In-depth: Gathering Storm - the humanitarian impact of climate change

AFRICA: Climate change and conflicts

AK-47s are commonplace in Karamoja
Johannesburg, 23 February 2009 (IRIN) - Karamoja, a semi-arid region in northeast Uganda, is in crisis: a potent mix of the impact of climate change - 14 droughts in 25 years - border conflicts, armed cattle-raids, and difficult development and sustainability issues are the main features, delegates at a recent conference on Climate Change and Security in Africa learned.

The humanitarian impact has meant that the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has an ongoing food aid programme in Karamoja for the last 40 years.

The situation in Karamoja was highlighted to raise awareness about the complex links between climate change, conflicts, migration and human security among pastoral communities in Africa by the France-based Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), a relief NGO which organised the conference, with Brussels-based think-tank Egmont Institute.

Shortages of food and water brought on by the impact of climate change could escalate existing conflicts and generate others, warned a new report prepared by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and its Expert Advisory Group, which is coordinated by a Canadian policy think-tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The report called for more research on how the impact of climate change could increase vulnerability to conflict, and how early warning could address the issue.

Armed cattle raids - using mainly AK-47s - which in the past had been a survival response when disease and famine struck a community, had now become a common occurrence perpetrated for commercial gain, said ACTED's Victor Onenchan.

The humanitarian crisis in Karamoja has long been forgotten, said David Knaute, another speaker from ACTED. "Since the Great Famine of 1980, during which 20 percent of the total population perished, several consecutive droughts have elevated the risk of food insecurity."

WFP is feeding at least 970,000 of the 1.1 million people in Karamoja. "Insecurity problems and the presence of weapons have also caused serious displacement and humanitarian challenges, with hundreds of women and children fleeing to major Uganda towns (Kampala, Mbale, Jinja, Soroti) to make a living by begging, and most vulnerable populations settling near urban centres with no source of income," said Knaute.

''Much research is still required to establish the links between climate change, human security, migration, and conflicts''
No direct links

Environmental factors could trigger conflicts in an unstable political situation, commented Daniel Compagnon, who teaches at the Science Po Bordeaux, an institute of political studies at the University of Bordeaux in France. Experts at the conference cautioned that "sensational" statements such as "climate change will lead to conflicts" should be avoided.

Much research is still required to establish the links between climate change, human security, migration, and conflicts, said Fabrice Renaud, Associate Director of the UN University's Institute for Environment and Human Security.

A 2007 UNEP report on the conflict in Sudan noted that the competition for natural resources brought about by climate change was "considered to be directly related to the conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on the livelihoods of pastoralist societies, forcing them to move south to find pasture."

A number of analysts and reports have focused on pastoral communities, who live in some of the harshest conditions, and on the rising incidence of conflicts in such areas, which have often been attributed to competition for increasingly scarce natural resources due to global warming.

About 40 percent of Africa's land is used by pastoral farmers, who are often semi-nomadic. This type of land use is as high as 80 percent in Kenya, according to Ali Wario, chair of the Specialist Task Force for the African Union Pastoralist Policy Framework for Africa.

Romain Benicchio, of the development agency, Oxfam, noted in his presentation at the ACTED/Egmont conference that dry and pastoralist areas occupy 70 percent of the Horn of Africa.

Pastoralists represent 10 percent of the total population in Kenya, 20 percent in Uganda and 10 percent in Tanzania, and most are extremely poor: around 90 percent of such communities in Kenya live in poverty compared to the national average of 50 percent, he said.

Countries in the Sahel belt have also suffered several long and recurring droughts in the past few decades, and the region has recently been dubbed the "ground zero" of climate change.

A multifaceted solution is needed

Years of political and economic marginalization, inappropriate development policies, a rise in abnormal climate events, and competition for natural resources had affected the ability of pastoralists to maintain a sustainable livelihood, said Benicchio.


Photo: http://www.karamoja.eu
Armed youth often steal cattle
He called for weather insurance, improved market access, microfinance and cash-transfer social welfare programmes to build resilience.

The new UNEP/Expert Advisory Group report said any attempt to bring lasting peace to the Sahel region would need to place adaptation at the centre of their development and conflict prevention plans.

Governments would need to rehabilitate the natural resource base, and address tensions related to access and tenure. A policy initiative by the African Union, in collaboration with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, hopes to address some of the issues.

Wario, who heads the Specialist Task Force for the African Union Pastoralist Policy Framework for Africa, said they were in the process of establishing an agenda for the framework.

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