Climate change linked to civil war in Africa

| 25th November 2009

Africa needs investment in agriculture to reduce the risk of conflicts, say researchers

Higher temperatures cause declines in crop yields and 'economic welfare' which increases the risk of conflict

Climate change is likely to increase the risk of conflict in African countries over the next 20 years, says a US study.

Research led by the University of California Berkeley looked back at two decades of fluctuations in temperature and civil war across the continent.

They found that a 1°C increase in temperature correlated with a 4.5 per cent increase in civil war violence in the same year and a 0.9 per cent increase in conflict incidence in the next year.

When the researchers restricted their analysis to look just at countries that have a history of conflict, the 1°C rise in temperatures led to a 49 per cent increase in civil violence.

Crop yields

Researchers said temperature rises could hit crop yields by between 10-30 per cent and affect entire communities that depend on agriculture for income.

Agriculture accounts for more than 50 per cent of gross domestic product and up to 90 per cent of employment across much of the continent.

'Economic welfare is the single factor most consistently associated with conflict incidence in both cross-country and within-country studies. It appears likely that the variation in agricultural performance is the central mechanism linking warming to conflict in Africa,' said the study.

Improve agriculture

The authors said rising temperatures over the next 20 years were likely to outweigh any potentially offsetting effects of strong economic growth.

'Given the current and expected future importance of agriculture in African livelihoods, governments and aid donors could help reduce conflict risk in Africa by improving the ability of African agriculture to deal with extreme heat.

'Such efforts could include developing better-adapted crop varieties, giving farmers the knowledge and incentives to use them,' said the authors.

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