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Is climate change responsible for the conflicts we’re seeing around the world today?

(Eco Business, 17 Oct 2019) The relationship between a heating planet and violent clashes is complex — and critical, writes John Vidal.

“This is where I keep my weapon,” said Lolem, a young Karamojong cattle herder. Digging below the surface of the bone-dry ground in northern Uganda, he drew out an old AK-47 and some bullets, wrapped in plastic bags.

“The last time I used it was nearly two weeks ago. We were attacked by some raiders from Kenya at night. We shot at them but no one was hurt. Now the Ugandan army wants us to give up our guns, but we need them to survive.”

Pastoralists in this region have clashed for decades over water points and pasture lands, but in 2011 when I visited Lobelai, parts of Africa were facing their worst drought in 60 years. The pastoralist Karamojong communities and their neighbors in northern Kenya and South Sudan were desperate for water and pasture for their vast herds. There were regular skirmishes, sometimes turning into fierce battles with people being killed trying to defend their cattle.

In recent years, climate change has added to the volatile mix of extreme environmental conditions. Increasing numbers of climate-linked disasters, including desertification, more frequent and intense droughts, heavier rains, and flash floods have added to tensions, and the relatively small-scale clashes that have long taken place between clans, especially in the dry seasons, have become more serious.

But is the increase in violence because of climate change and more intense droughts, floods and other impacts? Because weapons have become more powerful? Because governments are hostile to nomads? Because of poverty?

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Eco Business, 17 Oct 2019: Is climate change responsible for the conflicts we’re seeing around the world today?