Climate and Conflict: A Case Study of Darfur Conflict (8)

David Ochieng Onyango

Relationship between Climate Change and Conflict Climate change is not just affecting the natural world. Researchers have long understood that rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions will also have cascading ramifications on the dynamics of human society, whether by forcing refugees to flee from newly flood-prone areas or arid regions, by causing spikes in the prices of food crops, or by reducing the productivity of livelihoods based on fishing or grazing in certain regions.


Droughts have been occurring more frequently because of climate change and they are expected to become more frequent and intense in Africa, southern Europe, Middle East, most of the Americas, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Their impacts like conflicts are aggravated because of increased water demand, population growth, urban expansion, and environmental protection efforts in many areas. Droughts result in crop failures and the loss of pasture grazing land for livestock and conflicts result here as a result of access and control of the pasture and water resources.
On the other hand, Confalonieri et al, (2007) notes that human beings are exposed to climate change through changing weather patterns such as temperature, precipitation, sea-level rise and more frequent extreme events and indirectly through changes in water, air and food quality and changes in ecosystems, agriculture, industry and settlements and the economy. According to an assessment of the scientific literature, he argues that conflictsthat arise due to the effects of climate like to date have been small, but are projected to progressively increase in all countries and regions
Kundzewicz (2007) note that precipitation during the 20th century and up through 2008 during climate change, there have been changes in precipitation, the crysosphere and surface waters like changes in river flows. Observed and projected impacts of climate change on freshwater systems and their management are mainly due to changes in temperature, sea level and precipitation variability. Sea level rise will extend areas of salinization of groundwater and estuaries, resulting in a decrease in freshwater availability for humans and ecosystems in coastal areas, and hence possible conflict over the scarcity of the water resource. In an assessment of the scientific literature, Kundzewicz (2007) concluded that the negative impacts of climate change on freshwater systems outweigh the benefits. All of the regions assessed in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Reportthat include Africa, showed an overall net negative impact of climate change on water resources and freshwater ecosystems. He further noted that semi-arid and arid areas such as Darfur are particularly exposed to the impacts of climate change on freshwater.
General circulation models project that the future climate change will bring wetter coasts, drier mid-continent areas, and further sea level rise. Such changes could result in conflicts through sudden human migration. Millions might be displaced by shoreline erosions, river and coastal flooding, or severe drought. Migration related to climate change is likely to be predominantly from rural areas in developing countries to towns and cities. In the short term climate stress is likely to add incrementally to existing migration patterns rather than generating entirely new flows of people
Willbanks (2007) argues that environmental degradation, loss of access to resources such as water; and resulting human migration could become a source of political and even military conflict. Factors other than climate change may, however, be more important in affecting conflict. He suggested that major environmentally influenced conflicts in Africa such as the Darfur conflict were more to do with the relative abundance of resources like oil and diamonds, than with resource scarcity.89 Scott (2001) on the contrary placed only low confidence in predictions of increased conflict due to climate change.
The potential impact of global climatic change on agriculture and forests in Africa has been highlighted. However, the discussion has assumed that the climatic change will arrive swiftly, taking agricultural and forests managers and environmental policy-makers by surprise. This assumption is not realistic because climatic change will arrive gradually and agriculture is continually adapting to climatic variation and does so relatively quickly. For example, it takes only about a decade to develop and introduce a new crop variety. By the time there is a rise in average temperature of a degree or two agriculture will have already adapted to the change. The interaction of human activities and climatic changes can therefore be discussed in terms of human factors which enhance climatic change and those which decelerate the change or ameliorate its effects.
Timberlake (1985) observes that the contribution of Africa to global CO2 pollution is very low due to low levels of industrialization, but the upper atmosphere is a continuous and dynamic system so this makes Africa about as vulnerable to CO2 pollution as any other continent. Africa’s contribution to increasing world levels of C02, however, comes in the form of the continent’s destruction of timber and fuel. The equatorial forests of Central Africa and coastal West Africa, together with montane forests dotted all over the continent, serve as major global CO2 sinks. Preservation of these forests is therefore essential to forestall rapid development of the climate change effects through the green house phenomenon. He further argues that the increased precipitation will change the flow characteristics and sedimentation rates of African rivers. Extensive soil erosion in Africa is an outcome of overgrazing, shifting and extensive cultivation practices and unplanned rural settlement patterns. Large herds of livestock are found in semi-arid African areas which are highly prone to wind and water erosion. The determination of national governments to develop river basins for agriculture, hydro-power and flood control measures is a very expansive exercise.91 Unfavorable climatic change in the next 50 years in conjunction with undesirable human activities will reduce the life of the associated structures such as dams and dykes and obviously increase vulnerability of the humans to conflicts.
Within the predicted global climatic change, Ahmad (1982) argues that it is difficult to predict any type of change accurately on a regional basis or even more specifically on an island basis. According to recent studies, global temperature anomalies would affect regional temperature patterns which have impacts on rainfall generating systems. There could be an increase in the occurrence of tropical cyclones and, depending on the distribution of temperature increases within the oceans, a change in cyclone tracks. Enhanced precipitation would occur in regions already experiencing heavy rainfall, but dry periods will become longer, and zones where rainfall is already scanty will suffer more drought thus limiting resources for human consumption and hence a recipe for conflicts. He further argues that the link between violence and resource availability may be an outcome of climate change on livelihoods in subSaharan Africa, but the event must be analyzed in the context of political, social, economic and geographic considerations variables that are often ignored as key controls.
It has not been found possible to distinguish clearly any simple long term trends or regular periodicities in the climate and its relationship with conflicts, though many attempts have been made to do so, and it is necessary to adopt an empirical historical approach to the subject. In tracing what is known of the history of Africa’s climate it is useful to gain perspective by looking at the changes over the past century against the background of the last several thousand years. As pointed out by R. 0. Whyte (1963), one should distinguish major changes in climate, in or out of pluvial lasting thousands of years, from minor changes lasting hundreds of years, and from variations or trends which are experienced for 10 to 50 years. Each time-scale has its own biological significance. The shorter period variations are superimposed on the longer period fluctuations and one therefore must recognize that as any attempt to penetrate further into the past, so our ability to distinguish minor oscillations diminishes and only the major changes can be detected.

Darfur Conflict

Since 1994, the Darfur region has been divided administratively into three states: North Darfur, with its capital Alfasher, South Darfur with its capital Nyala, and West Darfur with its capital al-Genaina. Darfur is inhabited by six million people, drawn from some eighty different tribes and ethnic groups. From a subsistence point of view, they could be divided into livestock herders – who for the most part are Arabic speakers and farmers who are bilingual and perceived as Africans. The ethnic groups in Darfur include the Fur, Bani Halba, Tanhor, Borty, Habaniya, Zaghawa, Zayadia, Rizaigat, Masaleet, Taaishya, Maidoub, Bargo, Dajs, Bani Hussain, Tama, Mahria, Mohameed, Salamat, Messairia, Eraighat, Etafab, Fallata, Ghimir, Bani Mansour, AbDarag, Selaihab, Mima, Turgom, Marareet and other African and Arabian tribes. Some tribes extend into Chad, Central Africa and Libya.
Inter-ethnic marriages for centuries have blurred the ethnic differences between the black Darfurians and Darfur Sunni Muslims. Ecological and demographic transformation had a negative impact on inter-tribal relations where drought and desertification led to conflicts and often violence over scarce resources. During the 1970s and 1980s these tribal conflicts became more intense and bloody, especially between the farmers and cattle herders who in search of water and pasture invaded agricultural land.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the increased migration of nomadic groups from Chad, Libya, and other states. Tougher living conditions coupled with the absence of or diminishing tolerance resulted in more tension between the locals and the newcomers which led to violence with cross-border implications. Increased access to weapons from southern Sudan, Chad, Libya, and Eritrea aggravated the inter-tribal conflict with the emergence of tribal militias. Some tribes believe that the government was not able to defend them against other tribes and armed criminal gangs who have more sophisticated weapons, which led several nomadic tribes to form their own defense groups. As a result the region became an open arms market attracting arms dealers to smuggle in all kinds of weapons such as small arms, heavy and light artillery, and including armored vehicles.

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