The Climate Wars Are Already Here

In the Niger River Basin, climate change, an exploding population, and paltry infrastructure have formed a perfect storm for a new era of conflict.

West Africa’s Niger River Basin, home to some of the poorest countries in the world, might be the bleeding edge of a new kind of conflict. Along Africa’s third-largest river, climate change and ballooning populations in Mali, Niger, and Nigeria — the three largest countries that rely on the waters of the Niger River — are driving a looming resource shortage, exacerbated by strained infrastructure, that risks pushing them past the breaking point. And research shows economic deprivation and environmental degradation may have already begun to take their toll, contributing to destabilizing much of the region and potentially threatening global security.

From sharpening confrontations between farmers and herders over access to pastures and wells, to spurring the emergence of Boko Haram, the absence of water and electricity, and the depletion of scarce natural resources have already fostered swaths of poverty where extremist groups have taken hold. And in the next 15 years, the population across Mali, Niger, and Nigeria is projected to grow 75 percent, soaring to 337 million. More than half of these people will live in cities; three in every five will be under 25 years old. Crafting resilient approaches now to manage the vital resources that these people will demand — especially water and sanitation — could promote sustainable ways to absorb this boom, and help calm the unrest that has been simmering. Ignoring the rising challenge, however, is as good as courting disaster.

Delivering basic public goods and services is already a struggle for the governments of Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. Less than half the rural populations in these countries have access to clean water, and sanitation facilities are nearly non-existent. Many urban areas, too, lack formal infrastructure: Two-thirds of city dwellers have no electricity and fewer still are connected to sewer systems. Mounting demographic and environmental pressures, however, are threatening to make it even harder for these nations to meet their people’s needs, or for citizens to take care of themselves.

For the complete article, please see Foreign Policy.