Climate Wars? Assessing the Claim that Drought Breeds Conflict

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Theisen, Ole Magnus; Helge Holtermann & Halvard Buhaug (2012) Climate Wars? Assessing the Claim that Drought Breeds Conflict, International Security 36(3): 79–106.

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Dominant climate models suggest that large parts of Africa will experience greater climatic variability and increasing rates of drought in coming decades. This could have severe societal consequences, because the economies and food supplies of most African countries depend on rain-fed agriculture. According to leading environmental security scholars, policymakers, and nongovernmental organizations, an increase in scarcity-driven armed conflicts should also be expected. A conditional theory of environmental conflict predicts that drought increases the risk of civil war primarily when it strikes vulnerable and politically marginalized populations in agrarian societies. However, an empirical evaluation of this general proposition through a unique gridded dataset of postcolonial Africa, which combines high-resolution meteorological data with georeferenced data on civil war onset and the local ethnopolitical context, shows little evidence of a drought-conflict connection. Instead, the local risk of civil war can be explained by sociopolitical and geographic factors: a politically marginalized population, high infant mortality, proximity to international borders, and high local population density.

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