Thursday, September 13, 2012

Climate change and Africa's enduring instability

ETH (Zurich): Arid conditions in the Sahel and large-scale flooding in East Africa will help sustain Africa’s reputation for socio-political volatility and state failure. To manage the chaos in the worst-affected regions, argues Fawzia Sheikh, greater international participation will be necessary to boost the Continent’s resiliency.

Africa has long been viewed through the lens of environmental disaster. Ethiopia’s drought in the 1980s, for example, enlightened many Westerners about the consequences of a climate-sensitive continent. Yet projections indicate even more arduous times ahead as the planet warms and spurs a race for scarce resources. The situation raises questions about the need to strengthen susceptible states now, rather than postpone action until problems spiral out of control.

There is one caveat, experts swiftly point out: A shifting climate is what the security community describes as a threat multiplier. Most serious scholars specializing in the subject are careful not to assert that climate change causes conflict, noted Francesco Femia of the Center for Climate & Security, but rather that it intensifies existing political, economic and social factors that may erupt into conflict or violence. The likelihood of security-related problems following major climatic changes is “certainly higher in Africa”, due to the number of vulnerable countries experiencing tension between groups, he said.

...According to climate models, threatened areas also include South Sudan, Niger, parts of Mali, northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Nigeria, sections of Mozambique and Malawi, and pockets of West Africa along the coast such as Guinea. While the northernmost states of the continent and South Africa (including a few of the latter’s neighbors) will face climatic problems, Busby argued these regions may have “more capability to respond to them”....

Map of the Sahel by Redheylin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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