a significant crime uptick during the pandemic – when Operation Ceasefire has been unable to offer its typical face-to-face programming – criminologists still point to Oakland as an example of a sustainable crime-fighting approach that centers the community needs.
Dallas Morning News, Oakland North
The rebound of Poland’s wolf population is demonstrating the ecological value of large predators. Polish authorities once considered the gray wolf a national pest, and mass hunting was encouraged until the population dropped to 200 in 1975. Many factors contributed to the gradual shift from game animal to protected species in the early 1990s, including a transition to democratic government, high public trust in nongovernmental organizations, and scientific research on wolf behavior.
The roughly 2,000 wolves living in Poland today play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Packs frequently prey on beavers (which can cause expensive environmental damage) and deer, helping control herbivore populations so forests have a chance to regenerate. The remains from wolf prey also feed other species, including bears and lynxes. With 30% of Poland’s wolf population considered transnational – meaning packs travel to adjacent countries, bringing much-needed genetic diversity to other rebounding populations – conservationists say the continued growth and monitoring of Poland’s gray wolf population are important for all of Europe.
Tygodnik Powszechny, International Wolf Center
Egyptian lawmakers have approved tougher sentences for female genital mutilation, in an ongoing effort to end the practice. Although banned, FGM persists throughout the country because of deeply entrenched beliefs and lack of enforcement. In 2016, a United Nations survey found nearly 90% of Egyptian women and girls between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM. Under the new penalties, medical professionals – who still market FGM services publicly, activists say – can face five to 20 years’ imprisonment for performing the procedure, up from the previous seven-year maximum, and may be barred from practicing for up to five years. Family members who request the procedure can also face prison time.
Advocates say that seeing the strengthened legislation in action is what will make the difference. “It is a good step,” said Entessar El-Saeed, director of the Cairo Foundation for Development and Law. “We are still struggling with a deeply-rooted concept in the Egyptian society and even among some doctors and judges that FGM is not [a] crime.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tanzania has welcomed its first female president. In March, then-Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn into office after the death of President John Magufuli. Since taking office, she has made several changes, including refocusing Tanzania’s COVID-19 strategy – her predecessor had been one of Africa’s most prominent coronavirus skeptics – and restoring press freedoms.
Press freedom had plummeted under President Magufuli’s administration, according to rights groups, with authorities arresting prominent journalists and revoking media licenses. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists said the government had silenced at least four publications since March 2019, including the opposition-leaning paper Tanzania Daima. President Hassan has given orders that these outlets may reopen. “We should not give them room to say we are shrinking press freedom,” she told officials in April. “We should not ban the media by force. Reopen them, and we should ensure they follow the rules.” Some activists applauded the directive, but urged repeal of repressive laws.
Voice of America, Reuters, Al Jazeera
The Australian government has committed $100 million (Australian; U.S.$77 million) to improve the well-being of ocean areas. With roughly 85% of Australians living within 30 miles of a coast, officials say the country is economically and environmentally tied to the oceans. The new funding package includes nearly A$40 million for improving management of Australia’s marine parks and A$30.6 million for coastal ecosystem restoration projects that target “blue carbon” species such as mangroves and sea grasses, which play an important role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Other funds will go toward protecting iconic marine species and expanding nine Indigenous protected areas to give communities more autonomy over marine resources.
“Protecting our oceans must be a top priority for all Australian governments,” said Darren Kindleysides, CEO of the Australian Marine Conservation Society. “This funding commitment is a vital and promising package of measures to address some key threats, such as the loss and degradation of coastal habitat and capture of wildlife in commercial fishing nets.”
Canberra Weekly, Australian Government
Defending nature can reduce the risk of armed conflict, according to a new report. In analyzing more than 85,000 conflicts from the past 30 years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that violence rarely broke out in protected areas, including national parks and wildernesses. Although such areas make up an estimated 15% of the world’s land, only 3% of conflicts occurred within their boundaries.
The report offers evidence that conservation and sustainable land management are important tools not only to fight climate change, but also to secure peace. Experts from the IUCN say this is in part because natural resource scarcity can exacerbate tensions. The organization recommends the international community establish explicit protections for park and wilderness staff, and call for sanctions against those who commit environmental war crimes.
Thomson Reuters Foundation, International Union for Conservation of Nature