rhino killed national geographic brent stirton

Environmental crime rises, strains African economies and generates instability

Environmental crime has been rising dramatically in the past decade, growing at two to three times the pace of the global economy, according to a 2016 UNEP-INTERPOL rapid response assessment.

This new form of criminality, which includes illicit trade in wildlife, illegal exploitation and sale of minerals and trafficking of hazardous waste, among others, seems to have become the world’s fourth largest crime sector after drug smuggling, counterfeiting, and human trafficking, according to experts.

Fuelled by rampant corruption in the private sector, as well as in highly placed circles of government and politics of Africa and elsewhere, environmental crime seems to have become difficult to control.

The money lost to environmental crime equals 10 times the sum spent on combating it – merely US$20 to 30 million, according to Constance Hubert, a research assistant for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Environmental crime is depriving countries of future revenues and development opportunities, damaging local economies and contributing to instability and the erosion of the state across the continent, Hubert wrote in an article published early this year on Global Risk Insights.

In many parts of Africa, thousands of hectares of rainforests have been razed to the ground to make way for social development projects which will appear to benefit only the elite. Small farmers’ agricultural land has also unjustifiably been seized by high-ranking state officials who ‘cede’ it to foreign investors without any form of compensation for the victims.

Rivers and lakes which indigenous populations rely on for their daily water needs and fishing have also been poisoned by illegal mining activities and oil companies without anyone lifting a finger, while Africa’s rhinos and elephants continue to be mercilessly hacked.

In the face of these rising negative trends, recent reports suggesting that CEOs of companies found guilty of environmental crimes could now be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) seem to have overjoyed analysts and lobby groups.

“Chasing communities off their land and trashing the environment has become an accepted way of doing business in many resource-rich yet cash-poor countries,” Gillian Caldwell, executive director at Global Witness, said last year.

“The ICC announcement sends a powerful message that the terrible impacts of land grabbing and environmental destruction have been acknowledged at the highest level of criminal justice,” Caldwell, whose NGO that has been urging the ICC to investigate the issue, added.

Photo by Ben Stirton/National Geographic

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