Delegates at the first UN Nations Environment Assembly gather in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. The UN will seek ways to toughen environmental laws this week to crack down on everything from illegal trade in wildlife to mercury poisoning and hazardous waste. Photo: Reuters

Nairobi - The illicit trade in wildlife, worth as much as $213 billion (R2.26 trillion) a year, was partly funding anti-state militias and needed a stronger co-ordinated response, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Achim Steiner said yesterday.

“The illegal trade in natural resources is depriving developing economies of billions of dollars in lost revenue and lost development opportunities, while benefiting a relatively small criminal fraternity,” Steiner said in a report released yesterday titled The Environmental Crime Crisis.

Illegal logging, worth as much as $100bn a year worldwide, poses one of the biggest threats, damaging forests and generating incomes that “dwarf” other types of wildlife crimes, according to the report.

Militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia’s al-Shabaab are among groups that illegally tax charcoal shipments.

The total value of that unregulated trade in conflict-hit African nations alone was estimated at as much as $289 million a year, UNEP said.

Elephant poaching provides income for militants in countries including the DRC and the Central African Republic. The illegal trade in ivory is a key source of revenue for the Lord’s Resistance Army, which operates around the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan. The Janjaweed, based in Sudan, along with other “horse gangs” in that country, Chad and Niger also benefit from the sales.

Rhinos were killed for their horn, mostly in Zimbabwe and South Africa, which hosted the biggest remaining populations, UNEP said. Rhino horn worth as much as $192m was sold on illegal markets last year, according to the report.

As many as 25 000 elephants may be killed in Africa every year for their tusks, leading the forest elephant population on the continent to fall by about 62 percent between 2002 and 2011 to an estimated 420 000 to 650 000, UNEP said, noting that nations should better co-ordinate their efforts to crack down on environmental crimes, strengthen law enforcement and judicial systems and increase funding for conservation programmes to protect endangered animals. – Bloomberg