Climate Change and Conflict: A Case Study of Darfur Conflict (1)

David Ochieng Onyango

A research project submitted in partial fulfillment for the award of a Degree in Master of Arts in International Conflict Management at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies (IDIS), University of Nairobi.


Climate change is expected to bring about major change in freshwater availability, the productive capacity of soils, and in patterns of human settlement. However, considerable uncertainties exist with regard to the extent and geographical distribution of these changes. Predicting scenarios for how climate related environmental change may influence human societies and political systems necessarily involves an even higher degree of uncertainty. The direst predictions about the impacts of global warming warn about greatly increased risks of violent conflict over increasingly scarce resources such as freshwater and arable land. Dry climate/hot leads to scarcity in pastoral lands, and water being a basic commodity becomes scares as well. It becomes a recipe for conflict when settlers in a particular locality as forced to move from a much drier area to a less familiar area, where there are chances of meeting another society moving to the same area over the same predicaments. This all means greater competition for land and scares resources. There is already growing evidence to support the theory that the current conflict in Darfur is partly due to land degradation as a result of climate change. Less than a generation ago, Africans and Arabs lived peacefully and productively in Darfur. More recently, desertification and increasingly regular drought cycles have diminished the availability of water and arable land, which has in turn, led to repeated clashes between pastoralists and farmers. Darfur provides a case study of how existing marginal situations can be exacerbated beyond the tipping point by climate-related factors. It also shows how lack of essential resources threatens not only individuals and their communities but also the region and the international community at large. In the first chapter, the study starts by identifying the problem to be researched on which is; climate change and conflict. The problem gives a guide on the research objectives which help to lead the research study. Closely related are the research hypothesis which aids the researcher to focus on the link between climate change and the Darfur conflict. The relevance of the study is identified that will aid in linking the climate change effects to conflicts due to reasons such as rise in Human Population and increase of human activities that result to resource scarcity and thus conflicts over access and control of the scarce resources. This chapter clearly shows that not much has been done on trying to dig out the means how climate change can result to conflict in spite of the great threat of conflicts that will arise in future as a result of climate change. The study adopted the neo Malthusian Theory that argues that population growth will exceed resource growth and t us resources will end up being scarce as a result of them being depleted by the rising populations to meet their needs. Chapter two focuses on the definition of concepts and a correlation of climate change and conflict. It identifies the main causes of climate change and how it eventually results to conflicts through the impact of the climate changes. Chapter three looks at the impact of the Conflict in Darfur. It looks at the several ways in which the locals of Darfur have been affected by the conflict in one way or the other. Chapter four covers the critical analysis of the research findings from the field on various aspects of the conflict. Chapter five give the Summary, Conclusion and recommendations.
The conflict in Darfur has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation, which according to a UNEP report on post Conflict and Disaster Management asserts that climate change threaten to trigger a succession of new wars across Africa in future unless more is done to contain the damage. Climate change that transformed the Darfur region from sustainable agricultural land into a partial desert is behind the escalating conflict. With rainfall down by up to 30% over 40 years and the Sahara Desert advancing by well over a mile every year, tensions between farmers and herders over disappearing pasture and evaporating water holes threaten to reignite the half-century war between north and south Sudan, held at bay by a precarious 2005 peace accord..
There have been conflicts for seventy years or more between Darfur’s settled farmers and nomadic herdsmen, but they have become increasingly severe as a result of soil erosion and greater livestock numbers. Elements of modernization and judicial dispute resolution, which were introduced in more peaceful times thirty or so years ago, swept away traditional strategies for problem-solving or reconciliation without establishing new or functioning forms of regulation. Instead, during the last thirty years, there has been a tendency for weapons to be used straightaway even in small local conflicts. The high toll of the brutal fighting in Darfur has all the characteristics of a climate war; it also represents a new type of simmering warfare to be found in African societies in fragile or broken states. One of the main differences between the civil wars of today or tomorrow and classical interstate wars is that the parties have no interest in ending the conflict and many political and financial interests in keeping it alive. Violence markets and violence economies have come into being non state areas in which business are done with weapons, raw materials, hostages, international aid, and so on. Obviously, no trader in violence is keen to see his business come to an end; he will therefore regard any attempt to restore peace as an unwelcome disturbance..
A study published in June 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme noted that in Darfur, environmental problems, combined with excessive population growth, have created the framework for violent conflicts along ethnic lines between Africans and Arabs. So, conflicts that have ecological causes are perceived as ethnic conflicts, including by the protagonists themselves. The social decline is triggered by ecological collapse, but this is not seen by most of the actors. What they do see are armed attacks, robberies and deadly violence hence the hostility of them to us. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon provocatively identified climate change as an underlying cause of the disaster in Darfur. The UN Environment Programme’s assessment argues that there is a very strong link between land degradation, desertification and conflict in Darfur. In Northern Darfur, exponential population growth and related environmental stress have created the conditions for conflicts to be triggered and sustained by political, tribal or ethnic differences. These can be considered a tragic example of the social breakdown that can result from ecological collapse. Other scholars see Darfur as a bleak future of people fighting for survival over dwindling resources across the globe.
In April this year, the UN Security Council held its first-ever debate on climate change as a global security issue, and the ambassador of Denmark cited Darfur as an example of a conflict driven by resource shortages. These claims have enough truth to be interesting. But they run the danger of oversimplifying Darfur, and therefore need to be investigated carefully. Anyone who has seen the circle of desertification that spreads out from each town in Darfur, as the forests are felled for firewood, will recognize that human activity has also damaged the Darfur environment. It is continuing to do so as millions of displaced people depend upon wood for fuel and housing. This destruction is more a consequence of dislocation and displacement than a cause of it. It is an indicator of how the current crisis is putting further strain on the environment. The reconstruction of the villages in Darfur after the conflict has been resolved will put further strains on the region’s wood supply..
In Darfur, the strongest case for this argument would be that groups affected by declining rainfall migrated to other wetter areas of the region and thereby sparked conflict. The motive for that migration may have been fear of impoverishment and famine, but it was not a consequence of actual famine. It is the adaptation to actual or impending climatic change that is the key factor. 61.1 Statement of the Problem The danger of conflicts that is passed by mankind rapidly expanding populations and human activities such as industrialization that is aimed at meeting their basic needs have led to exhausting the natural resources such as forests and have led to emissions of green house gasses and this is what has led to climate change that has led to droughts as a result of the world getting warmer. This has in turn led to scarcity of resources such as water, and thus resulted to conflicts over access and control over these vital resources. With the end of cold war, a lot of attention is now being paid to conflicts that are generated from the depletion of the environment or scarcity of resources as a result of the growing populations. The deadly carnage in Darfur for example, which is almost always discussed in political and military terms, has roots in an ecological crisis directly arising from climate shocks. Darfur provides a case study of how existing marginal situations can be exacerbated beyond the tipping point by climate-related factors. It also shows how lack of essential resources threatens not only individuals and their communities but also the region and the international community at large.
Competition between pastoralists and agriculturalists over access and control of resources is key to so many conflicts in East Africa, including the crisis in Darfur. Violence between tribes and ethnic groups are the most visible dividing lines, but the stories of these conflicts cannot be told without including underlying environmental and demographic stresses.

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