Climate Change and Its Role in Fueling Wars in the Sahel Region of Africa

  On New Year’s Day in 2010, Somali pirates hijacked two merchant ships, which shocked the whole world. Many people cannot believe that there are still pirates in the 21st century, thinking that they only existed hundreds of years ago.
  Why are there pirates in Somalia? The answer to this question must be found on land. There have been two popular theories in the international community. One theory pointed the finger at politics and religion, accusing the Somali government of causing serious religious conflicts, plunging the entire country into civil war and making people miserable. Another argument targets the Somalis, accusing local residents of poor management of land resources, farmers deforestation to open up wasteland, and herdsmen overgrazing, resulting in rapid desertification of the land, reduced food production, and the decline of the livestock industry. People cannot eat enough from the land, so they can only turn their attention to the sea.
  There may be truth to both theories, but scientists offer another explanation. Dr. Alexandra Giannini of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a research team led by her used computer models to study the causes of precipitation in this region and found that rising seawater temperatures in the Indian Ocean were the culprit of Somalia’s drought. In contrast, local people’s poor management of land resources is only a small factor and cannot play a decisive role. This paper was published in the October 2003 issue of Science. Unfortunately, it did not attract people’s attention because this conclusion seemed to go against common sense.
  Normally, rising temperatures inevitably lead to an increase in atmospheric water vapor content, which leads to more precipitation. Meteorologists estimate that for every 1 degree Celsius increase in surface temperature, precipitation will increase by an average of 1%. However, the increase in precipitation is unevenly distributed across regions. According to data provided by the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), global warming will lead to an increase in winter precipitation in high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, but the west coast of the Americas and central Africa will become drier, with Somalia being the most affected area. including the Sahel region. The terrain here is gentle, and most of the precipitation throughout the year comes from the short rainy season brought by the monsoon. Rising water temperatures in the Indian Ocean are changing the intensity of the monsoon, slowly turning the entire Sahel region into a desert. In order to compete for increasingly scarce resources, local people can only resort to force.
  According to research conducted by American meteorologist Professor Tim Shanahan, the current drought in this region is likely just the beginning. Professor Shanahan’s research object is Lake Bosumi in Ghana. This is a lake created by meteorites. Almost all of the water in the lake comes from rainfall. Professor Shanahan studied changes in the composition of lake bottom silt over the past 3,000 years and found that droughts lasting decades to centuries often occurred in this area. The most severe drought occurred around 1400 and lasted until 1750. . The most recent drought occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Although that drought only lasted 20 years, at least 100,000 people starved to death and dealt a heavy blow to the local economy.
  This paper was published in the April 17, 2009 issue of Science. Professor Shanahan compared historical records of ocean water temperatures and found that droughts in this area are closely related to water temperature fluctuations in the Atlantic Ocean. Changes in Atlantic Ocean temperatures can also alter the intensity of monsoons, leading to droughts.
  However, there are many uncertainties in climate research. In particular, the mathematical model between global warming and precipitation changes is still incomplete, and different researchers will draw completely different conclusions.
  So, will global warming make this region drier? This question is not so easy to answer. So Professor Marshall Burke of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, decided to avoid the problem of precipitation and find another way to study the relationship between temperature and war. Since 1960, more than two-thirds of the countries south of the Sahara have experienced civil wars. Professor Burke counted all civil wars in the Sahel region with more than 1,000 deaths, and compared them with the average temperatures recorded by meteorological stations. He found that temperature is related to civil wars. Frequency is closely related, with every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature increasing the likelihood of civil war by 49%. This trend holds true even apart from population growth and political factors.
  This paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in October 2009. Professor Burke pointed out in the article that according to IPCC predictions of future climate change, the frequency of wars in the region will increase by 203054 %, the death toll will reach 400,000.
  Why does high temperature cause war? Professor Burke believes that half of the GDP of these countries comes from agriculture, and more than 90% of the employed population depends on agriculture for a living. The quality of the harvest directly affects the stability of the society. Although agriculture is directly related to precipitation, it is also closely related to temperature. High temperatures will increase the transpiration of plants, making crops need more water. Research shows that for every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature in Africa, food production will decrease by 10 to 30%.
  Some people do not agree with this explanation. They believe that even if agriculture is not affected, the frequency of violent incidents will increase as long as the temperature rises, because high temperatures tend to make people short-tempered.
  Whatever the real reason, this article is a wake-up call. Modern people prefer to attribute the causes of wars to politics, economics or religion, but at least in the Sahel region of Africa, climate change is likely to be an important factor leading to wars.

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