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A New Climate for Peace: Darfur

A farmer in South Darfur rides his cart while UNAMID troops arrive at the village as part of a routine patrol.

Case Study

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.



  • Bromwich, Brendan 2008: Environmental degradation and conflict in Darfur: implications for peace and recovery. In: Humanitarian Exchange Magazine 39:1, pp 22–29.
  • Bromwich, Brendan; Abuelgasim Abdalla Adam; Abduljabbar Abdulla Fadul; Florence Chege; Jim Sweet; Victor Tanner and Geoff Wright 2007: Darfur: relief in a vulnerable environment. Teddington: Tearfund.
  • Human Rights Watch 2005: Sexual violence and its consequences among displaced persons in Darfur and Chad. A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper. Retrieved 08 Apr 2015, from
  • Kirkbride, Mary and Richard Grahn 2008: Survival of the fittest: pastoralism and climate change in East Africa (Oxfam Briefing Paper, 116). Oxford: Oxfam International.
  • Mundt, Alexander 2011: Addressing the legacy of conflict in Darfur: Shifting land tenure patterns and humanitarian action. Retrieved 16 Mar 2015, from
  • Royo Aspa, Josep-Maria 2011: The economic relationship of armed groups with displaced populations. In: Forced Migration Review 37:1, pp 17–18.
  • Rüttinger, Lukas; Antoine Morin; Annabelle Houdret; Dennis Tänzler and Clementine Burnley 2011a: Water, crisis and climate change assessment framework. Berlin: adelphi.
  • Rüttinger, Lukas; Dennis Tänzler; Paddy Musana; Narcisio and Bangirana 2011b: Water crisis and climate change in Uganda: a policy brief. Retrieved 10 Dec 2014, from….
  • Takana, Yousif 2008: The politics of local boundaries and conflict in Sudan: the South Darfur case (Sudan Working Paper, 2). Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute.
  • UNDP 2011: Disaster-conflict interface - comparative experiences. New York: UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.
  • UNEP 2007: Sudan: post-conflict environmental assessment. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Case Studies

These 9 case studies illustrating climate and fragility risks and their complex interactions were selected based on geography, the availability of analysis and data, and the interests of the G7 partners.