Page 22 - Respond 2016 Magazine
P. 22

Climate wars:

       is the sahel the

       first battle zone?                                                                                   A herdsman on the Séno-Gondo plain of central Mali cares for his goats - a job that is getting harder as populations

       If rainfall decreases, and temperatures rise, as the IPCC’s 5th Assessment suggests, resource          expand and climate impacts intensify. Photo: © Nick Jubber
       competition across the Sahel is only likely to intensify.

       By Nick Jubber

       Suleiman is a Fulani herdsman on the Séno-Gondo plain of central   and the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa). In Suleiman’s case, climate
       Mali. One day he set out with his younger brother and his family’s   is key: as local chief Ali Hajji says, ‘this used to be a land of plenty’.
       cattle towards an inland lake near the village of Gorti.
                                                            But droughts in the Malian Sahel between the 1960s and 1980s
       On the way, they crossed the edge of a recently harvested millet   reduced vegetation and water availability, forcing herders to roam
       field. The farmer ran out, shouting at Suleiman to keep his animals   further, and prompting farmers to spread their crops more widely.
       away from the crops.
                                                            In 2007, the Nobel Prize chairman, Professor Ole Danbolt Mjos,
       ‘But you’ve already harvested the field,’ said Suleiman. Still, tensions   labelled the Sahel as the setting of ‘the world’s first climate war’.
       were high and the farmer was anxious about a portion of the field
       where the millet had yet to be culled.               Although this claim is loaded with too much drama for most
                                                            experts, there is a significant roster of voices supporting the
       He called to his neighbours, who surrounded Suleiman, wielding   contention that conflict in the Sahel is significantly driven by
       axes and sticks. When Suleiman staggered home, later that day, he   climate (including UN secretary-general Ban-Ki Moon, the UN
       was covered in bruises and wounds, and had to be treated at the   Environment Programme and the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report on
       local medical outpost.                               Africa, which asserts that ‘climate change will progressively threaten
                                                            economic growth and human security.’
       This is the kind of incident that prompts talk of a ‘climate war’.
       From Nigeria to Sudan, the imbalance between growing   But is ‘climate war’ an accurate title? ‘War’ suggests a series of
       populations and dwindling resources is levering conflict in the   interconnected battlegrounds, some form of military strategy and
       Sahel (the semi-arid buffer zone between the deserts in the north   specified goals.

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