Climate Change and War in Darfur
ESPOO, Finland, July 17 - There will be no peace in war-torn Darfur unless the region's water shortages are tackled, a top economist said on Monday.
International efforts to resolve wars like Darfur in western Sudan focus too heavily on peacekeeping and military strategy and not enough on climate and development, Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, told Reuters AlertNet in an interview at a conference on climate change.
The origins of Darfur's three-year conflict can be traced to decreased rainfall and population growth in the 1980s that sparked a struggle between settled farmers and pastoralists, according to Sachs.
"In general, crises like these are viewed through the optic of geopolitics
and the military,"
Sachs called for better international recognition of the role of climate in sparking violence and deeper understanding of the interaction between climate change and vulnerable communities.
"But when you are dealing with very hungry people and desperately poor
people, unless you also put forward a realistic and viable development option,
you can't make peace."
Richer societies tend to be better equipped to cope with extreme weather events, he said at the conference in Finland.
For example, during last year's drought in the midwest of the United States crop yields actually increased thanks to irrigation, whereas in Africa, where 96 percent of agriculture depends on rainfall, the same event could cause widespread death as a result of crop failure and food shortages.
Sachs also criticised the slow global response to disasters.
"We need to buffer agencies so that (when a disaster happens) they don't have to
beg rich governments for money,"
Droughts that cause food shortages and hunger can often be predicted using climate modelling and seasonal forecasting, but the current international system for raising funds only kicks in once a crisis is under way - meaning that relief may not start arriving until months after its onset.
"By then, there may be violence, and then people say they can't respond because
the situation is too violent,"
"Where rains fail in Africa, violence increases. We know that, but we
don't seem to be able to do anything about it."
Sachs said Africa's population would grow by 1 billion by the middle of the century.
He told reporters that the international community would need to come up with a global framework for dealing with growing migration caused by droughts, floods and other disasters linked to climate change.
Dry, landlocked places were likely to be a source of environmental refugees.
"The world needs a better response than locked gates, barbed wire and
shooting people. The political challenge is enormous and governments need to get
serious about addressing it,"
The conference which continues until July 21, is oganised by the World Meteorological Organization.