Climate change as a cause of intra-state conflicts: Darfur case study

A tragedy of Climate Change

Master's Thesis 2012 86 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Peace and Conflict Studies, Security









Chapter 5




Pursuing post graduate studies is not an easy challenge; this work would not have been done without the help of my beloved wife who devoted herself for our family and took over most of the responsibility on my behalf for a hall year. I would also like to thank my lovely daughters; Ayah, Ejlal and Rhaf for tolerating my absence patiently.

My sincere thanks go to my Parents who taught me how to reach my goals despite all the difficulties I might face. Big thanks to my supervisor professor Bartson and all the staff of London academy of diplomacy, especially professor Nabil Eyad, Fatima and Rachel for their immeasurable help and kindness.


Climate change presents a serious threat to the security and prosperity of all countries. The effects of climate change and its security implications have now been at the forefront of international attention. Academic researches on environmental change and security gained popularity in political science and security studies in the 1990s. With Cold War-related security issues on the decline, policymakers began looking more closely at non-traditional security concerns such as environmental change, poverty and diseases. In so doing, the idea of what constituted state security expanded beyond the risk of direct military aggression from hostile states to concerns about the regional instability that could affect economic security and draw governments into regional conflicts.

Many quantitative and qualitative studies conclude that, climate change in itself is unlikely to produce violent conflict, but rather, it could serve as a “threat multiplier” whereby environmental degradation caused by climate change may exacerbate many of the underlining causes linked to violent conflict. However this conclusion is widely generalized, since it has put all countries in one basket despite the numerous differences and variation between countries as far as adaptive capacities and mitigation mechanism are concerned. Using Darfur as a case study, this dissertation examines the effects of climate change in poor or less developed countries, and critically analyzing the concept of climate change as a security threat that has ignited the conflict in Darfur, critically analyzing the role of drought, desertification, decreased rainfall, land degradation and migration in the conflict in Darfur. This study seeks to answer one question: whether the root causes of this crisis related to climate change? While acknowledging the prominent role of the International community in solving this crisis, this work intends to prove that, the absence of a common view on the nature and causes of the conflict has hampered international convergence about how to act on the Darfur crisis. This has delayed a coherent response and has contributed to the escalation of the conflict. Also the mischaracterization of the causes and nature of the conflict in Darfur has contributed to oversimplified views, which allowed the conflict to be politicized in a way that has complicated the search for solutions. This has hampered progress toward defining a political settlement, and toward finding a formula for allowing the various population groups to pursue compatible and sustainable livelihoods.

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Chapter 1 1.1 Introduction

This study seeks to critically analyze the role of climate change in intrastate conflicts in less developed countries, and carefully links between climate change and the untraditional concept of security threats. The study will also narrow in to analysis and takes the crisis in Darfur as a case study. This study will cover the period when the climate change started to hit Darfur in 1970s passing through the period of 1980s when Darfur was devastated by the major famine. Then it will focus on the era when the conflict escalated in 2003 and the role of the international community till 2008.

Darfur started to attract the attention of the international community following the outbreak of the conflict in 2003 owing to the escalation of the violent conflict that led to massive displacements, killing and deaths as a result of hunger or disease.

Since 2003, much is being written on what is happening on the ground, much less about the root causes of the conflict and that is because it has been looked at from a political perspective rather than scientific one, and therefore it has been described by many activist groups, countries and humanitarian organization as a genocide resembling the tragedy of the 21st century. However, the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed properly. Few scholars and scientists shed lights on these root causes, but the important stakeholders ignored the fact that climate change with increasing desertification and decreased rainfall is a major factor behind the crises which had started since 1970s. The symptoms of climate change in Darfur intensified in 1980s when the region witnessed a severe drought and famine, as a result, more people are competing for access to land, water, and other natural resources in Darfur. In 2003 the conflict turned to be an armed conflict between the various tribes over natural resources, especially water and land. These impacts include expanding desertification, decreased rainfall and land degradation left dire consequences, as pastoralists have migrated south for improved grazing for their herds, yet farmers have denied them access due to their marginal lands. As a result, more Darfurians are competing for access to land, water, and other natural resources than at any other time. The increased competition only further aggravates the already uneasy political, social, and ethnic relationships in the Darfur region. This research will discuss the linkages between climate changes and the conflict in Darfur.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

It would be natural to view these as distinct developments. In fact, they are linked. Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in convenient military and political shorthand an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change. Two decades ago, the rains in western Sudan began to fail. According to U.N. statistics, average precipitation has declined some 40 percent since the early 1980s. Scientists at first considered this to be an unfortunate quirk of nature. But subsequent investigation found that it coincided with a rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean, disrupting seasonal monsoons. This suggests that the drying of sub- Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming.

Ban Ki Moon, the Washington Post, Saturday, June 16, 2007[1]

Climate change will help produce the kind of military challenges that are difficult for today's conventional forces to handle: insurgencies, genocide, guerrilla attacks, gang warfare and global terrorism.

Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, 2007[2]

This is a prize that goes straight to the heart of the Peace Prize's purpose. No problem will create so much conflict, poverty and war than the climate problem if we fail to solve it.

Frederic Hauge, 2007[3]

People of Darfur have been devastated by war, and its aftermath has been sorrowful story of suffering, displacement and death. At the same time, the war has become one of the most misrepresented and misunderstood conflicts in recent history. Analysts and activists have oversimplified the causes of the war, slighting its historical and systemic causes. For years, public commentators ignored the nature and the real cause of the violence in Darfur, causing important misperceptions among the public and in the policy community[4].

Climate change has played a key role in the conflict in Darfur. The region of Darfur witnessed a severe drought since 1970s caused by decreased rainfall which led to land degradation; in addition to that, the population has significantly increased. The inhabitants of Darfur depend heavily on the natural resource base for their socio-economic activities. Land and water access are crucial for sustainable livelihoods. The majority of people earn their livelihoods through subsistence agriculture, either farming or pastoralist[5]. With the increasing competition for land and water resources and the lack of local conflict resolution mechanisms, the relations between the competing groups have intensified between the various tribes in Darfur in terms of conflicts over water and land using traditional weapons. The conflict's origin goes back to land disputes between semi- nomadic livestock herders and those who practice sedentary agriculture[6], as nomadic tribes facing drought are going after the territory of sedentary farmers[7].

In 1980s Darfur was badly hit by unprecedented drought that caused the well known famine in Darfur and the conflict between tribes continued to evolve as pastoralists have migrated south for improved grazing for their herds, yet farmers have denied them access due to their marginal lands. The year 2003 witnessed the escalation of the current crises but this time light mechanical weapons were used and insurgency against the government was announced by some tribal groups alleging that the central government is intentionally ignoring the development of Darfur. Although the conflict in Darfur in its holistic is approaching its fourth decade, yet no lasting solution was found. Now it has been nine years since the armed conflict in Darfur attract the attention of the international community following the outbreak of the conflict in 2003, during this period many Security Council resolutions has been issued against Sudan. Many unilateral sanctions were imposed on Sudan, an economical sanction has been applied to Sudan by EU, and moreover, troops from UN have been sent to Darfur. Recently, the case has been transferred from the Security Council to the ICC[8] accordingly, warrant of arrest was issued in favor of the Sudanese President and other officials, yet the crisis was not solved. If all these measures are unable to find the cure, then there is something wrong with the diagnosis of the problem.

The conflict is being presented in the media and by some stakeholders as a war between Arabs and Africans, with Arab militias, called janjawid, carrying out massacres, rape and pillage with the support of the Khartoum Government, and sometimes presented as a war between Muslim and non Muslim, while this is far away from the fact, the usage of the terms "Arab" and "Black" has been opposed, because all parties involved in the Darfur conflict whether they are referred to as ‘Arab’ or as ‘African,’ are equally indigenous Muslim black African[9]. Most of the policy makers, activists and researchers ignored or even denied the climate change factor as the major cause of the conflict. Instead they started pushing the International community to take coercive actions against the govern- ment in Sudan, and that was an important factor that deprived the International community from looking into the root causes of the conflict.

This study is aiming at critically reflecting the root causes of the problem through a realistic perspective rather than the symptoms.

1.3 Importance of the study

The idea that climate change and resource scarcity can lead to conflict has become a wide­spread assumption. Yet, a consensus has not been reached. Academic writings and scientific works on the issue differ in the final judgments. While there are strong theoretic arguments and qualitative case studies supporting the significant link between resource scarcity and armed conflict, some quantitative studies contradict these findings by believing in weak empirical evidence for such claims. This study would add a new dimension for this subject as it argues that the ability of a state to cope with the impacts of climate change depends on the adaptive capacities and mitigation technologies it posses. Generally, the ability of a state to adapt and cope with climate change depends on factors such as, wealth, technology, infrastructure and access to resources. For instance if a developed and less developed states have been hit by the same drought the poorest will be worst affected, While the developed state can absorb the consequences and adapt itself by using technology and the already existing adaptive capacities and mitigation mechanism. According to the IPCC’s 2007 report, the ability of countries to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change “is dependent on socio-economic and environmental circumstances and the availability of information and technology. (IPCC, Climate Change 2007).

1.4 The Aim, objectives, research question and hypothesis of the study Aims

To explore how climate change has affected Darfur, and to what extend scarcity triggered the conflicts between the tribes. Also this study will diplomatic role in this conflict. Furthermore, this study will explore approaches that could solve the root causes of the conflict.


The research will seek to achieve the flowing objectives

1. Examine, identify and analyze the root causes of the conflict in Darfur, thus to offer a suitable recommendations to state and non state actors who are involved in this issue on different levels.
2. Expose the major development needs that might reduce tension in the Darfur.
3. Offer an understanding of how the root causes of the conflict might be addressed.
4. Produce reference materials for the potential researchers who are interested in the same subject.
5. Offer a platform for teachers to alert students about the gravity of the environmental degradation as a cause of current and expected conflicts.

Research Question Often, political discourses drive policy more than the academic research does (Dalby 2010). However, sometimes political discussions can ‘run away’ from their scientific basis and it is important that academia pays close attention and speaks up when they do. This study, therefore, using Darfur as the case study seeks to ask the following questions:

Does the climate change constitute a root cause for the conflict in Darfur?

Is the connection between climate change and security valid?


What are the precise links between drought, rainfall and population growth, and violence in Darfur? This thesis is an attempt to answer this question. In order to investigate this, I put forward a general hypothesis:

Scarcity or depletion of renewable resources increases the risk of internal armed conflict, both directly and indirectly.

1.5 Research Methodology

The proposed method of study is mainly through the analyses of secondary data. The bulk of the information for the study has been gathered largely from secondary sources: published books, official reports, journal articles, newspapers magazines and ‘grey literature’. A primary source of data will be my experience, notes and informal meetings conducted with some tribal leaders in Darfur during my work in Northern Darfur from 2003-2005. Some information is also gathered from documents produced by United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and from United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). In this project, the first section is dedicated to a literature review of Environmental Security, Resource Curse, and Climate Change dimensions of Security. I have furthermore conducted an extensive research to find the prominent scholars in the field. Furthermore, I have incorporated their works into an analysis of the current debates on linkages between security and the environment. In identifying issues depicting climate change as being of security concern the thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach and goes through relevant literature from several fields. Reference is drawn from security studies, peace studies and environmental studies. The second half of the project is a case study of the Darfur conflict. The case study analyzes the context of the crisis using a qualitative exploratory study based on academic literature and personal experience in Darfur.

1.6 Overview of the Chapters

The dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter one consists of the Introduction, statement of the problem, aims and objectives, research questions, research methodology and limitations of the study, literature review and general introduction of what the paper is about. Chapter two includes discussion on historical background to Sudan and historical background to Darfur crisis conflict, and where it stands now. Chapter three discusses the beginning of climate change effects in Darfur including the history of rainfall decrease, which led to resource scarcity and compelled herding tribes to move south. The dissertation move to elaborate on land aridity, tenure and food security. History of tribal conflicts in Darfur has been dealt with in this chapter. Chapter three is concluded by a detailed history of the eruption of the current crisis. Chapter four includes analysis of the situation in Darfur by linking climate change to the conflict. Chapter five is allocated to the role International community in solving the crisis in Darfur; it focuses on the role of United Nations and African Union. This dissertation will be concluded by discussion, recommendations and conclusion.


The idea that climate change and resource scarcity can lead to conflict has become a wide­spread assumption. Yet, a consensus has not been reached. Academic writings and scientific works on the issue differ in the final judgments. While there are strong theoretic arguments and qualitative case studies supporting the significant link between resource scarcity and armed conflict, some quantitative studies contradict these findings by believing in weak empirical evidence for such claims. This study would add a new dimension for this subject as it argues that the impacts of climate change cannot be the same in every society, the severity of these impacts depend on the situation within the state itself. For instance if a developed and less developed states have been hit by the same drought the poorest will be worst affected, While the developed state can absorb the consequences and adapt itself by using technology and the already existing preventive measures. In the case of Darfur, since 1990 Sudan has been ranked the third failed state in the world by many specialized organizations like fund for peace Institute[10], a country ranking based on a set of indicators assessing stability and vulnerability and that includes social, economic, and political indicators such as demographic pressures, refugee flows, uneven economic development or severe economic decline. The vulnerability of people in Darfur is shaped not only by the persistence of poverty, the lack of good infrastructure, the difficulty of getting a foothold in the world market, and thus the intractability of underdevelopment, but also by the effects of armed conflict which has started since August 1955 and continued under all governments took power in Sudan. The central question is, does environmental degradation a security threat in week states? This study argues in favor of a revised framework of security that includes environment as a key determinant of conflicts in vulnerable areas like Darfur. Later, the thesis explains the conceptual linkages between environmental degradation and security through several theoretical viewpoints. The dissertation primarily focuses on the contributions of the constructivist school of thought to explain the idea of environmental security. The study also establishes a link between environment degradation threats and livelihood of people in vulnerable areas. This linkage helps to understand the relationship between environmental degradation and the conflicts in Darfur. Primary information on the prevalence and effects of ecological degradation and climate change are utilized to support the thesis. Finally, the dissertation concludes with the argument that environmental changes hamper individual security in poor states by affecting livelihoods and promotes security crises for states and regions. Hence, environmental degradation is a significant threat to security for both individuals and nation-states.

Since 1990s the international community has paid much attention to the security implications of environmental problems and climate change. In 2004, the Chief Scientific Advisor of the United Kingdom, Sir David King, suggested that climate change is a far greater threat to the world‘s stability than international terrorism.[11] A group of eleven high-ranking, retired American military officials released a report in April 2007. They argued that climate change would act as a threat multiplier that makes existing concerns, such as water scarcity and food insecurity, more complex and intractable and presents a 12 tangible threat to the national security interests of the United States.[12]

The literature written on resource scarcity has focused around environmental degradation as a cause of conflict, also known as the neo-Malthusian paradigm [13] or the Toronto group; Leading scholars in this field include Homer-Dixon, Baechler (1999), and Kahl (2006). As the founder of resource scarcity theory, Homer-Dixon identifies three forms of resource scarcity: "demand-induced scarcity", which results from population growth; "supply- induced scarcity", which results from the depletion or degradation of a resource; and "structural scarcity", which refers to the distribution of the resource.”[14] The interaction of these three factors is more likely to produce intrastate conflicts versus interstate wars. Furthermore, in the journal of International Security, Homer-Dixon introduces his model for identifying environment-conflict linkages in which he stated that, environmental change, population growth and unequal resource distribution would lead to internal conflicts .[15] “The degradation and depletion of environmental resources is only one source of environmental scarcity; two other important sources are population growth and unequal resource distribution.”[16] These main resources: water, land, fisheries, and forests (renewable resources): are essential for livelihoods of millions of people, especially for subsistence users. With renewable resources, Homer-Dixon identifies two main patterns of interactions for environmental scarcity: resource capture and ecological marginalization. Resource capture occurs with population growth and natural resource degradation Ecological marginalization[17] occurs when environmental changes from degradation lead to significant social effects, such as human migration into more ecologically sensitive areas.

Additionally, environmental degradation of natural resources has impacts across horizontal and vertical levels. “Environmental degradation may cause countless often subtle changes in developing societies. If the state cannot respond to the environmental degradation, either through markets, adaptation, or mitigation policies, then any existing social/economic/political political cleavages can erupt into conflict. According to Kahl (2006), state failure and the state exploitation can cause violent conflict over scarce resources[18] Agreeing with Homer Dixon; Kahl argues that resource scarcity, stemming from demographic and environmental stresses (DES), can place significant pressure on state institutions that may lack the capacity to manage the contested resource. At the field level, societal groups (such as pastoralists or ethnic tribe) may experience an absolute depravation (where they are actually separated from the resource for livelihoods) or relative depravation (where groups feel they are entitled to a resource and are denied access) from the resource.[19] Through a snowball effect, the denial of groups to important natural resources will lead to economic and political marginalization often cited reasons for conflict[20] However, a developed state with well established social adaptation institutions is capable to alleviate the consequences of resource scarcity and it is less likely have internal conflicts erupt over scarce resources. Future studies, therefore, should focus on poor states with a history of internal violence, which will be susceptible to environmental changes due to climate change. Additionally, researching connections between globalization and environmental degradation will be vital to understand why certain areas of the world are being changed faster than others.

In the international policy realm, climate change has gained more attention in the past several years. With the release of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific community has verified that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.[21] Additionally, in 2007, the publishing of the Stern Review found that the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs [22]. In particular, both reports strongly agree that developing countries will be the hardest hit by climate change due to lack of financial, technical, and institutional capacity. Importantly, the Stern review notes: “Climate-related shocks have sparked violent conflict in the past, and conflict is a serious risk in areas such as West Africa, the Nile Basin, and Central Asia[23] Analyzing the linkages between climate change and conflict has found a renewed interest. Despite the renewed interest in the climate change and security nexus, the phenomenon is not new. In the 1970s, both Richard Falk’s and Lester Brown’s explored the connections between security and the impending climate change.[24] Specifically, Falk pointed out the relationship between time and climate change: the faster the rate of change, the less time to adapt . As a result, without proper institutional capacity to manage environmental changes, the risk for violent conflict increases especially in weak states.[25] Another prominent scholar, Jon Barnett, explores the linkages between climate change and conflict: the political scale, the nature of governance, and the nature of environmental (as 26 opposed to resource) changes affected by climate change[26]

Barnett stresses the importance of understanding that nation-states are unlikely to declare war with one another due to climate change effects; however, it is most likely conflicts will erupt within the state between different stakeholders [27]. Barnett mentioned that conflicts in which environmental change appears to be a contributing factor tend to be within state rather than between states [28].

Another school of thought is the Zurich group around Bächler and Spillman, This group of scholars presented a final report in 1996 based on qualitative case studies on developing countries that had to deal with both environmental problems and armed conflict. The basic assumption of this group is that environmental change may lead indirectly to conflict by intensifying the existing potential for socio-economic conflict to the point of violent escalation. According to this view, conflicts are primarily socially or politically motivated, not an irreversible consequence of environmental change. The particular aim of this study was to devise a typology of conflict that links a particular kind of environmental degradation to its socio-economic consequences and the affected parties to the conflict. Drawing on an analysis of 40 environmental conflicts, the following categories were developed:

- Regional, cross-border and demographically-induced conflicts
- Migration conflicts
- International water conflicts
- Conflicts arising from distant sources


[1] Ban Ki Moon, the Washington Post, Saturday, June 16, 2007.

[2] Winner of the 2000 Lynton Keith Caldwell Prize of the American Political Science Association.

[3] Frederic Hauge, Lars Haltbrekken and Bärd Lahn (prominent members of three Norwegian environmental groups) stated their fears of climate change being a threat to peace in their appraisal of the Nobel Peace Prize announcement in October 2007.

[4] Foreign policy briefing, volume No, 89 June 1, 2010.

[5] Fadul, A. A. Natural Resources Management for Sustainable Peace in Darfur. Sudan, University for Peace, (2004), p. 34.

[6] Scott Straus, Darfur and the Genocide Debate, Foreign Affairs magazine, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb 2005), pp. 123/133.

[7] Bechtold, P. K. A History of Modern Sudan. Middle East Journal 2009, 63(1), 149 - 150.

[8] Security Council Resolution 1593 (2005).

[9] Alex de Waal & A. H. Abdel Salam eds, The Phoenix State: Civil Society and the Future of Sudan,

(Red Sea Press 200)1, p.45.

[10] Failed states ranking. Available at < www.fundforpeace.org>, [accessed on 9 June /2012].

[11] http://www.initiativeforpeace.eu, [accessed on 11/10/2012 at 23:30].

[12] Niloy Biswas, is the environment a security threat? Environmental Security beyond Securitization, international affairs review. Vol. XX, No. 1: Winter 2011. Available at < www.iargwu.org>, [accessed on 9/6/2012 at 10:15].

[13] Homer-Dixon, T. F., 1994, 'Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict: Evidence from Cases', International Security, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 5-40.

[14] Gleditch, Nils Petter , Environmental Change, Security and Conflict. United States Institute of Peace Press 2007, pp.177-196; p. 179.

[15] Homer-Dixon, Thomas. “Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict: Evidence from Cases,” International Security, Vol. 19, No. 1 (summer, 1994), pp. 5-40; p. 10.

[16] Ibid, p. 40.

[17] Ibid, p. 10.

[18] Raleigh, C. and H. Urdal. "Climate change, environmental degradation and armed conflict." Political Geography Magazine 2007, 26(6): 674-694.

[19] Colin H. Kahl, States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World, Princeton University Press 2008), p. 99.

[20] Homer-Dixon, environment, scarcity and violence, (Princeton University Press 2001), p.88.

[21] Ibid, p. 10.

[22] Raleigh, C. and H. Urdal (2007). "Climate change, environmental degradation and armed conflict." Political Geography_26(6): 674-694.

[23] Ibid. "

[24] Kahl. States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife, p.108.

[25] Dixon, environment, p. 121.

[26]. John Barnett, The Meaning of Environmental Security: Ecological Politics and Policy in the new security era, (Zed books Ltd 2001), p.62.

[27]. Ibid 64.

[28]. Ibid 55.


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Title: Climate change as a cause of intra-state conflicts: Darfur case study