A New Climate for Peace: Darfur
Climate change and pastoralist conflicts
Pastoralism—the practice of raising livestock on communal lands—has long been an effective livelihood strategy in arid regions. Today, however, pastoralists in the Sahel and East Africa are increasingly limited by their growing populations, government policies favouring other sectors (e.g., intensive agriculture, tourism, and environmental protection), environmental degradation, and direct competition with other groups for resources. As their requirements for land and water increase, the increasing variability of rainfall can feed into existing conflict dynamics and increase the potential for violent conflicts.
In Darfur, the increasing scarcity of productive land and reliable water has become a major conflict driver for a population already stricken by underdevelopment, poor governance, political marginalization, entrenched ethnic conflict, and a shortage of economic and human capital. The vast and sparsely populated Darfur region has low and variable rainfall, which has required groups to develop traditional rules for herder routes, rights to water sources, and dispute resolution systems. But in recent decades, the traditional systems that upheld these rules have been disrupted by three factors:
- Since 1972, the region has experienced 16 of the 20 driest years ever recorded.
- Darfur’s population grew from just over 1 million in the mid-1950s to about 6.5 million in the early 2000s.
- New boundaries of tribal homelands and modified relations between tribal and national leadership (notably in 1971 and 1986) weakened traditional governance.
UNEP lists more than 30 conflicts in Darfur since 1975 in which environmental issues and livelihoods have been a factor.
When civil war broke out in 2003, with the rebel groups (SPLA and JEM) arrayed against the government and its Janjaweed militias, tensions rose across the vast and diverse region. Armed groups had no difficulty recruiting young men from the desperate and often dislocated populations. A long history of ethnic conflict in the region made for ready cleavages—reports of ethnic cleansing were common, wells were poisoned, and farmers intentionally burned grasslands and destroyed water points to deter pastoralists from grazing. Internally displaced people were vulnerable to attacks and gender-based violence.
The competition over scarce resources was an added stress factor in the conflicts in Darfur. Conflicts over specific resources were also key flashpoints in the larger conflict.
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