Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Does Climate Change Cause Conflict?

A facet of the debate on climate change relates to the highly controversial topic of civil conflict. The belief that impacts of climate change can play a role in conflicts amongst societies may seem incredulous to some. While being careful as not to state that the impacts of climate change are causing rather than triggering civil conflicts, evidence can be found which might point to such trends. 

While conflicts and wars have occurred in the past, due to dwindling oil resources, how far-fetched is it to state that similar conflicts won't arise due to dwindling, life-supporting resources such as water? Not so much. Continued negligence by governments towards securing basic needs for its citizens can cause possibly catastrophic revolts by distraught citizens. 

Below is a small clip from a documentary series named "Years of living dangerously", co-produced by renowned film producer/director James Cameron, which is based on the different aspects of climate change and its impacts. In the clip Thomas Friedman, noted New York Times journalist, is discussing a possible linkage between the drought that occurred in Syria between 2006 and 2010 and the civil war that occurred towards its end. 

The drought in Syria was severe, the worst long-drawn drought in its history. It resulted in acute water shortages and massive crop failures. Herders in the northeast of the country lost close to 85% of their livestock. A report by the UN in 2009 stated that more than 800,000 people in Syria had lost their entire livelihood, because of the droughts. The food security of close to a million people was threatened. 

This disturbed lifestyle led hundreds of thousands of farmers, agriculturally dependent rural families and herders to the cities of Syria. This put the resources of the already over-populated cities of Syria under severe strain. The problem of bad governance only added to the problem. So how does this link to the war? Simply put, the simmering frustration and dissatisfaction with the government's attitude towards the suffering of the people, could have provided the final trigger for people to jump on the revolution-bandwagon. Quoting Friedman from the documentary-"If a drought is bad enough, it can help push an already stressed society to the breaking point."

I reiterate that it would be grossly inaccurate to ignore the social and political factors that unquestionably caused the conflict, however identifying and analysing possible environmental factors that could have played a role towards the same could help mitigate future conflicts.

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