›June 26, 2007 // By Rachel WeisshaarUN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently named climate change as one of the primary causes of the current humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Although most commentators focus on the political and ethnic dimensions of the conflict, Ban reminds us that herders (primarily Arabs) and farmers (primarily black Africans) coexisted peacefully until the mid-1980s, when drought struck the region.
Ban believes that peacekeeping is an important first step in alleviating the crisis, and he expressed hope that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will stand by his recent agreement to allow a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force into Darfur. However, Ban maintains that a more permanent solution to this conflict must address its underlying environmental factors. As he starkly stated, any lasting solution will have to tackle “the fact that there’s no longer enough good land to go around.” Ban’s piece draws on an Atlantic Monthly article (available to subscribers only) by Stephen Faris. In March, The New Security Beat’s Karin Bencala weighed in on Faris’ article.
Also, a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) states that environmental degradation—particularly desertification, deforestation, and overgrazing—has helped contribute to decades of conflict in Sudan. The report predicts that environmental stresses will precipitate future conflicts—particularly in Africa’s Sahel region and in east Asia, as UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said in an interview. The report also echoes Ban’s long-term environmental perspective on restoring peace to Sudan. “Investment in environmental management, financed by the international community and from the country’s emerging boom in oil and gas exports, will be a vital part of the peace building effort,” says UNEP’s press release.
Economic development is a necessary part of any solution in Darfur, but in order to achieve stability, this development must preserve, not deplete, Sudan’s already-overtaxed natural resources. Sudan cannot solve its environmental and resource problems without the help of those countries that likely helped cause them: unless countries with the highest levels of carbon dioxide emissions—the United States and China, among others—do not reduce their carbon footprint, even the most far-sighted Sudanese development strategy will be hard-pressed to succeed.
›June 25, 2007 // By Alex FischerOver the past months, climate change has been the darling of the news media. Now, reporters are starting to identify ways that climate change may threaten the American way of life. For example, what if the change in weather patterns affected the world’s coffee production? According to the UNEP Global Outlook Report this may not be an abstraction: “Coffee is the first, second, or third largest export crop for 26 mostly poor countries in Africa and Central America. Yet coffee is sensitive to changes in average temperatures.” The average U.S. coffee drinker consumes 3.1 cups of coffee a day. Can we imagine reducing that to one cup? Or paying double or triple for a single shot of espresso?
We are also seeing more stories about the consequences of hasty efforts to limit carbon emissions. Increasing demand for low-emission fuel is already causing shortage of blue agave, the source of tequila. The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller reports on the dramatic shift from the growth of the spiky-blue native Mexican plant to tall corn stalks; and writes that agave is the latest casualty of the corn-based ethanol craze.
The quest for climate-friendly fuel could also have unintended security consequences. Another recent article quotes Andrew Pendleton of Christian Aid: “You could have blood biofuels in the same way as you have blood diamonds.” What if biofuels are the next hub of conflict resources, akin to diamonds in Sierra Leone, timber in Cambodia, or minerals in the Congo?
The news media should be mindful of speculative reporting. Of course, terms like “blood biofuels” are eye-catching, but by using them, news outlets run the risk of overselling potential threats. ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko recently spoke about this phenomena at an event on environment, conflict and cooperation, noting the fallout from Robert Kaplan’s 1994 article “The Coming Anarchy,” which launched a strand of environmental fatalism whose gloom-and-doom predictions never came to pass.
This reminds me of the warnings I was told as a child, related through the classic fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Critics of climate change are ready in waiting for the Al Gore’s of the world to be revealed as metaphorical “boys.” It is imperative, then, that concrete evidence and studies are conducted to support the claims connecting climate change and security. And for their part, the news media should be cautious in their coverage of climate change, but also be commended for hitting on a question about the developed world’s priorities: Could the threat of losing luxury items produce more action than predictions of increasing natural disasters and coastal flooding? Is the thought of losing that morning cup of coffee enough to shift public opinion and behavior? And will these global shifts have a greater impact on the already fragile security of poor and post-conflict countries?
›June 22, 2007 // By Karima TawfikIn Southern Sudan, a semi-autonomous region starting to rebound after two decades of devastating civil war, scientists have discovered a surprising zoological phenomenon. More than 1.3 million migratory animals—including white-eared kob, tiang (African antelope), and mongalla gazelle—are currently thriving in the region, according to an aerial survey conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS).Encompassing 58,000 square miles, the survey provides the first reliable data on Southern Sudan’s wildlife since civil war broke out in 1983. And the results are heartening: the region’s migratory animal population rivals that of the Serengeti, considered the largest in Africa. Additionally, the survey spotted 8,000 elephants, concentrated primarily in the Sudd, the largest freshwater wetland in Africa. This documentation is even more astonishing in light of the experiences of other war-torn countries. For example, regional conflicts in countries such as Mozambique and Angola led to the collapse of peacetime animal protection laws, triggering widespread poaching that decimated local wildlife populations.
Although Southern Sudan’s abundant wildlife is a valuable ecological asset, scientists wonder how it will fare now that the recovering society is confronting new social, economic, and environmental pressures. In 2005, the U.S.-sponsored peace agreements established Southern Sudan as a semi-autonomous region; and since that time, notes National Geographic, hundreds of thousands of refugees—many of whom are farmers—have returned to the area. As the number of farmers increases, many could be forced to expand onto migratory land.
Oil exploration is further contributing to land scarcity. Director of WCS Southern Sudan Country Program Paul Elkan told the New York Times that the GoSS has already distributed oil permits throughout much of the white-eared kob and tiang’s migratory corridor. WCS has called for the creation of a Sudano-Sahel Initiative that would facilitate natural resource management and cooperation with the GoSS to convert thousands of ex-combatants from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army into wildlife protection officers. Initiatives such as this are a good first step toward balancing conservation and growth. But looking ahead, Southern Sudan faces difficult decisions about how best to protect wildlife in the midst of mass migration and economic development.
›June 21, 2007 // By Sean Peoples
Gender is an oft-debated topic in the development community, usually focusing on ways to build equity and equality for women. So what are the appropriate roles of women and men? Who should take on responsibilities such as environmental management? What about family planning and reproductive health?
In the following podcast, experts Karen Hardee, senior adviser in reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and monitoring and evaluation at John Snow, Inc.; and Elin Torell, coastal resources specialist at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, address these questions, and specifically discuss the role of gender in field-based projects that incorporate population, health, and environment components.
›June 21, 2007 // By Gib ClarkeThe breadth and depth of statistics available on the WomanStats Project, a new online resource for statistics on women’s security, lends strength to the website’s claim that it is “the most comprehensive compilation of information on the status of women in the world.”
The amount of information on the website is staggering: it includes 110 countries (a total of 172 will be available soon) and 243 variables, providing a wide-ranging analysis of women’s global security situation. The variables fall under nine themes, including physical security, which covers health and violence; economic security; and maternal security, which includes topics such as maternal and infant health care and availability of family planning.
Fortunately, the WomanStats database is not only large, it is also easy to use. The interface is simple, allowing the user to sort by country, variable, year of data collection or publication, and data source. The tables that display the results of users’ data queries are easy to view and print. And the data and variables are presented in a much more comprehensive fashion than they are in many other data sources. Both official and unofficial estimates are available, as is more qualitative information, such as the existence of laws related to the statistics (for example, whether a country engages in forced sterilization or child bearing, or whether women are allowed to hold public office).
In addition to providing data tables, the site allows many of the variables to be mapped using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Three sample GIS maps are currently available; color-coded by nation, they display levels of women’s physical security, trafficking of women, and sex ratios (revealing countries with disproportionately large numbers of male children).
WomanStats is coordinated by five principal investigators from three universities: Brigham Young University (BYU), the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. One of the principal investigators, Valerie Hudson of BYU, contributed an article—”Missing Women and Bare Branches: Gender Balance and Conflict”—to the Environmental Change and Security Program Report 11.
I encourage you to explore this excellent—and free—resource. If you have any comments or questions about it, WomanStats notes that it is an evolving project and will seek to incorporate user recommendations (and additional data!).
›June 20, 2007 // By Geoff DabelkoYou can now watch commentary from some of the 11 retired U.S. generals and admirals who contributed to National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, a report that is one of the more recent voices on the links between climate and security. A seven-minute video on YouTube features interview clips, press conference footage, and narrated background on the CNA Corp’s Military Advisory Board. If you would like longer versions, you can watch Generals Sullivan and Ward and Admiral Truly testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; or watch Generals Wald, Kern, and Farrell present the report for the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
One of the recommendations of these 11 retired flag officers is for the National Intelligence Council to produce a government-wide National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to assess climate’s threats from a U.S. national security perspective. Legislation calling for a NIE has been contentious on the Hill, with some Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee claiming precious time could not be wasted on such investigations in the midst of the war on terror.
Representative Edward J. Markey (D.-Mass.), who is chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, has a different view. In this video from the House floor he favorably cites the CNA report and defends the allocation of intelligence community resources to climate assessments.
And a final climate and security video recommendation, again from an ECSP meeting. Although the NSF-funded research is still in progress, initial results from Marc Levy (CIESIN), Charles Vörösmarty (University of New Hampshire), and Nils Petter Gleditsch (PRIO) on drought’s connections to violent conflict in sub-Saharan Africa indicate a statistically significant relationship. A substantive meeting summary gives you more details on their use of geo-referenced rainfall data and newly coded conflict data to provide the largely elusive quantitative evidence for these linkages.
›June 15, 2007 // By Karima TawfikRevenues from natural resources have funded and fueled civil conflicts in Africa—including oil in Nigeria, minerals in the DRC, and timber in Liberia. This month, Global Witness added cocoa—the main ingredient in chocolate—to the list of conflict resources, claiming that the cash crop has funded civil conflict in Côte d’Ivoire.
The world’s largest producer of cocoa, Côte d’Ivoire accounted for 40 percent of world production in 2006, and a quarter of the country’s inhabitants work in the cocoa sector. The current civil conflict began decades ago when northern Ivoirians migrated to high cocoa-producing land in the western part of the country. In the late 1990s, bloody clashes and discriminatory policies drove thousands of migrants off the land, and in 2002 the northern rebel group Forces Nouvelles (FN) began a military campaign against the southern-based government.
For the last five years, the rebels and the government have used revenues from the cocoa trade to fund the ongoing conflict. Côte d’Ivoire’s climate of corruption and lack of transparency, coupled with the global economy’s persistent demand for cocoa, has allowed the government to tap into US$38.5 million in cocoa revenues, according to Global Witness. In addition, the report claims that cocoa institutions (with the assent of the biggest multinational exporters’ union) used levies paid by international cocoa exporters to direct US$20.3 million to the government’s war effort in an effort to retain control of land in the war zone.
Currently, a European company, Gambit Investment Ltd, is facing allegations that it traded military helicopters for cocoa, which were possibly used in attacks on civilians. Global Witness reports that government helicopter attacks and executions killed 370 civilians in the principal cocoa-growing region between October 2002 and April 2003.
The rebels in the north control a tenth of Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa exports, using a system of blockades to extract taxes on cocoa moving through their territory. Global Witness alleges that the profits from this trade now serve as an additional incentive for the FN to continue to hold the north and resist reunification.
As in its successful campaigns to bring attention to “blood diamonds” across the continent, the international community must recognize that the cost of cocoa extends beyond its market price. The UN banned the exports of diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire in 2002. Until it, along with international financial institutions and individual governments, puts pressure on the chocolate industry to take concrete steps to promote transparency and reduce its role in the conflict, there will be no end to the civil strife in Côte d’Ivoire.
›June 15, 2007 // By Gib ClarkeNicholas Kristof’s editorial (subscription required) in yesterday’s New York Times outlines the huge challenges facing health care in developing countries. In addition to poverty, inadequate facilities, insufficient medications, and lack of trained personnel, civil conflict and instability join his list of “great killers” that significantly impede efforts to improve health and development in Rwanda, Burundi, and other African countries. Death and disease from poor health are thus part of the “the vast human cost” of allowing conflicts to “fester in forgotten parts of the world.”
Similarly, speakers at a recent ECSP meeting series described ways that health and population issues can be both part of the problem and the solution to instability and conflict. Countries in conflict and post-conflict face almost insurmountable obstacles to providing adequate health care for their citizens. But improving health and health capacity (e.g., a better-trained workforce and improved infrastructure) is part and parcel of increasing a region’s stability.
Kristof finds answers in Paul Collier’s new book The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. At the Wilson Center in May, Collier recommended four potential policy tools for assisting developing countries—aid, improved access to trade, foreign investment, and security and peacebuilding—yet pointed out that most of our time, attention, and money is dedicated to aid. He argued that a more well-rounded approach—one that recognizes that infrastructure and an educated workforce are necessary but not sufficient for development—has a higher likelihood of success. As Kristof says, “It’s pointless to build clinics when rebel groups are running around burning towns and shooting doctors.”
Ultimately, he calls on the West “not just to build hospitals and schools, but also to work with the African Union to provide security in areas that have been ravaged by rebellion and war.” Kristof deserves tremendous credit for making and publicizing the critical—but overlooked—connection between civil conflict and health.
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- The Year Ahead in Environment and Energy Friday, January 23, 2015
- Scaling the Mountain: Women, Health, and the Environment in Nepal Wednesday, January 7, 2015
- Emerging Priorities for Maternal Health in Nigeria (Abuja and Washington, DC) Friday, December 5, 2014