Climate Change to Further Escalate Violence in Western Africa

Credit: UN

By Rabiya Jaffery
Abu Dhabi, UAE, Oct 28 2019 (IPS)

Nearly 50 million people in west Africa rely on agriculture and
livestock for their livelihood but the land available for pastoral
use has been rapidly shrinking.

While a part of this is because of growing population, climate
change has also been a major contributor to this, says George
Stacey, an analyst working with Norvergence*, an environmental
advocacy NGO.

According to the United Nations, nearly 80% of the Sahel’s
farmland has been negatively impacted by temperatures rising –
which they are at a rate that is 1.5 times faster than the global
average.

“As droughts and floods continue to increase in frequency and
duration, food production in most of the Sahel region remains
highly insecure,” Stacey told IPS.

“And for a region with such a high dependence on agriculture
that is also already suffering from food shortage, this has
extremely far-reaching consequences.”

Many areas in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal,
and Chad never fully recovered from the food crisis of 2012, which
was a result of a combination of droughts and regional conflicts
that shocked food prices, and pushed more than 13 million people in
the Sahel to malnutrition levels.

And as temperatures , food security will continue to destabilize
and farmers and herders will be forced to continue to be forced to
relocate searching for land to cultivate on.

“As herders and farmers in the Sahel migrate internally to
cope with degrading land and diminishing livelihoods, the threats
of violence and their chances of being recruited in criminal and
extremist groups established in the region continues to
increase,” Dr Joseph Faye, a climate and security impact and
adaptation scientist working with several think tanks in western
Africa, told IPS.

Poor governance and state authority have resulted in number of
jihadi groups and other extremist and criminal networks
establishing themselves in many parts of western Africa and food
insecurity serves as a recruiting incentive for them.

Credit: UN

John Podesta, founder and director of The Center for American
Progress,
writes in a brief
for Brookings Blum Roundtable, that security
experts are concerned about the connection between climate change
and terrorism and that the “the decline of agricultural and
pastoral livelihoods has been linked to the effectiveness of
financial recruiting strategies by al-Qaida”.

“There are a number of extremist factions that gained foothold
in different parts of western Africa and they are thriving due to
the dangerous combination of poor state security and easily
recruitable civilians,” says Faye.

The Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), for example, is a
splinter faction of Boko Haram that just in September 2019 abducted
six aid workers in Nigeria and has already executed one. ISWAP is
just one of the several extremist groups currently present in the
Sahel.

And many studies carried out in recent years by NGOs, think
tanks, and international bodies like the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP) have shown that most recruits of these groups are,
in fact, far less guided by ideologies than by financial
vulnerability.

And as climate conditions continue to worsen and diminish the
livelihoods of farmers and herders, it will continue to get easier
for different extremists and criminal groups to manipulated and
recruited them to serve as foot-soldiers.

The
UN special adviser on the Sahel, Ibrahim Thiaw
, has stated that
the region is already amongst the regions of the world that are
facing the most extreme brunt of global warming.

Poor rainfall and droughts over the past decade have resulted in
at least 14 million still requiring food assistance, according to a
report published in 2018. The Permanent Interstate Committee for
Drought Control in the Sahel also predicts a “persistent food
insecurity” for the
foreseeable future
.

“Poor agriculture and food insecurity spikes migration and
internal displacement which, in a region that already has a network
on violent groups and a history of conflicts, will only make more
people more vulnerable to turning to whatever option is available
for them to sustain themselves,” says Faye.

“Also, conflicts in any localized area almost always spill
further which is why threats in any art are highly concerning to
the security of the overall region and even beyond that of
course.”

The risk of extremism and violence in any part of the Sahel is
dangerous to the wider region because most countries in western
Africa have porous, largely unguarded borders that are frequently
crossed illegally by many – from merchants and herders to those
trafficking weapons, drugs, and toxic ideologies.

“Insurgencies in one country can and often do spill across
borders, as was the case when conflict spread from northern to
central Mali and into north and eastern Burkina Faso and
southwestern Niger,” says Faye. “This is why the destabilizing
effects of climate change in any part of it should be of great
concern to all those who seek security and stability in the
region.”

A
report by the World Economic Forum
emphasizes that while
military pressure is “undoubtedly required” to stop extremist
groups, the Sahel can only truly counter terrorism and conflicts if
foreign aid is used to directly invest in improving the livelihoods
of the region’s most vulnerable people.

Reports by agencies such as the International Committee of the
Red Cross point out that when funds are put to help
income-generating, small-scale pastoral projects such as dairy
farms and community markets, conflict and violence almost always
calms down.

“So long as armed extremist groups continue to be the only
reliable means of livelihood around, they will continue to find
people to join them,” states Stacey. “This is why development
organizations and governments must provide targeted help to the
pastoral and agricultural communities in the Sahel to continue
being able to sustain their work.”

The United Nations Office is one of the intergovernmental
organizations working on mitigating the conflicts that arise from
the loss of agricultural land.

“The United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel
promotes the peaceful coexistence between both groups and is
working with Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to
capture good practice from different countries in the region that
could benefit the countries most affected by farmer-herder
conflicts,” Kouider Zerrouk, head of strategic communications and
public Information of UNOWAS, told IPS.

ECOWAS is a West African political and economic union of fifteen
countries that also serves as a peacekeeping force. Member states
have also, at times, sent joint military forces to intervene at
times of political instability in bloc member states.

The World Bank has also launched a number of projects, including
the Regional Sahel
Pastoralism Support Project
, and the
Pastoralism and Stability in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa

but the report by World Economic Forum states that there is a need
for more.

”It is equally important that public and private leaders and
civil societies recognize and anticipate ways that agriculture and
livestock production are likely going to change in relation to
climate, and encourage investments in adaptation and new crops in
advance to avoid major declines in crop yields,” states the
report. “The future looks challenging, which makes it all the
more important to prepare for it.”

The article was supported by Norvergence, an NGO that
supports climate-related advocacy work.

The post
Climate Change to Further Escalate Violence in Western Africa

appeared first on Inter Press
Service
.

Excerpt:

Rabiya Jaffery is a freelance journalist covering climate,
conflicts, and culture-related stories from the Middle East and
South Asia.

The post
Climate Change to Further Escalate Violence in Western Africa

appeared first on Inter Press
Service
.

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Climate Change to Further Escalate Violence in Western Africa