Climate-Related Disasters Boost Risk of Conflict in Vulnerable Countries

(CN) — Droughts will linger longer and flood waters will reach further inland due to climate change in the coming years, and those disasters will also prove to exacerbate armed conflicts in developing countries across the globe, new research posits. 

Armed militias have proven effective in gaining territory as governments reel after a climate-related disaster, according to a paper from the University of Melbourne published Thursday.

Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, such as in the Philippines, where recurrent disasters weakened government structures in contested regions, opening a space for rebel groups. (Photo courtesy Inside Climate News)

The last decade saw some of the most severe weather events across the globe, with 2019 capping off one of the hottest decades since record keeping began, according to the World Meteorological Organization.As sea levels rise, and the frequency of severe storms and other natural disasters mount, so too will violent conflicts, argues the study published in the scientific journal Global Environmental Change.

In 2018, some 17 million people from 144 countries were displaced due to climate disasters, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

Those who remained behind were dealt a one-two punch of seeking help from a government that was too slow to provide relief as militia groups staged armed uprisings, the researchers said.

Lead author Tobias Ide from the University of Melbourne said that in nations where there are large populations of marginalized people and little state presence, people are left in the wind.

In a statement, Ide referred to climate-related disasters as “threat multipliers” for these developing nations to be pushed into violent conflicts.

“If we look at what happened in Mali when a severe drought occurred in June 2009, we can see that the militant Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group exploited the resulting state weakness and desperation of local people to recruit fighter and expand its area of operation,” Ide said.

In an interview, Ide said the study shows a strong correlation between climate-related disasters and armed conflict risk.

“According to our analysis, animosities are not the main reason behind this,” Ide said in an email. “Rather, rebel groups and militias are utilizing the opportunities provided by disasters to recruit new fighters (e.g., impoverished disaster victims) and to fill a vacuum of state control.”

He added: “Trends in ethnic exclusion are hard to predict but the number of authoritarian and exclusive regimes in the world seems to grow.”

Researchers used statistical analysis on a global scale using case study assessments, and they were able to compare each conflict and the circumstances surrounding the violence, according to study co-author Jonathan Donges from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research.

The study authors say their research will be invaluable to policymakers, such as the United Nations Security Council.

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