This weekend, Jan Egeland, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on conflict, concluded a trip through Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to study the effects of climate change on the Sahel. The “trip has convinced me that there is a very clear link between climate induced resource competition and conflict, and I will be using what I have seen here to convince sceptics ahead of the Copenhagen meeting in 2009,” writes Egeland in one of his daily dispatches to IRIN News
Climate change is causing diminished rainfall in the Sahel, and what rain there is comes in unpredictable flood/drought cycles, which alternately sweep away and wither crops. Local farmers adapt to these changes by using unsustainable farming practices, which may produce higher initial yields, but ultimately lead to lower long-term yields. Growing populations further strain these countries’ shrinking water supplies.
With limited water and fertile land, conflict and the potential for conflict are on the rise. “As was explained to me by the Nigerien minister of water who travelled with me in one of the many cars in our convoy through the desert, there are already many conflicts between and among nomads and agricultural people in Niger, and between various ethnic groups, because of the scarcity of resources,” writes Egeland. “Others have estimated that around Lake Chad there are as many as 30 or more named armed groups, and the potential for increased conflict is endless.” These conflicts are almost universally local—in Mali alone, “there are hundreds of small and quite localized conflicts,” he says. The brewing and active conflicts fuel arms trafficking, a security concern in its own right.
Egeland believes that major international investment in climate change adaptation is important to reducing both poverty and the potential for conflict in the region. He calls for developed countries to provide both monetary and technical aid to African countries struggling to adapt to the effects of climate change, and he plans to continue his advocacy in preparation for the 2009 climate meeting in Copenhagen.