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Climate Change and Armed Conflict in Sub Saharan Africa

Climate Change and Armed Conflict in Sub Saharan Africa

Climate change is the global phenomenon of climate transformation characterized by the changes in the usual climate of the planet (regarding temperature, precipitation, and wind) that are especially caused by human activities.

Due to the unbalancing the weather of Earth, the sustainability of the planet’s ecosystems is threatened, as well as the future of humankind and the status of the global economy. Although there is not one continent-wide ‘African Climate Change Effect,’ scientific data suggest that Africa is warming up faster than the global average.

Some areas of Africa will become drier, other areas wetter. For some it might mean prosperity due to an increase of rain and vegetation. For most other areas, however, it will mean dire adversity. Since the climate variations do not take into account the formal frontiers of countries, this might also be a future cause for concern even it remains to be seen how this concern will materialize.

The Sub Saharan Region of Africa has not been left out in these climate crises. For instance, current climate models in the region make it difficult to make a reliable forecast about the average precipitation in the Sahel zone.

The Sahel zone is a semi-arid strip of land that passes through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan. For the Western Sahara in particular the current models even produce contradictory results, as some say that there will be more rain, while others predict desertification.

There is consensus, however, about the high vulnerability of the Sahel region and the fact that climate change effects could be amplified by the fragile character of states in the region, by the susceptibility to socio-economic crises as well as by violent conflicts within these countries.

Climate change and conflict are already a reality. The Sub-Saharan African region is facing a formidable challenge of navigating a transition to a sustainable world. Sub-Saharan African region must meet the needs of growing and diverse global population by reducing poverty, hunger, ethnic violence, preserving human well-being, maintaining a healthy environment and natural resources base and moving towards sustainable human development and violence free pattern.

To flourish in this context, the Sub-Saharan African region must be able to response effectively to changing social, economic, environmental trends to meet sustainability goal. It is therefore imperative to know how climate change and conflict affect our environment and how the environment in turn affects our national development as a result of hot conflict in the region.

Climate change and conflict have always shaped human experiences. Climate change and conflict cases are a mix of short and long-term processes. Short-term conflict may occur as the gap between resource demand and supply reaches a critical point, similar to how earthquakes occur when tectonic plates move. Nature can also cause rapid changes that lead to substantial casualties in a short period. These sudden events will directly kill people.

The aftermath is destruction of food stocks, ruining crops, or spreading diseases which may also indirectly kill people over a prolonged period. Due to climate change, the chances for conflict and sustainable development will gradually accumulate and appear as a long-term process. Consider the climate change conflict as being more like an extended hot conflict and unlike World War II, which was short and extremely violent.

Although the hot conflict did not result in all-out violent, it was the cause of millions of deaths over nearly half a century. Major conflicts such as those in Liberia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and other places produced substantial fatalities. Deaths from slow conflict build up over time, and have a certain momentum. Consider a “fast” violent where 20,000 people die in a year. Now think about a “slow” violent conflict, where 2,000 die annually for 20 years or 40,000 dead in total. The latter conflict will cause twice as many deaths as the

first, and its prolonged effect may do more to destroy the social fabric for many more years to come. In the end, slow conflict may be more dangerous and more volatile. Climate change is a type of slow-moving environmental disaster, and conflict in it will occur over a long period. As the gap between needs and resources increases, so too will the intensity and duration of the potential conflict. Where short-term (or sudden) conflict may last a few years, long-term (or prolonged) conflict will continue for ten or twenty years, or more.

However, linking climate change to conflict begins by looking at two major types of possible convergence. These convergences are especially pronounced on the regional level. First, a group of regions likely to show convergence would possess a greater than average level of conflict.

In Sub-Saharan African regions with existing high conflict propensity, it may not require too much climate change to exacerbate and incite conflict conditions. Also, areas of higher than average climate change may converge with small levels of conflict to incite tension. There is the possibility that even in areas where there is little historic conflicts, greatly increased climate change may reveal hidden conflicts.

The areas of convergence point to places where climate change will influence conflict. Each convergence embodies differing types and locations of conflict. To support the idea of hot violent conflicts, regions of climate change and conflict should occur in the equatorial tension belt and the polar tension belt.

The ultimate goal, though, is to refine these broad swathes of the planet into more discernible genres of conflict, and identify the likely parties involved. Thus, there will be different regions even within a particular portion of the polar tension belt or equatorial tension belt that show attributes of climate change and conflict. There are three main parts to this.

First, it lays out the dimensions and depth of future climate change based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasts. These forecasts reflect regional configurations. Second, trends in conflict also need to be explored, both those in the recent past and those extending into the near-term future. Third, the climate change and conflict forecasts are examined on a regional basis. By examining the prospective areas of climate change and of conflict together, it is possible to identify where these two forces might converge and point to the lessons from historic cases.

The climate model for Sub-Saharan Africa contains four major sub-sectors: Sahara, West, East and South Africa. The impacts are especially prominent in the Sahara, which will grow hotter, and Southern Africa, which will recour less rain. Both of these consequences could be catastrophic when coupled with other trends.

Africa is one of the places most vulnerable to climate change. For people already living on the edge in Sub-Saharan Africa, climate change will be a disaster; climate change will fall heavily on Sub-Saharan Africa in a one–two punch. First, the Sahara and the Sahel will continue to creep south into the northern Sahel, and push marginal lands into desert. Second, a new widespread area of dryness will extend across parts of Southern Africa in a belt stretching roughly from Angola to Mozambique. The drying will descend on Africa with deadly consequences: “By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to an increase of water stress due to climate change, if coupled with increased demand, this will adversely affect livelihood and exacerbate water-related problems”.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains a region where livelihood has remained extremely reliant on agriculture as a source of income and of survival. Future agricultural production will be extremely compromised. These conditions will breed instability and this may lead to failed states.

Sub-Saharan Africa is already a region with substantial civil conflict that has international dimensions. Conflict is often over specific environmental resources, such as diamonds and oil. The region will see warming, but perhaps less than in the Sahara region. Precipitation impacts are not clear. With an existing record of conflict, high population growth and moderately declining resources, the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa will be one of decline.

The ultimate indicator of quality of life is life span, which in Sub-Saharan Africa has fallen since 1960. Sahara desertification will probably creep southward into heavily populated Sub-Saharan Africa. Human land use will amplify this trend. Over the last century, the Sahara has moved about 200 kilometers south into the Sahel and more tropical subhumid areas.

It is a marginal existence. Rates of food production trail population growth. Food is grown on marginal lands or fertile lands without proper fallowing periods. “The decreasing rainfall has also pushed northern pastoralists to migrate southward into lands occupied by sedentary farmers, causing conflicts and the widespread destruction of farmlands and cattle, with adverse implications for the region’s food and human security”.

This persistent conflict between pastoralists and farmers was explored in the historic Fulani and Zarma case. The line of the Sahara and the Sahel will move south and this will push up against the line of religious orientation that divides West Africa between a Muslim North and a Christian or Animist south. Muslim populations will tend to move south with these trends, and it is likely that conflict will follow.

In addition to marking a transition from pastoralist to farming livelihood systems, the Sahel is also a zone of cultural transition, where the Islamic culture from the north mingles with the traditional cultures of the south. The region’s large number of ethnic groups as well as immigration of several new ones – creates potential for conflict.

Sea-level rise will also impact poor African populations living on the coast. “Towards the end of the twenty-first century, projected sea-level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations”. Sea-level rise will cost African countries 5–10 percent of the national output. “Mangroves and coral reefs are projected to be further degraded, with additional negative consequences for fisheries and tourism industries”.

Sub- Saharan Africa will also see livelihood conflicts resulting from climate change. The Sahara Desert, expanding southwards, will encroach on currently habitable lands. Population pressure and a number of failed states will add to general instability.


Read also: Armed Conflict and Population Displacement

Read also: French Institutes for Advanced Study Fellowship Program 2022


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