The Effect of Armed Conflict on Conservation in Colombia

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Politics


The destructive effects of conflict on the environment are well-known. Apart from the direct physical environmental damage caused by hostile confrontations, conflict can harm the environment in other ways. Conflict displaces environmental concerns from the governmental agendas. Armed conflict usually takes place in highly biodiverse areas. The damage to the environment of illicit activities worsens during conflict.

But can conflict also lead to restorative effects on the environment? Reports from Colombia, Nicaragua, Rwanda, and Congo suggest that different measures of environmental degradation have worsened after peace treaties were signed between warring factions; in Colombia a 44% increase in deforestation was reported after the peace treaty was signed in 2016. In Tinigua, one of Colombia's southern protected areas, members of a community informed the government they would no longer be able to enforce forest conservation measures because the FARC - Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, had left the area. In the northern territory, there is evidence that ELN - National Liberation Army, enforced conservation by means of armed coercion.

While these reports are suggestive, many open questions remain. Is environmental degradation directly related to the intensity of conflict? If so, how large and persistent are these effects? What is the spatial distribution of these effects? Are there heterogenous effects across regions, and if so, what is the source of this heterogeneity? Do these effects interact between geographical regions? If so, what is the structure of these interactions?

This research proposal aims to study the heterogeneous effects of conflict on the environment through a mixed method approach. Difference in differences provides information of how the effects have changed over time, spatial econometrics about the neighbouring effects and social network analysis allows modelling the pattern of connections of the neighbouring effects between geographical regions. A better understanding of the heterogeneous effects of conflict on the environment is necessary for designing policies that take into account a broader scope of the territorial biophysical differences.

Colombia provides an ideal context to answer these questions for several reasons. It is a developing country in which economic growth depends on environmental resources and services; institutions are weak, and opportunities are limited. The implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement prioritised the collection of open access data. The intensity of conflict has varied greatly over time and has been widespread along the whole territory overlapping with highly biodiverse areas.

To explore these questions, I plan to integrate methods from the fields of spatial econometrics, social network analysis, and difference in differences.

Using the difference-in-differences statistical technique I plan to identify the time dependent effects of conflict on the environment. I will focus on the change from conflict to post-conflict for selected sites of different biogeographical regions.

The identifying assumption is that the conflict in Colombia has produced neighbouring areas with different degrees of hostility and that there's spatial dependency amongst them. The variation of land cover in a certain area might be influenced by the values of conflict at an adjacent site. Spatial econometrics analyses spatial interactions and how a variable at a specific site is determined by the values of variables at other sites.

Having identified the heterogenous matrix of conflict, I will then model its structure of dependency with social network analysis. I intend to identify underlying patterns of interaction between sites, using the values of the variables per sites as nodes and their neighboring effect as edges.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2268859 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Laura Roldan Gomez