Socioeconimic, political and geographic factors play a much more substantial role in human conflict across the East of Africa than climate does, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.
“The effects of climate variability on conflict risk is different in different countries,” said CU-Boulder geography Professor John O’Loughlin. “Typically conflicts are very local and quite confined. The effects of climate on conflict in Ethiopia, for example, are different than those in Tanzania or Somalia. The idea that there is a general ‘African effect’ for conflict is wrong.”
According to O’Loughlin, the study attempted to clarify the debate on whether climate change is affecting armed conflicts in Africa.
“We wanted to get beyond the specific idea and hype of climate wars,” he said. “The idea was to bring together a team perspective to see if changes in rainfall and temperature led to more conflict in vulnerable areas of East Africa.”
The research team examined extensive climate datasets from between 1990 and 2009 for Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. They also tapped into a dataset containing more than 16,000 violent conflicts in those same countries during the same time period which provided very specific information under what type of political, social, economic and geographic conditions each incident took place.
The study, which included changes in precipitation and temperature over continuous six-month periods from 1949 to 2009, also showed there was no climate effect on East African conflicts during normal and drier precipitation periods or during periods of average and cooler temperatures, said O’Loughlin.
Moderate increases in temperature reduced the risk of conflict slightly after controlling for the influence of social and political conditions, but very hot temperatures increased the risk of conflict, said O’Loughlin. Unusually wet periods also reduced the risk of conflict, according to the new study.
“The relationship between climate change and conflict in East Africa is incredibly complex and varies hugely by country and time period,” he said. “The simplistic arguments we hear on both sides are not accurate, especially those by pessimists who talk about ‘climate wars’. Compared to social, economic and political factors, climate factors adding to conflict risk are really quite modest.”