top of page

Climate Change in Conflict Zones

Photo from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Climate change is a universal issue that needs to be tackled everywhere. Some countries are tackling it well, some find it harder than others. In most cases, the complication lies within the country.

Conflict zones are spaces in which violence is currently occuring or likely to occur between two opposing parties. A notorious example of a conflict zone would be the battlefield(s) of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. To further explain, conflict zones are often marked by extreme violence and frequently lack essential services, such as shelter, transportation, communication, sanitation, supplies and more.

Therefore, how do these areas respond to climate change?

Obviously, the countries’ main priority would not be to address climate change but to defeat their enemy. Due to their inability to cope with the problems of climate change, the residents in these zones are often neglected and hence, they are the most vulnerable to the climate crisis. Thus, if they are indeed attacked by climate change, these countries will suffer many losses, because their ability to adapt to these changes has been weakened by conflict. Conflict limits how they cope with climate shocks, and how they deal with it.

For example, in the 1970s, West Africa was tormented by a long drought that soon brought famine along. During then, a northern Mali leader had said, “At that time, we only had to search for food. We could move freely with our animals. Now, we can’t even search for food. We are forced to stay in place or move to cities because of the insecurity.”

Conflict in a country often rouses insecurity and fear within its people. The events of early 2019 in Gao, Mali is a good case in point. Many herders and pastoralists were scared to travel to markets afield, despite there being scarce grazing space in Gao. They feared that they might get attacked by bandits or armed groups, and therefore, lingered around areas nearby water sources, straining their relationship with fishermen and farmers. Since insecurity prevented them from reaching better markets or resources, their livestock suffered, slowly becoming weaker till they were forced to be sold for cheaper, discounted prices. The decrease in income led to several herders becoming poor and struggling to feed their families. Perhaps if there wasn’t a sense of insecurity or the officials had been around (they were absent due to the violence), the herders would have received a more fruitful outcome and more humanitarian aid.

That’s just one of the ways conflict can affect the tackling of climate change. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. It’s not just how conflict affects the reaction to climate change, but is sometimes a reaction of it.

Climate change can cause conflict. There isn’t a direct correlation, but when global warming changes the physical landscape, it can result in geopolitical changes that can destabilise regions. For instance, the Horn of Africa. The US News writes, ‘...climate change or climate variability has influenced between 3% and 20% of armed conflict risk.’ The stress on natural resources can lead to nations being unable to govern themselves, hence increasing chances of conflicts. In simple words, when climate change worsens the social, economic and environmental factors of an area, it can lead to a conflict between two struggling parties. For example, cattle herders and agricultural farmers. If climate change lessens their resources, they will be forced to share already-diminishing sources with one another. This can lead to tension building up between them, and eventually a conflict. In the absence of a strong and inclusive institution, the conflict will soon develop into something more severe. In short, resource depletion causes shortages which causes disagreements.

Another link between climate change and conflict is how conflict contributes to climate change. Armed conflict or war frequently leads to the destruction and damage of infrastructure or forests, which causes deterioration in our environment, such as the release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Hypothetically, if conflicts are of high intensity, they would require huge amounts of fuel which produces huge quantities of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, large-scale vehicle movements and explosions can cause physical damage to geodiversity and the world’s landscape, straining natural resources.

In conclusion, climate change is affecting humanitarian action and instead severing humanitarian crises. In order for things to improve, there must be structural and systemic changes, ranging from political will to investments. Major efforts must be made and one’s attention should be directed to the most serious issues, not the most petty. Moreover, organisations should work with one another to help protect neglected conflict zones and fill up its gap for needed funding.

Therefore, if conflict zones hope to be rid of the effects of climate change, it should try to not be a conflict zone in the first place. Believe me, things will be better for it.

PS: To all politicians, my schoolmates, well-respected state officials and the environment, stop being so toxic.

bottom of page