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Conflicts, Climate Change, and Humanitarian Catastrophe

Article by Benjamin White.

As a recent graduate of International Relations, Peace and Conflict Studies, Ben has discovered a strong passion for dissecting current international affairs and political issues. Particularly interested in contemporary armed conflict and how to bring about the resolution of such conflicts, he believes that development is the answer to much of the world’s strife. With that being said, he is mindful of the fact that the international system is highly convoluted and while he would argue it to be a powerful force for good, development will never be a panacea. To make better sense of the world and untangle its difficulties, there must be greater discussion about acute issues such as the causes of dispute. It is only through productive engagement with the wider topics of discussion that we as global citizens can, in turn, bring about positive change and, therefore, it is the author’s wish to always drive creative discourse.


The developing world, predominantly situated close to the equator, is more prone to both natural disasters and conflict than the developed. Although the severity of climate change affects us all, northern states still have the benefit of largely stable environmental conditions while regions such as the Horn of Africa and Central / Southeast Asia are at the front-line of the phenomenon. Intra-state conflicts occurring in these regions have caused waves of humanitarian crises and as weather patterns gradually become more severe, conflicts, whatever the cause, are exacerbated. 

Severe Weather Patterns – Extreme Conflicts

Poor geography is a consequential factor to the Global South’s development strife. There is a trend for developing states to have a strong economic dependence on the agricultural sector and, as Busby and Uexkull observe, this industry is highly vulnerable to extreme weather:

“Since climate shocks such as droughts or floods tend to disrupt farming, they often translate, in countries that depend on agriculture, into widespread reductions in income and high levels of food insecurity”

Notwithstanding other factors, such shocks put pressure on the state, fuelling divisions as factions compete over resources. Sudan, for instance, has has been particularly affected by drought in recent years. Coupled with deeply-rooted ethnic tensions and the late troubles of colonial rule, water-shortages have acted as a trigger for a number of the state’s conflicts. In extreme cases like that of Sudan this has led to state failure and such a fact dictates that the vicious cycle of conflict will keep waging as the state-structure breaks down, the rule of law diminishes, and the state’s ability to manage itself ceases to exist.

The dangers of the severe weather patterns and or conflict susceptibility combination are not exclusive to Africa, however. Southeast Asian countries are also highly vulnerable. Take Myanmar (formerly Burma) for instance, recent natural disasters have greatly added to the tremendous strains of the refugee crisis occurring in the region, further endangering groups of migrants and putting pressure on the bordering states, namely Bangladesh. While monsoons are typical to the region, their severity is incrementally worsening and due to the exposed locations of the refugee camps, their effects on these vulnerable groups have proven to be catastrophic.

Three days of continuous rain in Bangladesh have destroyed 273 shelters and injured 11 people in the Cox’s Bazar settlements where more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees live.”

The aforementioned Rohingya have been the target of political violence in Myanmar since the end of the British rule in 1948, recently becoming subject to ethnic cleansing. Those who survive have been forced out of their native land and thus reside in camps within the surrounding regions of the state.

 Exposed marshland within Myanmar, liable to flooding

Preventing Humanitarian Catastrophe

In order to minimise the casualties of such a two-way threat, in the most acute cases, that is cases similar to that of Myanmar or Sudan where conflicts are still raging, weather patterns must be analysed to predict disasters and then adjusted accordingly with humanitarian action. At the same time, warring factions must be contained in order to quench the conflict. Nevertheless, these measures are only short-term fixes and while necessary, there must be longer-term solutions. If the situation reaches a point where such a response is possible, development aid must be issued to assist in the building of infrastructure that would safeguard against more natural disaster. In turn, this should give the state a greater ability to manage the crisis and recover.

Moreover, it is important to note how the developing regions in question have a high tendency to be very dependent on agriculture, and therefore, development aid should also be targeted to alternative sectors. This is consequential for development in a conflict context even more generally speaking as it provides the indigenous populations with alternative means to war. However, in such cases where there is a threat of both conflict and climate disaster, targeted assistance would dampen the impact of both factors. The climate aspect wouldn’t have such an economic impact, for instance, regional migration would be more facile which in some cases would allow individuals to avoid the episodes and seasonal climate shocks would be less of an issue because of it.

Advocating for climate-friendly policies

Climate-related problems are bound to get more dire all across the world in the coming years though and as global citizens, it is our duty to do something now. The global security issues originating from intra-state conflict are far-reaching in this globalised era that we live in and while the direct consequences of the phenomenon will largely be felt in the developing world first, refugee crises, international unrest, and terrorism are all elements that reverberate across the globe. Climate change is exacerbating these security risks as well as being one in itself and we all have a part to play in combating environmental degradation.


References

Busby, J. and Von Uexkull, N. (2018) Climate Shocks and Humanitarian Crises: Which Countries Are Most at Risk?

U.N. News (2019) ‘Scores of Rohingya refugee shelters in Bangladesh destroyed by flooding’, 5 July 2019.


IVolunteer International is a Gold Seal nonprofit organization on Guidestar. Operating from Savannah, Georgia, IVolunteer International connects volunteers to volunteer projects around the world. Since 2017, IVolunteer has connected over 3,000 volunteers worldwide. In 2019, World Trade Center Savannah selected IVolunteer International as finalists of the Peace Through Trade Competition. In 2020, IVolunteer International will develop and launch a geo-connecting mobile application which will be available to volunteers around the world. 

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