Saturday, July 28, 2007

Conflict heats up

The effects of global warming, some now say, can already be seen - in Darfur. But the reference in this case is not to the environmental effects, but to the social and cultural ones, to the potential for conflict. The Christian Science Monitor discussed it on Friday:
Competition for water - in refugee camps, between farmers and herders, and between countries - has long sparked conflict in the arid region and forms one of the main causes of the war in Sudan's Darfur region. But the trouble is only beginning, as it becomes clear that dramatic climate change will have its sharpest effects in Africa, leading to rising hardship, massive population displacement, and, in some cases, all-out war.
Decades of drought marked by rainfall that has dropped by 40% over the past 50 years and has left Lake Chad a mere one-tenth its original size have forced Arab nomads to range further south ahead of advancing desertification in search of water for their stocks. The inevitable result has been bloodshed amid increasing competition for decreasing resources. Some point directly to global warming as a cause.
British Home Secretary John Reid pointed to global warming as a key factor behind the conflict in Darfur. "The blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur," he said. "We should see this as a warning sign."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also joined the climate-change bandwagon, writing in a Washington Post opinion page column, "The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change."
"Bandwagon" is a rather pejorative term, especially considering that he had good cause for his statement: An 18-month study of Sudan by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), released a month ago, confirmed that
[t]he conflict in Darfur has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation, which threaten to trigger a succession of new wars across Africa unless more is done to contain the damage,
The Guardian (UK) reported at the time.

Still, not all are convinced: CSM says that activists in the Save Darfur Coalition say that the climate-change argument is just an attempt to absolve Sudan's government of its role in supplying and directing janjaweed militias in their murderous attacks against black villages.

But frankly, as much as I support the work of the Coalition, I don't buy the accusation. I have to say that I see no contradiction whatsoever between noting that climate factors played a role in initiating the conflict and denouncing the viciousness and cruelty that have been shown by the janjaweed and their Sudanese backers. Ignoring issues of resource depletion and competition in starting wars only condemns us to even more of them than we would see otherwise.

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