Environmental crimes such as wildlife trafficking and illegal logging have overtaken the drug trade as the major income source for militias and terrorists in the DRC, Kenya, Mali, Somalia and elsewhere around the world, accounting for more than a third of their revenue.
A new report by global policing agency Interpol, shows that of the $30,2 billion in illicit flows generated annually in conflict zones alone to fund terror groups like Islamic State, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Taliban, 38 percent comes from illegal deals in timber, mining, fishing and charcoal.
The drug trade accounts for 28 percent, illegal taxation 26 percent, and kidnappings and foreign donations, 3 percent each.
"The interest in natural resources is rising, especially gold and other minerals, and timber, among many armed and criminal groups, and this can be currently seen in the Great Lakes region of Africa . . .
"Environmental crime is now slightly more lucrative than human trafficking, and is the third largest criminal sector worldwide, moving up from the 4th largest, after drugs, counterfeit goods and trafficking," reads the report.
Altogether, the World Atlas of Illicit Flows, a study by the global policing agency Interpol, Rhipto, a Norwegian UN-collaborating centre, and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime identified more than 1 000 routes used for smuggling and other illicit flows around the world.
The seven main extremist groups of insurgents and terrorists receive funding of between $1 billion and $1,4 billion each year combined. Worldwide environmental crimes now generate between $110 billion and $280 billion in total each year, 44 percent above the 2016 range.
Between $24 billion and $34 billion of the amount goes towards funding organised crime, said Interpol.
The cost impact of environmental crime is rising by about 7 percent annually, or two to three times the rate of the global economy.
The biggest thefts occur in the forestry industry, where illegal logging rakes in between $51 and $152 billion for criminals each year.
Illegal fisheries range between $11 billion and $24 billion while illegal mining is up to $48 billion and wildlife trafficking between $7 billion and $23 billion.
Dumping of toxic and electronic waste props up criminals to the tune of $12 billion yearly.
In all this, governments lose the equivalent of $28 billion in unpaid taxes.
For African countries experiencing ongoing conflicts, including Mali, Central African Republic, DRC, Sudan and Somalia, a conservative estimate is that overall, the militia and terrorist groups in those countries may gain $111 million to $289 million annually, depending upon prices, from their involvement in, and taxing of, the illegal or unregulated charcoal trade, said Interpol.
According to the report, Al-Shabaab in Kenya and Somalia receives about $20 million, half from the illicit charcoal trade and the rest from other forms of taxation, while Boko Haram in Nigeria made $5 million and $10 million mainly from taxation, bank robberies, donations from other terrorist groups and kidnapping for ransom.
Over 8 000 rebels inside the DRC make at least $13 million a year from the exploitation and taxation of natural resources "and this sum is but a small portion of the total estimated value attributed to illegally exploited resources in the eastern DRC, which has been put at over $770 million a year", it said.
Ivory provides a portion of the income raised by militia groups in the DRC and CAR, and is most likely a primary source of income for the Lord's Resistance Army, which currently operates in the border triangle of South Sudan, Central African Republic and DRC. Ivory also provides a source of income to the Sudanese Janjaweed and other horseback gangs operating across Sudan, Chad and Niger, the study says.
"Given the estimated elephant populations and the number of projected elephants that are killed within the striking range of these militia groups, the annual income from ivory to militias in the whole sub-Saharan region is likely to be in the range of $4 million to $12,2 million," Interpol said.
But ivory trade only accounts for just one percent of terrorists funding, although elephant and rhino populations are increasingly being decimated by poachers in Africa.
Interpol said that about 94 percent rhinos are poached in Zimbabwe and South Africa, which have the largest remaining rhino populations.
Poaching has increased dramatically in the two countries, from 13 rhino illegally killed in 2007 to 1 215 in 2014, declining slightly to 1 028 by 2017.
"Poaching of rhino horn involves organised syndicates. Rhinos have disappeared entirely from several Asian countries . . . " it said.
The value of rhino horns poached in 2013 were valued in downstream markets at between $6 million and $192 million, "but the value is much less at the supply end of the chain."
"This threat (of environmental crimes by militias) must be addressed in peacekeeping and in enforcement and prevention, otherwise it will continue to grow and undermine development and security in decades to come.
"Environmental crimes, and associated transnational organised crime, which are often deeply embedded in state and non-state armed forces and the political elite, are therefore directly stimulated by continued or renewed conflict in many of the world's most deadly contexts," said the reported.
Unlike any other known form of crime, crimes linked to the environment are made worse by their impact on the environment and, therefore, its cost to future generations.
Deforestation, dumping of chemicals and illegal fisheries and others damage natural ecosystems, causing loss of clean air and water, exacerbating extreme weather conditions, reducing food security and thereby threatening overall health and societal wellbeing.
God is faithful.