Darfur: A war caused by climate change

Darfur: A war caused by climate change

Since 2003, the Darfur region of western Sudan has been the site of terrible violence, death and displacement, what the United States has labeled “genocide.” What some may not know, however, is that the war in Darfur, Sudan is frequently cited as a classic example of a “climate conflict.”

Climate variability in the Sahel, which culminated with devastating droughts in the 1970s and 80s, has played an important role in pitting different groups against one another and against the government of Sudan.

 Two children fleeing from the violence in Sudan’s East Jebel Marra reach the Zam Zam camp for displaced people. Credit: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters (Source: The Guardian)

Two children fleeing from the violence in Sudan’s East Jebel Marra reach the Zam Zam camp for displaced people. Credit: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters (Source: The Guardian)

Some experts call the genocide in Darfur the world's first conflict caused by climate change. After all, the crisis was sparked by a decline in rainfall over the past 30 years just as the region's population doubled, pitting wandering pastoralists against settled farmers for newly limited resources.

In his paper, agricultural economist Marshall Burke of the University of California, Berkeley analyzed the history of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. He found that civil wars were much more likely to happen in warmer-than-average years, with one degree Celsius warmer temperatures in a given year associated with a 50 percent higher likelihood of conflict in that year.

“Climate change could increase the incidences of African civil war by 55 percent by 2030, and this could result in about 390,000 additional battle deaths if future wars are as deadly as recent wars,” Burke said. "If temperature rises, crop yields decline and rural incomes fall, and the disadvantaged rural population becomes more likely to take up arms," Burke said. "Fighting for something to eat beats starving in their fields."

The UNEP investigation into links between climate and conflict in Sudan predicts that the impact of climate change on stability is likely to go far beyond its borders. It found there could be a drop of up to 70 percent in crop yields in the most vulnerable areas of the Sahel, an ecologically fragile belt stretching from Senegal to Sudan.

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