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Poverty, climate change and environmental wars

Poverty, climate change and environmental wars


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By Enric Llopis

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) points out that in the last 60 years at least 40% of internal conflicts have been related to the exploitation of natural resources. On the one hand, because they are considered of high value: wood, diamonds, gold or oil; but also because they are considered scarce, like fertile land and water. “When it comes to conflicts over natural resources, the risk of relapsing into conflict is doubled,” adds the United Nations. The paradigm of these conflicts is Dahrfur (western Sudan), which erupted in 2003 after a demographic increase, processes of degradation and soil erosion, drought and a decrease in agricultural and pasture production could be verified.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, considered that the Dahrfur conflict began with an ecological crisis and, partially, derived from climate change.

Other factors were added to this, such as the struggle for land between shepherds and farmers, crossed by ethnic differences.

"Dahrfur is considered the first climate war," said the member of the Center for Research on Desertification CIDE-CSIC, José Luis Rubio Delgado, in an event organized at the University of Valencia by the Environment and Climate Change Association (AMA ).

"Dahrfur is the example of how people, when they are without means of subsistence, can resort to violence and situations of genocide," he added.

The result, 2.4 million displaced and between 200,000 and 500,000 dead. Another example is Rwanda. Although complex in origin, the war responded to a large extent to the scarcity of land and inequity in access to it.

In 1994, in just three weeks, the Hutus (ethnic minority farmers) caused the deaths (genocide) of 800,000 Tutsis.

In Somalia, a long-lasting war precipitated in the 2006-2009 period due to factors such as scarcity and degradation of basic resources, such as land.

Similar situations can be seen in Nigeria, Egypt, Mali or Kenya and, recently, in South Sudan.

"This is a permanent reality on the African continent, which will probably increase," says Rubio Delgado. Similar processes, with similar causes, contributed to the outbreak of the "Arab springs" (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Syria).

At the origin of these revolts can also be identified degradation and lack of resources, as well as the inability to absorb a growing labor force.

The phenomenon can be observed on a global scale. The Institute for Research on International Conflicts in Heildeberg (Germany) points out that, of the 365 conflicts observed on the planet in 2009, 31 were classified as “highly violent”; 7 “high intensity” conflicts were called “wars”.

Another German scientific committee points out that from 1945 to today, there have been 61 environmental conflicts on the planet due to the degradation of resources such as water, land, soil or biodiversity.

Multiple factors converge for the proliferation of environmental wars.

In recent years, countries such as China, India, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, among others, have acquired 67 million hectares of land in Africa in recent years.

"Fertile land is bought to anticipate a possible food shortage," says José Luis Rubio. Furthermore, a significant proportion of the planet's agricultural areas are dedicated to the production of food for livestock, that is, "more meat for affluent societies," says the member of the CIDE-CSIC, or to agrofuels.

Likewise, industrial crops proliferate, such as oil palm, rubber, cellulose or export timber.

In conclusion, Africa went from being self-sufficient in 1970 to importing 25% of food today. One of the factors that explain environmental conflicts is the risk of desertification.

A few years ago, Rubio Delgado already pointed out in the magazine Methods that 40% of the earth's surface is threatened for this reason. In addition, on June 17, the United Nations reported, on the occasion of the World Day Against Desertification, that nearly 1.5 billion people around the world live on degrading lands, and almost 50% of the poorest inhabitants of the planet. –42% - live in already degraded areas.

In relation to possible conflicts, “land degradation makes these places the most insecure in the world; in some cases, this insecurity can destabilize entire regions ”, indicates the United Nations.

It is estimated that by 2020 some 60 million people will migrate from the desertified areas of Sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe.

The figures clearly prove the nexus between agriculture, desertification and poverty. According to data from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2.6 billion people live from agriculture on the planet.

Due to drought and desertification processes, 12 million hectares are lost each year - at a rate of 23 per minute -, in which 23 million hectares of cereals could have been produced.

Climate change, despite the very few voices that subscribe to denialism, is one of the elements that will contribute the most to the new wars.

Numerous reports and scientific studies support the changes in the climate, but there are some that are devastating in perspective: global greenhouse emissions generated by human activity have been increasing since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.

This increase has its origin, above all, in the supply of energy, transport and industry.

This October, the United Nations celebrated the World Biodiversity Summit in South Korea, in a very eloquent context: 70% of the world's poor live in rural areas and depend directly on biodiversity to survive; Furthermore, the variety and abundance of species has been reduced by 40% between the years 1970 and 2000.

All this in the midst of an “unsustainable” consumption that continues and leads to the demand for resources around the world exceeding the biological capacity of the earth by 20%.

Very diverse factors intervene in environmental wars, but a broader look makes it necessary to include structural causes: inequalities between North and South, between Center and Periphery.


The World Summit on Food Security held in Rome (2009) made it clear that it would be enough to dedicate 30,000 million euros annually to agricultural development to combat hunger in the world. Meanwhile, according to the FAO, around a third of the production of food for human consumption is lost or wasted on the planet as a whole.

If half of what is lost or wasted were recovered, it could feed the entire world's population.

The comparison can be formulated in different terms, but in all cases it is unaffordable: in the world - according to the FAO - food worth 565,348 million euros is wasted (not counting fish and shellfish), while 870 million people spend hungry every year.

Good Ayre Forum (FOROBA)


Video: Rwanda key achievements in Environment (June 2022).


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