It looks very much like a double whammy. Countries at war are also among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis. Among the twenty-five countries most exposed to climate change, according to the "Global Adaptation Initiative" of the American University of Notre Dame, in 2021, fourteen are currently experiencing armed conflicts, including Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While there is no direct correlation between climate change and conflict, countries at war are less able to cope with the effects of global warming because their ability to adapt is weakened by internal divisions or ongoing violence.

Climate change can also exacerbate tensions over access to increasingly limited resources.

"One problem exacerbates another," says Yvonne Su, an international development expert and assistant professor at the University of York. "If a place is exposed to global warming, people may have to fight for resources."

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As war returns to the Gaza Strip, experts say its population is more fragile than ever.

A 2020 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) showed that the cascading effects of war and global warming can wreak havoc, especially on land and resources. In an interview with the ICRC in February 2021, the organization's former head of economic security programmes, Ibrahima Bah, highlighted "the case of the Central African Republic [which] shows how the effects of climate change and insecurity in neighbouring countries, and even beyond, can have repercussions on communities living hundreds of kilometres away".

Instability in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions has pushed many herders and farmers to move to the Central African Republic, in search of greener pastures for their livestock. But in a country that has been fragile for more than 60 years and where food insecurity is endemic, displacement is a new source of tension. Herders no longer use traditional transhumance corridors due to armed conflicts in the region and end up settling near villages or fields, where they covet the same space and resources as the inhabitants already there. The authorities, who used to contribute to conflict resolution, are no longer intervening in some areas for security reasons. Inevitably, clashes eventually broke out.

Armed conflicts and climate change, the main threats to food security

"There is a growing militarization of livestock farming, with an increased involvement of the various armed groups that commit abuses, because transhumance has become one of their sources of income," explains Ibrahima Bah.

Somalia, one of the countries most exposed to climate change, has experienced decades of conflict. These years of violence have been amplified by a series of severe droughts, putting additional pressure on the state-building process while causing increasing population displacement.

In July 2023, the UN reported that more than 3.8 million people are currently displaced in Somalia due to conflict, drought and flooding. Land disputes and litigation stemming from these mass displacements have exacerbated tensions, according to a World Bank report. In central Somalia, for example, land tenure is a recurring problem. Upon their return, people who have been displaced for a long time often find their land occupied by others, leading to clashes.

According to the UN, armed conflict and climate change are the two main threats to food security. War can have devastating effects, especially when the countries involved are key producers or exporters of raw materials. Europe's breadbasket, Ukraine accounted for about 15% of the world's wheat production before the Russian invasion. Together, Russia and Ukraine accounted for 80% of the world's sunflower production. The war has caused a shortage of both commodities, contributing to global food price inflation.

I'll repeat it again & this time not from the #UNSC but from the middle of the Sahel: Armed violence is the main driver of food insecurity & the climate emergency is prolonging existing tensions & perpetuating fragility:

Poor harvest, water scarce, intercommunal violence etc

— Patrick Youssef (@PYoussefICRC) October 26, 2022

War can also wreak havoc on a country's environment. More than 80 per cent of conflicts take place in biodiversity hotspots, which are home to half of the world's rare plants and species, according to the ICRC. Environmental degradation is a vicious cycle that not only contributes to global warming, but also reduces people's ability to adapt to it. The proliferation of industrial sites and the destruction of green spaces such as forests release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while restricting the planet's potential to reabsorb them.

The situation in Gaza, "an example of a territory that is really poor in resources," says Yvonne Su. International organizations have been sounding the alarm for years, pointing to the severe lack of infrastructure, a problem that predates the war between Israel and Hamas. Home to 2.2 million people, the Gaza Strip is only 41 km long and 10 km wide, making it one of the most densely populated territories in the world. Residents are systematically facing shortages of food, water, electricity and health services.

But Gaza is also experiencing rising temperatures, falling rainfall, rising sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, all caused by climate change, according to a June 2022 publication by Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.

"The consequences of the conflict go beyond what we see"

In January 2022, severe flooding in Gaza damaged hundreds of buildings and knocked out the entire sewage system, forcing residents to leave their homes. If an extreme weather event were to hit the region now, when access to essential services is impossible, the local population would not have the means to cope.

"The prolonged occupation and blockade mean that the people of Gaza have more limited means than elsewhere. For example, one of the coping strategies is to move to find more fertile land or water, but this is not an option for the people of Gaza," says Catherine-Lune Grayson, a humanitarian policy adviser at the ICRC who specialises in climate change issues.

Even for the best-off countries, adapting to climate change requires a major social, economic and cultural bifurcation. But in times of war, the authorities are too focused on security to have time to deal with climate challenges.

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"The consequences of the conflict go beyond what we see, such as death and destruction of infrastructure. It affects the institutions themselves," says Catherine-Lune Grayson. "Essential services such as access to water, education and health facilities can be destroyed, impacting the economy, and in turn social cohesion, which means that we end up with a society that is weakened and less able to respond to shocks, even as climate-related shocks increase."

The climate finance gap between stable and fragile countries must also be taken into account, the ICRC said. Many States, which are among the most at risk, do not receive sufficient financial assistance.

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"The reason why climate finance is hardly reaching countries in conflict has to do with the conflict itself. The institutions in these countries are not strong enough and are not able to easily manage financial aid, or even apply for it," says Catherine-Lune Grayson. "A country at war tends to focus exclusively – and this is quite normal – on the return of security to its territory. It doesn't have time to pay attention to the long-term impacts of climate risks."

An additional protocol was added to the Geneva Conventions in 1977 to establish wartime rules guaranteeing the protection of nature. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks on what is essential to the survival of civilians, such as agricultural areas and drinking water infrastructure.

The ICRC is currently working to strengthen Gaza's resilience to current challenges. "We are looking at, for example, how to ensure that a water point can continue to function even if there is an impact on electricity production," says Catherine-Lune Grayson. "We need to build resilience to shocks from war, but also to shocks from climate change."

Article adapted from the English by Romain Brunet. The original is available here.

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