Cape Town — In this allAfrica explainer we delve into the relationship between climate change and conflict on the continent
Levels of poverty, economic opportunities, and unemployment are key factors increasing the likelihood of conflict, and there is strong agreement that climate change is a major driver of violent conflict, according to the Institute for Security Studies. Climate affects the risk of violence within countries, and as global temperatures climb, the risk of armed conflict is expected to increase substantially, reports IPS.
But some of the biggest uncertainties are about how and why. Whether it’s because climate change may cause economic shocks in the aftermath of a disaster or leads to failure of agriculture productivity, it all comes down to three things: civil war is a lot more likely when the economy takes a downturn; the economy is more likely to take a downturn when the agricultural sector is not productive; and the agricultural sector will likely be unproductive when temperatures are high and rainfall low, according to a UN report
Ferrial Adam, an environmental justice activist who has been in the sector for about 15 years and is presently working on her PhD that looks at how people can use science to fight their environmental struggles says there’s a link between climate change and violent conflict. “It’s very clear that climate change is affecting the most vulnerable communities and as vulnerable communities are forced to find more water and food, that leads to violent conflict. So they’ll be localised conflict but I also think that in the future we could probably see more conflict between countries over water and food,” she said.
Nigeria is one of the countries really feeling the impact of climate change, with sea levels rising while Lake Chad is shrinking, and desertification advancing rapidly. Repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water in the drying lake contributes to insecurity in the region.
Conflict between Nigerian herdsmen and farmers dates back decades, according to the International Crisis Group, but escalated drastically in recent years as climate change is driving herders south into Nigeria’s central farmland. The years-long battle over land between herdsmen from the Fulani people and farmers in the central region known as the Middle Belt has grown dramatically. The root of the conflict lies in the forced southern migration, owing to drought, of herdsmen from their traditional grazing grounds, mostly in the northeast of Nigeria.
Now the nomadic Fulani herdsmen are in constant search for water holes and grasslands for their cattle, and due to land scarcity, herders are permanently relocating to areas that are already inhabited by farmers in southern Nigeria. Fulani herdsmen and Bachama farmers must now compete over scarce fertile land, furthering tension and violence between the two groups. But this migration into the savannah and rainforest of the Middle Belt did not just increase pressure on the land and pave the way for the conflict, but also created an opening for militant groups to establish themselves in areas around the Lake Chad Basin.
Between January and April 2019, the region faced several weather-related phenomena such as tropical cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, which caused extensive flooding in countries such as Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Cyclone Idai, recorded as one of the worst tropical storms to ever affect Africa and the southern hemisphere, claimed hundreds of lives and left a trail of destruction, including severe damage to key infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools and clinics. There are allegations of sexual exploitation of Cyclone Idai victims by local officials in the affected areas as hunger and destruction caused by the cyclone left hundreds of thousands of women and children vulnerable to abuse.
According to Oxfam, parts of Zimbabwe had their lowest rainfall since 1981 which has helped push more than 5.5 million people into extreme food insecurity. Meanwhile, Zambia’s rich maize-growing area were decimated and exports are now banned, with over 2.3 million people left food insecure. The situation is worsening including in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
Climate change is taking a toll right across the Horn of Africa, with increasingly erratic weather and low rainfall common in Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Ethiopia. According to the U.N., more than 2.5 million people in Somalia were forced from their homes by drought and insecurity in recent years and many are now at risk of starvation. Militants also exploited climate crises to win legitimacy and Al Shabaab learned to take advantage of natural disasters by helping victims and legitimizing its power, writes Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In South Sudan, frequent droughts have disrupted rural livelihoods and exacerbated local conflicts between communal groups. Historically, violent conflicts between pastoral communities have been a recurring phenomenon in the region according to the Institute for Security Studies. Living under harsh environmental conditions and being frequently exposed to droughts, the region’s people often fought over livestock and the access to water and grazing land. Communal conflicts in South Sudan killed thousands and displaced more. They’ve also impeded trade and agriculture, causing famines and crippling the local economy. Experts are becoming increasingly attentive to the role of climate change and more erratic weather conditions as an aggravating factor in the South Sudanese context.