Creating the Environmental Conditions for Violence

The environmental catastrophes in Africa are often seen or heard about in the news but seldom connected to the on-going violence and crisis erupting in the region. Based on intense climate change and various causes introduced by human actions, these environmental problems cause numerous humanitarian issues which lead to various forms of violent conflict.  This is the first part of a two part personal view on the relations between environmental degradation and societal violence in Africa.  In this part, we shall explore the environmental conditions conducive to societal violence.

Changing rain patterns due to the Intertropical Convergence Zone determine the areas which experience warmer temperatures and drought during certain parts of the year.

Climate change is one of the major environmental concerns in Africa. Although it is has been a common issue in the region and around the world for decades, rising temperatures are proving to be more severe than ever before. Many of these changes in heat are initially caused by variations in the sea-surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean, also known as the El Niño and La Niña phenomena. Atlantic and Indian Ocean warming is correlated with the Pacific’s climate temperature oscillations, causing extreme African weather due to changes in traditional rainfall patterns and the release of large amounts of heat into the atmosphere. The changing Intertropical Convergence Zone, an area surrounding the equator where winds originating in the northern and southern hemispheres come together, affects rainfall in many equatorial African nations as well. These two weather phenomenon produce drier-than-normal periods in various regions (depending on the season), leading to the severe African drought conditions seen today.

Due to these circumstances, essential rain seasons do not occur frequently, if at all. Any rain that does come falls on the extremely dry and arid earth, washing away any fertile soil that remains, along with any hopes of using the land for harvesting crops. A study done by the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development suggests that such climate change could cause farm output in sub-Saharan Africa to decrease by 12% by 2080, while the figure for other African countries could be as high as 60%. Prolonged droughts and unseasonal heat are also reaping havoc on livestock. According to Jean-Cyril Dagorn, a policy and advocacy officer for economic justice at the humanitarian organization Oxfam, the Horn of Africa’s “cattle breeders and shepherds have lost between 30% and 60% of their livestock due to extreme weather conditions,” aggravating the region’s food security situation even further. For African farmers, most of whom are unable to come up with their own resources to stem these environmental problems, the current challenge is to find ways to adapt to this changing climate as soon as possible.

The source of Africa’s environmental dilemmas is also generated by human activity, particularly the causes which stem from over-population. A recent study entitled “Africa’s Demographic Multiplication”, released by the Globalist Research Center, points out that Africa’s population has more than tripled during the second half of the 20th century, becoming more populous than Europe for the first time. At this rate, the study states that “the continent would account for nearly a quarter of the world’s population” by 2100. With the number of Africans growing, their has been a steady increase in the number of people moving to urban areas to find work and live more comfortable lives. This has greatly increased the levels of pollution in these areas. A prime example is the mismanagement of already-scarce water sources near urban centers, which creates issues for accessing safe water supply for a growing populace.

Environmental hotspots across Africa

The growing number of inhabitants has also put a strain on energy resources. There is a constant demand for inexpensive, reliable fuel sources that are easily accessible to the masses for daily use. One such resource is wood. But growing populations have strained the areas that provide this precious energy fuel by causing flora depletion (i.e. the degradation of arable lands due to deforestation). Plants help stabilize soils, recycle nutrients, and regulate the quality and flow of water for agriculture. Without them, agricultural goals become unattainable. The predominant use of wood for fuel throughout the continent has also led to atmospheric pollution.

The over-cultivation of lands and seas has also become a human-induced cause of environmental degradation due to overpopulation. As populations grow, the majority of African poverty levels remain unchanged at best, making it a necessity for local communities to exploit their natural resources for survival. Rapid growth rates place enormous pressure on agricultural and marine industries to feed the growing populations and subsequently places more pressure on natural habitats and resources.

The developments of new technologies by humans, such as those that exploit fossil fuels, also heavily contribute to degrading the environmental situation. In his letter to AFRICOM, Professor John T. Ackerman states that Africa contains a large variety of natural resources “that includes approximately 30 percent of all of the earth’s minerals.” As a result, there has been an increase in solid mineral mining, oil exploration, and the numbers of plants and factories that have sprung up all across Africa, thanks to international corporations taking advantage of these assets. These and other applications of manufactured tools lead to an increase in pollution of land and marine environments, affecting endangered bio-communities and its inhabitants.

Due to human behavior and climate change, Africa’s environment is taking a serious toll due to the depletion of agricultural and habitat lands. Deforestation and desertification are enhanced by international industrial exploitation and uncontrolled fuel use by local inhabitants for energy and survival. This results in less arable land to cultivate and utilize for agricultural food production. There is also a decline in biological diversity as a result of the depletion of natural habitat for aquatic and land animals and poaching of endangered animals. This is influenced by the expanding African populations and their dependence on any and all resources for subsistence. Land, aquatic, and atmospheric pollution adversely affects the livelihood of various animal specie communities as well, also leading to environmental and humanitarian dilemmas. The next blog will illustrate how these issues play a direct and adverse affect on violent conflict in Africa.

- Sasha Schukin, undergraduate intern

**The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California, San Diego**

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