Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Drying in Darfur

The recent UN Environment Program Report on the role of the environment in the Darfur conflict month came to this conclusion:

Environmental degradation, as well as regional climate instability and change, are major underlying causes of food insecurity and conflict in Darfur – and potential catalysts for future conflict throughout central and eastern Sudan and other countries in the Sahel belt. Setting aside all of the social and political aspects of the war in Darfur, the region is beset with a problematic combination of population growth, over-exploitation of resources and an apparent major long-term reduction in rainfall. As a result, much of northern and central Darfur is degraded to the extent that it cannot sustainably support its rural population.

The Sahel region of the Sudan, including Darfur, has been drying for decades. After reading the report, I obtained the available historical rainfall data from El Fasher in Darfur from the WMO. The anomaly (annual rainfall minus 1950-2004 mean) illustrates the story told in the UNEP report.

Rainfall from 1985-2004 (the last twenty years available) was 40% lower than rainfall in the 1950s and 1960s. As rainfall decreased, the agriculturalists moved into more marginal lands leaving less space for the nomadic pastoralists. This caused overgrazing in other lands and increasing conflict for land.

There are debates as to the cause of the decrease in rainfall. It is some combination of warming ocean temperatures (shifting the monsoon), possibly related to climate change, and feedbacks from land use change. Whatever or not human-induced climate change has played a direct role, Darfur is certainly an example of how climate change in general can contribute to conflict and human suffering.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this piece. Could this be argued as another example of the potential impact of climate change on national security?
I wonder what the climate models say about future climate patterns in Sudan.

Unknown said...

The models predict rainfall will continue to decrease due to future warming. But it will also depend on land use management. More on this later.