Sight Magazine – Essay: We built an algorithm to predict how climate change will affect future conflicts in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africaon the eastern coast of the continent, is currently beaten by a intense and prolonged dryness which around 20 million people suffer from hunger. And, given the ongoing armed conflict in the region – particularly in Somalia and Ethiopia – safely get nutritious food to these starving people has become even more difficult.

It is not the first time that these two situations have coincided in this region, but this time they are both aggravated by high wheat prices – thanks to the war in ukraine and export embargoes in india affecting access to traditional foods such as porridge.

The Horn of Africa has long been prone to instability and conflict. IMAGE: NASAJohnson/Flickr (licensed under CC BY-SA)

Whether directly or indirectly, drought and conflict can be linked to climate change. It is of course vital to tackle these issues now. But if we don’t simultaneously address the long-term impacts of climate change therefore, all the efforts we make in the present will be in vain.

“What our model suggested was that these environmental factors weren’t actually as important as socio-economic factors – such as education and GDP – because they usually just ignite the sparks the risk of conflict in situations where people are already struggling. This means, to prevent future conflicts from igniting, it is crucial to focus on investing in the education of young people – women in particular – and to improve local housing, markets, schools and hospitals.”

To try to project the future risks of armed conflicts in the region in the future, we – researchers from the University of Utrecht and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, in collaboration with the Peace Research Institute of ‘Oslo and Uppsala University – have created a new machine learning model to examine how different scenarios of an armed conflict on the African continent could unfold by 2050. Specifically, we wanted to know how armed conflict might be affected by climate change, as well as future social and economic development.

Our results showed that reducing emissions globally and investing in local socio-economic development can reduce the risk of conflict. It would also have the added benefit of helping local food production to thrive and reducing dependence on the international commercial market. But when we ran this scenario, the Horn of Africa remained particularly conflict-prone.

We needed to understand why this area remains more at risk than others. First, we specifically looked at the effect of climate change on conflict, using indicators such as soil moisture and rainfall.

What our model suggested was that these environmental factors were not in fact as important as socio-economic factors – such as education and GDP – because they usually only ignite the spark of potential conflict in situations where people are already struggling. This means that, to prevent future conflicts from arising, it is crucial to focus on invest in education for young people – especially women – and the improvement of local housing, markets, schools and hospitals.



But we also found that in large parts of East Africa, climate change will further increase the risk of conflict. To prepare for this, we need climate change adaptation and peacebuilding programs that environmental change into account.

For example, it is important that local farmers have better access to banks and insurance, so that if their crops fail one year, they can start again the next. Farms should prioritize crops that are more resistant against drought, such as quinoa, millet and sorghum. And financial organizations, governments, businesses and local communities must all be held accountable for reducing emissions and tackling climate change. at least.

Challenges
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to understand how climate change will actually affect the risk of conflict. The future trajectories of global warming and conflicts are both shrouded in uncertainty.


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Just because the conflict was driven by certain factors in the past does not mean that those factors will influence the conflict in the same way in the future, which means that it is tricky to use history to project the coming conflict. And geopolitical changes, like the current war in Ukraine, can change the risk of conflict by increasing food prices, slowing economic growth and causing tensions between national governments.

Develop and improve the accuracy of long-term analyzes conflict risk projections like ours is vitally important – not only to help prevent conflict now, but also to decide how to adapt to a changing climate in a way that reduce the likelihood of conflict. This could include programs creating stable and inclusive employment opportunities for young people, or running cross-community projects aimed at reducing tensions between farmers and breeders on land use.

The UN Panel on Climate Change IPCC report 2021 clearly indicated that the window for action is narrowing. If world leaders don’t come together to cut emissions and prepare for a worsening climate in this “decade of actionthe situation in the Horn of Africa will only get worse.The conversation

Jannis Hochpostdoctoral researcher in natural risks, Utrecht University; Niko Wanderslecturer in hydrological extremes at Utrecht Universityand Sophie de Bruinenvironmental change researcher at Vrije University AmsterdamThis article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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