The Cruel Confluences Of Climate Change And Conflict

15 Jul 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat
GENEVA, Switzerland

A new policy report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) explores how people deal with the combination of conflict and climate risks, and how they cope and adapt. The report suggests ways that the humanitarian sector can adjust and adapt to address these risks and makes an urgent call for strengthening climate action and finance in countries affected by conflict.

"When Rain Turns to Dust" describes how countries enduring armed conflict are disproportionately vulnerable to climate variability and change, because the adaptive capacity of people, systems and institutions already coping with the consequences of conflict tends to be limited. Based on research conducted in southern Iraq, northern Mali, and the interior of the Central African Republic (CAR), and drawing on the expertise of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and scientific literature on the subject. 

In the Sahel, an unpredictable climate and a degraded environment are, increasingly, endangering the lives of people in remote and impoverished communities, whose coping mechanisms are being radically eroded by violence and instability. In Yemen and Iraq, water insecurity – a threat to public health, and to food and economic security – is exacerbated by the weakness of institutions. In many cases, conflict also directly harms the very ecosystems on which people rely for their survival.

The double threat causes migration, weakens health care facilities, disrupts food production, and amplifies diseases. Of the 20 countries considered to be most vulnerable to climate change, the majority are already engaged in some form of conflict. The report estimates that by 2050, over 200 million people will need international humanitarian aid every year, doubling the number most in need now.

  • In Mali and Iraq, environmental and climate factors threaten access to water and food, affecting economic security.
  • In the Central African Republic, tensions have arisen between farmers and herders due to changing human movement patterns and the authorities’ limited capacity to regulate it. Traditional weather and crop calendars are no longer reliable.
  • In northern Mali, pastoralists and farmers have experienced repeated droughts and occasional intense rains and live in threat of conflict, forcing migration.

“Climate change is cruel. While it will be felt everywhere, its most crippling effects will be borne by the world’s most vulnerable. We witness every day the impact of climate shocks and environmental degradation on conflict-affected communities. Their ability to adapt is being radically eroded by violence and instability. These shocks cost lives,” said Catherine-Lune Grayson, ICRC’s in-house expert on climate change.

The ICRC is calling for mobilization from within and beyond the humanitarian sector so that climate action and finance reach conflict zones and to ensure that communities hit hardest get the support they need to adapt to a changing climate.