Climate Change and Conflict: A Case Study of Darfur Conflict (9)

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.
Between 1983 to 1987, fighting broke out between Fur, Zaghawa and Ma’alihyah communities which resulted in 5,000 deaths, tens of thousands of displaced people and the destruction of 40,000 homes. The conflict was mediated and settled by government and local tribal leaders. In 1990 the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army inspired an insurgency led by Daud Bolad from the Fur tribe. The insurgency was defeated in few months. In 1996 the Rezeigat and Zagawa tribes came in toarmed conflict. In 1997-99 there was fighting between Massaleit and some Arab tribes.
According to the UNEP report on Disasters and Conflict, Darfur was marked as the world’s worst Humanitarian crises by the United Nations in the recent past with more than two million people fleeing away from their homes, with what the world claimed as an ethnic conflict between the government backed Arabs Janjaweed militia and the black African farmers forcing them off their lands. Climatic changes is also cited a s a factor, where water recourses is getting scares and arable land shrinking despite the ever growing population.96 The population of Darfur is generally divided into Arabs
and non-Arabs. The separation along such lines is probably more based on cultural heritage than on true ethnic separation. Although what is called Arabic tribes may have some Arabic roots, generations of immigration and intermarriage have rendered such separation almost meaningless.
The Darfur conflict has multiple interwoven causes. While rooted in structural inequity between the center of the country around the Nile and the peripheral areas such as Darfur, tensions were exacerbated in the last two decades of the twentieth century by a combination of environmental calamity, political opportunism and regional geopolitics. Darfur is itself a very diverse place, made up of over 90 tribes and countless sub clans. It is situated in western Sudan, with a pre conflict population of 6 million people. Darfur was an independent sultanate until it was incorporated into the rest of Sudan by British forces in 1916. However, it never received nearly the level of investment and development that Eastern Sudan and the Nile River Valley did under British rule. This marginalization continued under the string of central Sudanese governments that followed independence in 1956
While the conflict in Darfur is most frequently described as one between distinct Arab and non Arab or African tribes, the more accurate distinction between population groups in Darfur is not ethnic, but economic. The incredibly arid northern part of Darfur is populated mainly by tribes claiming Arab descent developed an economy based on nomadic cattle and camel herding. The more arable south, where the majority of the population traces African descent, developed a subsistence farming economy. Centuries of intermarriage and slave trading have blurred the lines between distinguishing physical ethnic characteristics, but for the most part this economic division has remained.
According to a UNEP assessment on the Causes of Darfur Conflict, Sudan, along with other countries in the Sahel belt, has suffered several long and devastating droughts in the past few decades. The most severe drought occurred in 1980-1984, and was accompanied by widespread displacement and localised famine. The UNEP report also listed the erosion of natural resources caused by climate change as among the root causes of social strife and conflict. The scale of historical climate change, as recorded in Northern Darfur, is almost unprecedented: the reduction in rainfall has turned millions of hectares of already marginal semi desert grazing land into desert. The impact of climate change is considered to be directly related to the conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on the livelihoods of pastoralist societies, forcing them to move south to find pasture.
Drought, famine and the spread of the deserts caused increased competition for land, severely upsetting the structure of Darfuri society. Farmers had claimed every available bit of land to farm or forage for food, closing off traditional routes used by the herders. The herders, desperate to feed and water their animals in a dwindling landscape, tried to force the southern routes open, attacking farmers who attempted to block their paths. Traditionally, conflicts were settled with little or no violence by respected local councils. These were abolished by the Bashir regime after it came to power in a coup in 1989, leaving no mechanisms for resolving disputes peacefully
Spurred by this increasing conflict over scarce resources and wedge politics played by the central government in Northern Sudan, nomadic and farming tribes began to polarize along ethnic lines. To Darfuris facing starvation, the dichotomous ideology of African versus Arab began to have explanatory power. Amongst some sedentary Africans, the ideas that uncaring Arabs in Khartoum had let the famine happen and then Darfuri Arabs armed by their Libyan allies had attacked African farmers began to gain credence. Similarly, semi-nomadic Darfuri Arabs began to seriously consider that Africans had vindictively tried to punish them for the famine by trying to keep them from pastureland.
Frustration and anger at this situation exploded into violence in 2003, when rebel groups called the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked government installations in Darfur. In response, the Sudanese government recruited local Arab militias known as Janjaweed who themselves had interest in gaining control over territory occupied by the rebel Fur, Zaghawa and Masaalit ethnic groups. Within a year, scorched earth tactics like the bombing of hospitals, clinics, schools and other civilian sites and systematic targeting of civilians for displacement, murder, torture and rape had left tens of thousands dead, while hundreds of thousands of others fled westward to neighboring Chad.
A ceasefire declared in 2004 and the arrival of African Union (A.U.) troops in Darfur failed to stop the violence and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in the region. In January 2005, the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) formally ended the Sudanese civil war between north and south, but the conflict in Darfur lay outside of the accord. In July 2007, the United Nations authorized a joint U.N and A.U. peacekeeping mission to replace the A.U. mission, though troop deployment did not begin until 2008. By 2009, the U.N. estimated that some 300,000 people had been killed and 2.7 million displaced since 2004.
The Nature of the Darfur Conflict Darfur has been the site of inter communal conflict for generations. However, in the eighties, the conflicts in Darfur became more vicious and many of them acquired an ethnic dimension, between the Arabs on the one hand and non-Arab identity groups. The transformation of conflict, which occurred in the eighties, was caused by several factors. First, he extent of the drought forced may Darfurian tribes to change their Nomadic lifestyle and seek settlement in lands considered by other tribes as their homeland. The decades of drought led to migration of more nomads into Darfur in search of water and grass. Secondly, the introduction of new traditions and new ways of fighting conflict, including the spread of modern firearms. Finally, in the eighties the traditional rule, which provided the main conflict resolution mechanisms, suffered from occasional political and administrative upheavals.
Resource conflicts are not strange to land-based subsistence societies in Sudan or elsewhere in the developing world. Historically, Darfur region has its share of resource conflicts which to some extent shaped its present state of affairs and probably its future destiny, including the mingling of resource conflicts and ethnic cleansing. The question where resource conflicts end and ethnic cleansing begins is an important one because it will determine to what extent the Sudan Government or the liberation movements are responsible for transforming resource conflicts into a modern warfare for political gains. The conflict in Darfur is popularly known as an egregious humanitarian crisis and horrific ethnic conflict between Arab and Black Africans. On the surface, the conflict appears to be fueled by ethnic tensions and racism; however, there are multiple factors which escalated preexisting tensions into the complicated and violent situation which exists today. Ecological change in the form of cyclical drought and desertification is one of the few agreed upon sources of the conflict.
As a result of reoccurring droughts throughout the 1980s, competition over diminishing fertile land and water contributed to tribal conflict and social unrest in Darfur, and ultimately a massive humanitarian crisis. Mounting frustration of decades of economic and social marginalization finally erupted into a full scale conflict in February of 2003 when rebel organizations successfully attacked Sudanese military posts in Darfur. The ongoing crisis in Darfur is commonly described as an ethnic conflict; however, the diminishing accessibility of natural resources, mainly water and land, and the desertification of the western most region of Sudan contributed to the escalation of a massive regional humanitarian crisis.
Historically, the nomadic tribes like the Rizeigat, resided in the drier northern reaches of Darfur and traveled with their animals south into the more temperate southern farmlands during the dry season. They would then migrate back north with the onset on the rains; but with water holes and seasonal rivers vanishing, the nomads gradually ventured farther south searching for fertile land to pasture.105 Before the droughts in the 1980s, the nomadic and farming tribes relied on one another, and their families intermarried, but eventually conditions deteriorated. Many of the nomads settled into a semi-pastoral existence, establishing permanent villages amid the farming communities, the Fur, Masalit and Tunjur.106 During periods of drought, the dramatic decrease in rainfall enabled Darfur’s farming community to produce local crops, resulting in a substantial decrease in the food supply. The nomadic populations also suffered because their livestock died from the lack of available water. Evidently, the southern regions of Darfur were overpopulated and the available natural resources stretched. With increasing competition over the diminishing pool of natural resources water, grassland, arable soil conflicts increased.
Economically, western Sudan has been and still is largely agrarian. According to Robinson (2004), before drought and civil conflict plagued the region, Darfur operated by three major agricultural systems: sedentary rain fed agriculture, sedentary irrigated agriculture and nomadic pastoralism. The ecological balance which once existed between sedentary agriculture and nomadic pastoralism suffered as repeated periods of drought due to climate change led to desertification and environmental degradation. Rainfall patterns changed, leading to a decline in rainfall intensity and rainfall duration. This led to conflicts between the pastoralists and the agrarian societies over the control and access of the scarce resources such as water for their animals and for irrigating their plants.

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *