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Climate 'calamities' boost risk of armed conflicts in ethnically divided countri ...


Climate 'calamities' boost risk of armed conflicts in ethnically divided countri ...

Drought, heat waves and other climate-related disasters may be fueling armed conflicts in countries where ethnic groups are sharply divided, scientists in Germany said.

In North and Central Africa, Central Asia and other ethnically fractionalized regions, nearly a quarter of recent conflicts coincided with devastating climate events, according to a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences .

SEE ALSO: The worst drought in 900 years helped spark Syria's civil war

While persistent droughts and colossal floods didn’t directly cause groups to start fighting, “climatic calamities” did dramatically boost the risk of such conflicts breaking out over the last three decades, said scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Humboldt University in Berlin.

“The very disruptive nature of a natural disaster may actually contribute to fueling the smoldering social tensions that exist already,” Carl Schleussner, the study’s lead author, told Mashable .

Climate 'calamities' boost risk of armed conflicts in ethnically divided countri ...

Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters in 1971-2010 than 1902-2010.

Image: NOAA

The report is the latest scientific attempt to draw links between environmental and climate stresses ― from water shortages to damaging storms and crop-killing diseases ― and political instability and bloodshed, said Francesco Femia, president of the Center for Climate and Security in Washington.

“It adds to the growing evidence that countries that have existing fragilities and [weak governments] are not only more prone to conflict but also more likely to experience conflict in the wake of… natural disasters driven by climate change,” Femia, who is unaffiliated with the study, told Mashable in an interview.

AMarch 2015 study, for instance, found that a prolonged drought in the Fertile Crescent played a key role in triggering Syria’s ongoing civil war, a brutal event that has cost at least 470,000 lives since 2011.

Climate 'calamities' boost risk of armed conflicts in ethnically divided countri ...

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani.

Image: Getty Images

That same drought was made two to three times more likely to occur because of human-caused global warming, the researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Observatory in New York determined.

Even more worrying for the defense and security communities: Climate projections almost unanimously show that conflict-prone countries in the Middle East, northern Africa and southern Europe will become increasingly drier and hotter in coming decades due to the warming planet.

Many of those nations are already suffering from extreme weather, including a rash of heat waves last week throughout the Arabian Gulf and North Africa.

The Iraqi city of Basra experienced arecord temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53.9 degrees Celsius) on July 22. The city of Mitrabah in Kuwait saw a temperature of 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius) on July 21 ― which may be the hottest temperature on record for the Eastern Hemisphere and Asia, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported .

Heat waves and hotter days and nights have become more frequent in the past 50 years, and such scorching events are likely to last longer, burn hotter and strike more often further into this century, the WMO said.

That’s a major risk factor for all countries, but especially those split by fierce rivalries among ethnic groups, according to the new study by Schleussner and his co-author Jonathan Donges.

For their research, the scientists looked at two key sets of data for the 30-year period from 1980 to 2010.

The first set included information on 241 conflict outbreaks, aggregated from security research firms. The second included data on the economic damages caused by 18,000 climate-related disasters, gathered by the German reinsurance giant Munich Re.

Schleussner and Donges looked at a range of risk factors ― low literacy rates, social inequality, high poverty levels, dependence on agriculture, etc. ― to help explain any coincidences between the outbreak of conflicts and the outbreak of droughts, floods and other extreme climate events.

Climate 'calamities' boost risk of armed conflicts in ethnically divided countri ...

Somali soldier looks onto a camp for people displaced by famine and drought.

Image: Getty Images

But only ethnic division fractionalization stood out as a leading risk factor. “It was something that surprised us as well,” Schleussner said.

“It may be that particularly in the ethnically fractionalized countries, where the ethnic borders may serve as predetermined conflict lines, there is an easy and fast mobilization potential [for conflict],” he added.

“But to really understand that, much more research is needed.”

Femia of the Center for Climate and Security said the study highlights the need for policymakers and organizations to be sensitive to ethnic tensions and inclusive of all groups as countries adapt to the effects of climate change or respond after natural disasters.

“We should be thinking about how actions to deal with these issues can actually help bring conflicting parties together, including those who are at odds along ethnic lines,” he said.

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