Quantcast

Climate Is a 'Threat Multiplier' But Not Primary Cause of East African Conflict and Displacement, Study Finds

Climate
UNAMID provided emergency aid for displaced people in Mellit, North Darfur on April 6, 2014. Hamid Abdulsalam, UNAMID / Flickr

While there are predictions that climate change will displace masses of people in the near future—an Environmental Justice Foundation study reported on by The Guardian put the number in the tens of millions within the next decade—some have indicated that the climate refugee crisis has already begun.

The Syrian civil war has been linked to a massive drought in the region, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the conflict in Darfur one of "the first climate wars" in 2007.


But when a team of researchers at University College London (UCL) set out to track the relationship between climate, conflict, and displacement in East Africa over the past 50 years, they found that climate change had not been the main force behind wars and displacement.

Insead, the study, published in Palgrave Communications Tuesday, found that conflict and displacement were primarily driven by population, economic and political factors.

Focusing on 10 East African countries from the period from 1963 to 2014, researchers compared a database of incidents of political violence and the number of displaced people per country with global temperature records, the Palmer Drought Index, and data on population growth, population size, Gross Domestic Product and change in Gross Domestic Product, life expectancy and political stability.

A map of the 10 East African countries featured in the UCl study.Palgrave Communications

They found that population growth, slow economic growth and political instability were the leading causes of conflict and internal displacement.

However, when they looked specifically at refugees, that is, displaced people forced to cross borders, they found that severe drought did play a role in forcing their movements, along with population growth, economic stagnation and political strife.

"The question remains as to whether drought would have exacerbated the refugee situation in East Africa had there been slower expansion of population, positive economic growth and more stable political regimes in the region," lead author Erin Owain said in a UCL press release.

"Terms such as climate migrants and climate wars have increasingly been used to describe displacement and conflict, however these terms imply that climate change is the main cause. Our research suggests that socio-political factors are the primary cause while climate change is a threat multiplier,"UCL Professor Mark Maslin said in the press release.

This means that governments in East Africa have a crucial role to play in protecting their populations as the impacts of climate change increase. Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change overall, and East Africa is projected to see increasingly intense and unpredictable rainfall, according to the study's introduction.

"Our research suggests that the fundamental cause of conflict and displacement of large numbers of people is the failure of political systems to support and protect their people," Maslin said.

The conclusions indicate that East African leaders can do a lot for their populations without having to wait on global action on climate change.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on Nov. 15, 2018 in Paradise, Calif. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Respecting scientists has never been a priority for the Trump Administration. Now, a new investigation from The Guardian revealed that Department of the Interior political appointees sought to play up carbon emissions from California's wildfires while hiding emissions from fossil fuels as a way to encourage more logging in the national forests controlled by the Interior department.

Read More
Slowing deforestation, planting more trees, and cutting emissions of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases like methane could cut another 0.5 degrees C or more off global warming by 2100. South_agency / E+ / Getty Images

By Dana Nuccitelli

Killer hurricanes, devastating wildfires, melting glaciers, and sunny-day flooding in more and more coastal areas around the world have birthed a fatalistic view cleverly dubbed by Mary Annaïse Heglar of the Natural Resources Defense Council as "de-nihilism." One manifestation: An increasing number of people appear to have grown doubtful about the possibility of staving-off climate disaster. However, a new interactive tool from a climate think tank and MIT Sloan shows that humanity could still meet the goals of the Paris agreement and limit global warming.

Read More
Sponsored
A baby burrowing owl perched outside its burrow on Marco Island, Florida. LagunaticPhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Burrowing owls, which make their homes in small holes in the ground, are having a rough time in Florida. That's why Marco Island on the Gulf Coast passed a resolution to pay residents $250 to start an owl burrow in their front yard, as the Marco Eagle reported.

Read More
Amazon and other tech employees participate in the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice continue to protest today. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Hundreds of Amazon workers publicly criticized the company's climate policies Sunday, showing open defiance of the company following its threats earlier this month to fire workers who speak out on climate change.

Read More
Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 186 miles north of Nairobi, Kenya on Jan. 22. "Ravenous swarms" of desert locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia threaten to ravage the entire East Africa subregion, the UN warned on Jan. 20. TONY KARUMBA / AFP / Getty Images

East Africa is facing its worst locust infestation in decades, and the climate crisis is partly to blame.

Read More