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Darfur conflict heralds era of wars, says U.N. report

Julian Borger

Drought and advancing desert blamed for tensions

London:

London: The conflict in Darfur has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation, which threaten to trigger a succession of wars across Africa unless more is done to contain the damage, according to a U.N. report.

“Darfur ... holds grim lessons for other countries at risk,” an 18-month study of Sudan by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) concludes.

With rainfall down by up to 30 per cent over 40 years and the Sahara advancing by well over a mile every year, tensions between farmers and herders over disappearing pasture and evaporating water holes threaten to reignite the half-century war between north and south Sudan, held at bay by a precarious 2005 peace accord.

The southern Nuba tribe, for example, have warned they could “restart the war” because Arab nomads — pushed southwards into their territory by drought — are cutting down trees to feed their camels.

The UNEP investigation into links between climate and conflict in Sudan predicts that the impact of climate change on stability is likely to go far beyond its borders. It found there could be a drop of up to 70 per cent in crop yields in the most vulnerable areas of the Sahel, an ecologically fragile belt stretching from Senegal to Sudan. “It illustrates and demonstrates what is increasingly becoming a global concern,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director. “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that as the desert moves southwards there is a physical limit to what [ecological] systems can sustain, and so you get one group displacing another.”

He also pointed to incipient conflicts in Chad “at least in part associated with environmental changes”, and to growing tensions in southern Africa fuelled by droughts and flooding.

Estimates of the dead from the Darfur conflict, which broke out in 2003, range from 2,00,000 to 5,00,000. The immediate cause was a regional rebellion, to which Khartoum responded by recruiting Arab militias, the janjaweed, to wage a campaign of ethnic cleansing against African civilians. The UNEP study suggests the true genesis of the conflict pre-dates 2003 and is to be found in failing rains and creeping desertification. It found that:

The desert in northern Sudan has advanced southwards by 108 km over the past 40 years; rainfall has dropped by 16 per cent-30 per cent; climate models for the region suggest a rise of between 0.5C and 1.5C between 2030 and 2060; yields in the local staple, sorghum, could drop by 70 per cent. — Guardian Newspapers Limited, London, 2007

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