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Drought May Further Threaten Darfur Peace
Ben Block, 30 Mar 09
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Amidst the turmoil in Sudan, add the possibility of drought.

The Sahel, the semi-arid region between the Sahara Desert and southern grasslands, has received above-average rainfall in recent years. But precipitation trends suggest that a period of drought is in the near future, which aid workers warn could spell trouble for ongoing peace efforts inDarfur.

"This is three years they've been above the statistical average [for rainfall]," said Andrew Morton, manager of the United Nations Environment Programme's conflicts and disasters program. "If you believe in statistics, there is no evidence it will continue."

The expected drier seasons loom over attempts by the international community to revive peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and Darfur's rebel factions. Water and land disputes are at the core of negotiations, and improved resource management is necessary to avoid further violence, Morton said.

The competition for water and fertile land is considered a driving force behind the violence that has killed more than 300,000 people in Darfur since 2003, according to the United Nations.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center forecasted earlier this month that Darfur's upcoming rainy season - July through September - could bring asmuch as 20 millimeters (0.79 inches) less rainfall than the 47-year average from 1955 to 2002.

"There is a better chance for below average rainfall than above average rainfall," said Wassilla Thiaw, manager of the center's international bureau, which provided the forecast for its African Desk. [See precipitation records for 2005,2006,2007,and 2008.]

A drought would likely be disastrous in Darfur, where the United Nations is struggling to provide basic human services such as water, food, and health care for an estimated one million people in need. The aid organizations that had provided many of these services were ousted by President Omar Al-Bashir on March 4 in response to an InternationalCriminal Court order for his arrest.

The United Nations is already warning that its resources are limited, announcing last week that it is unlikely to have sufficient funding to fuel its water pumps for more than a month.

In Darfur, previous droughts have led farmers to fence off their land, forcing nomadic herdsmen to look elsewhere to feed their livestock. The drier conditions, coupled with overgrazing and deforestation, expanded desertification and contributed to fierce land competition between ethnic groups.

In the 1980s, desertification and poor land management were blamed for the poor water conditions. Today, climate change is recognized as a contributor to the conflict.

In Northern Darfur, 16 of the 20 driest years on record have occurred since 1972, according to UNEP. The loss of heavy rains throughout Sudanis due in part to natural temperature fluctuations, but climate models have recently found a correlation between the warming of the Indian Ocean and a drying of sub-Saharan Africa.

"Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change," wroteU.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2007.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its 2007assessment [PDF] that some areas of the Sahel are expected to become drier while others may receive additional precipitation. But a 2007UNEP report focused specifically on Sudans aid regions on the fringe of the Sahara, including parts of Darfur, are expected to rise in temperature between 0.5-1.5 degrees Celsius by 2060. As a result, rainfall levels may decline by 5 percent.

Thiaw, however, said that the Sahel recently received more rainfall than would be expected if climate change were affecting precipitation levels. "Most models point to suppressed rainfall over the Sahel with climate change, but that's not what we've been seeing over the past 10 years," he said. "But 10 years is still a very short period of time when you're talking about climate change. Climate change is something that happens over 20-50 years."

A separate UNEP report[PDF], released earlier this month, warned that the United Nations often carries out post-conflict operations "with little or no prior knowledge of what natural resources exist in the affected country, or of what role they may have played in fueling conflict."

Over the past 60 years, intrastate conflict resolutions have been twice as likely to deteriorate if the fighting was associated with a natural resources dispute, the report said.

In response to UNEP's warnings, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudanis investing$5 million to reduce water consumption 30 percent and implement other environmental improvements throughout its 25 bases.

"We will put green visors onto the blue helmets, making peacekeepers more environmentally sustainable," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, during an event at the Washington, D.C.-based WoodrowWilson Center on Tuesday.

For information on how communities in the region are attempting to adapt to these challenges, read "Building Resistance to Drought and Climate Change in Sudan" from State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World.

This article originally appeared on Eye on Earth, Worldwatch Institute’s online news service. Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at bblock@worldwatch.org.

photo credit: UNICEF

related posts: Desertification, Climate Change and the Developing World

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Comments

Your title is fine and the gist of the article is fine. But the following quote from the article is either carelessly used or it suggests the author doesn't fully undertsand the range and depth of the Darfur atrocity:

"The competition for water and fertile land is considered a driving force behind the violence that has killed more than 300,000 people in Darfur since 2003, according to the United Nations."

Climate change issues are most astutely referred to as a "threat multiplier" in Darfur's conflict; but they are not ethnic-cleansing or genocidal initiators - people and policies are (in this case, by Sudan's government).

Darfur is a complex, multi-layered conflict. Yes, desertification is a factor, but the "driving force" is President Bashir and his cadre in Khartoum, with political dynamics going back even farther.


Posted by: Rod Downing on 30 Mar 09

Great article, but I do think Rod's right: I'd place the resource competition among the "root causes," not just as a "threat multiplier," but the "driving force" of the conflict are the political dynamic that overlay the environmental concerns.


Posted by: Michelle on 31 Mar 09

Rob and Michelle, I concur. Your two comments above have touched on an important paradigm for disasters. One of the newest and in my opinion rather successful models for looking at how a disaster unfolds (Drought and war are both disasters) is called PAR. This stands for pressure and release- pressure models being how you get to a disaster, release being how you could potentially fix them. To explain it basically, all the of the politics, violence, and poor infrastructure issues that increase the risk of famine through indirect and direct means INTERSECTS with a "natural" hazard like drought.


Posted by: Sam Ripley on 31 Mar 09

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