Climate Change and Conflict: A Case Study of Darfur Conflict (10)

David Ochieng Onyango

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.

Critical View

On a critical view, Fouad (1998) 107 argues that it is often said that the cause of the war in Darfur is the conflict between pastoralists and farmers over limited natural resources: water, agricultural land and pasture. No doubt, conflicts have always existed over these resources. But they are not the true cause of the current brutal war. In fact, the natural resources of Darfur are not meager at all. Administratively Darfur is divided into three states: South Darfur with its capital in Nyala; North Darfur with its capital in Al-Fashir and West Darfur with its capital in Genina close to the Sudanese Chadian border. These divisions do not correspond to clear ethnic divisions because first, diar are loosely demarcated; second, due to the desert conditions which prevail in North Darfur coupled with recurrent drought and famines since the 1970s, people migrate to fertile agricultural and grazing lands. Even without drought season movements of nomadic groups in response to variations in waterfall and availability of grazing lands population mobility is so common that it is the rule rather than the exception.108 Ibrahim (1998) proceeds to provide four data sets on water resources, groundwater, farming potential and grazing potential to substantiate his claim that the problem is not resource scarcity but central government neglect of Darfur region. He also shows that the livestock wealth of Northern Darfur is estimated at two billion US Dollars with an annual productive estimate of half a billion US Dollars. Although the people of Darfur and Northern Darfur in particular are poor, their region is not. By and large, Professor Ibrahim concludes that the problem is not resource scarcity; it is a problem of underdevelopment that has inflicted the region. Therefore, the current peace efforts will be futile without putting in place long-term policies to tackle this problem. In a sense, Darfur rebel groups’ demand for power and wealth sharing could also be understood as a direct plea for developing the region in order to be able to utilize its development potential.
The Impact of the Darfur Conflict According to the 2005 Nutrition survey of the conflict affected populations, a significant proportion of mothers are malnourished due to the impact of climate change on Reproductive Health and Basic Nutrition. The survey of the conflict affected populations found that 6.4% of mothers with children aged 6 to 9 months are malnourished. The current levels of maternal mortality are thought to be extremely high. Utilization of most basic child health services was low in Darfur before the crisis.
The humanitarian operation increased access to basic curative care for conflict affected populations, while utilization of government hospitals and clinics remains low. Since 2003, the crisis in Darfur caused child mortality to increase dramatically. The evidence clearly points to a decrease from 2005. Child malnutrition has increased with the crisis according to the report.
According to a Medicine San Frontiers survey on Doctors without Boarders (2005), Gendered violence and rape has been used as a weapon of genocide in Darfur. Women from young girls to graduation have been raped and brutally assaulted during the attacks on their villages, as they attempt to flee. Gang rape, abduction and sexual slavery are all prevalent forms of sexual violence in Darfur which has affected a lot of women. The report reported that 28% of the women they interviewed reported being assaulted. Women and girls as young as eight are abducted and held in sexual slavery in militia camps where soldiers would rape them. It is also reported women who tried to escape or resist attack were beaten, tortured or killed. Rape as a weapon of genocide has led to seven health consequences when it has exposed women to an increased risk of HIV /AIDs and other STDs. In other cases, such women who have survived rape attacks are subsequently disowned by their husbands and families leaving them vulnerable to future attacks because they lack the, economic, social and physical protection that men can provide. Furthermore, because children ethnicity is determined by their father’s women who become pregnant as a rape result are considered to carry enemy children.
In this conflict; rape does damage for beyond the scope of physical harm: It intentionally breaks apart social structure of Darfurian communities.111 The conflict in Darfur has also greatly accelerated the processes of environmental degradation that have been undermining subsistence livelihoods in the area over recent decades. The implication of this is that environmental drivers of conflict have worsened as a result of the current crisis. An understanding of the physical and social processes involved must inform humanitarian programming, recovery planning and peace processes at local and national level so that this accelerated environmental degradation may be slowed and its impacts mitigated.
The debate over the environment in Darfur illustrates the complexity of a conflict that has numerous levels. The lowest level of conflict, between neighboring tribes and villages, displays the environmental aspect of the conflict most acutely, as different livelihood groups seek to adapt their ways of life to increasing resource scarcity. This is happening in a context where traditional rules of environmental management have been weakened, and in places rejected altogether. However, even the conflict between different tribes has both local dimensions, over control of resources, and higher-level political dimensions. The local conflicts over resources have become a dimension of the wider conflict between Darfur and central Sudan, relating to long-term issues of political and economic marginalization, amid regional tensions relating particularly to Chad. Ethnicity complicates the conflict at all levels. The interaction of these different levels of conflict is one of the defining complexities of the Darfur crisis. Thus, while resource scarcity is not solely responsible for conflict at the tribal level, it is a major driver, and must be seen in the context of wider political and economic marginalization.
Darfur lies on the edge of a desert in an area that suffers both from an overall paucity of resources and a high degree of variability in the availability of resources. This scarcity and variability have required a high level of community management, given that different groups use resources in different ways for their livelihoods. The environmental aspect of the conflict therefore must be analyzed with reference to governance and livelihoods. The crisis has left land increasingly uninhabitable and intensifying tensions with no end to the drought in sight. The war has caused destruction on fields and soil erosion has worsened. Nomads and refugees are rapidly destroying forests around the camps cutting trees for firewood and also for wood to reinforce the mud walls of their homes. 113 These trees being chopped down are crucial to farmers, because they help stabilize the soil and provide shade for crops. They also help to attract rain. Majority of farmers, who left their lands, started regarding timber trade as the only way to make a living. Amount of wood used in biggest towns of the region such as EL Fasher, EL Geneina, and Nyala has increased since the beginning of the conflict. This has led to destruction of forests around this area as trees are being cut to provide construction materials for accommodation of the refugee camps and peacekeeping bases.
Environmental pressure was identified earlier by the UN as an important underlying cause of the current conflict. Large scale population displacement has led to concentrations of people in and around towns generating towards environmental degradation where vegetation has been rapidly exhausted and there has been pressure on water resources. Restrictions on livestock migrations have also contributed to localized concentrations of livestock, also causing over-grazing and further pressures on water resources. The trade of firewood and grass for fodder has become a hot issue in areas hosting large numbers of IDPs. In several areas, firewood collection has long represented a major threat to IDPs from violent attacks and rape. The trade is lucrative and in some areas is controlled by certain groups thus access to these vital natural resources is controlled by parties to the conflict. 114Many camps earn money by producing mud bricks which requires a lot of water along with still more wood to fire the kilns for making bricks for making bricks.
Through the cutting of trees and digging of land to provide raw materials for making bricks, environmental degradation has increased, as this contributes to soil erosion. Kunduwa forest in Nyala for example, has completely been destroyed although it was possible to prevent the destruction. The environment degradation has contributed a lot to climate change. This has increased the level of drought around regions of Darfur. The growing populations are straining for a very limited water supply due to draught. Data have shown rainfall steadily declining in the regions possible because of the weather changes linked to global warming.
According to the Medians Sans Frontieres (1997), about 200,000 to 300,000 people died in Darfur since the start of the conflict in 2003. Some 4.7 million people are currently directly affected by the conflict, out of a total population of around 6.2 million. There is also displacement of around 310,000 or more, people around 2008 bringing total of displaced person to 2.7 million. The conflict has also increased tensions in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic as hundreds of thousands of refugee’s stream over the two countries borders to escape violence. In Kasi, Sudan, Hundreds of Darfurians fled violence in their home villages to seek shelter in Kass, a camp of displaced people. The conflict has resulted to refugee camps being overcrowded by the genocide victims. This has made some camps not safe places for refugees in terms of diseases and attacks. 116 Refugee Camps such as Breidjing Camp, East of Chard, hosts approximately 250,000 refugees from the Darfur regions according to the report.
Saurin (1996) points out that changing climatic conditions and dramatic increases in carbon dioxide will put our ecosystems to the test, threatening supplies of fresh water, clean air, fuel and energy resources, food, medicine and other matters we depend upon not just for our lifestyles but for our survival. Evidence shows effects of climate change on physical and biological systems, which means no part of the world is spared from the impact of changes to land, water and life. Scientists are already observing the bleaching and death of coral reefs due to warming ocean waters, as well as the migration of vulnerable plants and animals to alternate geographic ranges due to rising air and water temperatures and melting ice sheets. 117Models based on varied temperature increases predict scenarios of devastating floods, drought, wildfires, ocean acidification and eventual collapse of functioning ecosystems worldwide, terrestrial and aquatic alike. Forecasts of famine, war and death paint a dire picture of climate change on our planet. Scientists are researching the causes of these changes the vulnerability of Earth not to predict the end of days but rather to help us mitigate or reduce changes that may be caused by humans.
Georgina (2007) observes that the humanitarian community remains under intense pressure with continuing violence and rising numbers of attacks on humanitarian conveys of great concern. As of September 2008, 225 humanitarian vehicles have been hijacked or stolen during the year; 32 conveys attacked, 144 humanitarian compounds broken into and 11 humanitarian workers killed all impacting on provision of vital services. The attacks on conveys had led WFP to reduce its general food ration by 25%. Without safe access to communities, aid agencies cannot guarantee sustained quality programmes on the ground, resorting instead to using windows of opportunity for example, using helicopters missions to visit area inaccessible by road to deliver what they can.

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