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Weather and war

Makes me wonder. A recent article I read mentioned that global warming
led to flooding of the now European coastline, driving huns towards Rome
at a time when Rome was suffering from plagues, weakened government, and
overextension and contributing to its downfall.

Rainfall records could warn of war
30 May 2007 NewScientist.com news service Jim Giles  
EVERY month, the International Crisis Group makes predictions it hopes
won't come true. The non-profit organisation, which has its base in
Brussels, Belgium, monitors regions where conflict is brewing. By
tracking precursors of armed struggle, such as political instability, it
raises awareness about looming wars in the hope of stopping conflicts
before they begin. And as of this month, it will start talking about
whether to include another variable in its analyses: climate change.

The discussions come after a wave of interest in the link between
climate change and conflict. Last month, a group of retired US admirals
and generals said global warming would act as a "threat multiplier",
with events such as droughts toppling unstable governments and
unleashing conflict. The UN Security Council has devoted time to the
matter, and media reports have described the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, as
the first "climate change war", due to the decades of droughts that
preceded the conflict.

"Global warming could act as a 'threat multiplier', with events such as droughts toppling unstable governments"
Marc Levy at Columbia University in New York, who is working with the
ICG, is one of the few researchers who have been able to support these
speculations with data. In a forthcoming paper, he and colleagues
combine databases on civil wars and water availability to show that when
rainfall is significantly below normal, the risk of a low-level conflict
escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles in the
following year.

Parts of Nepal that witnessed fighting during the 2002 Maoist
insurgency, for example, had suffered worse droughts in preceding years
than regions that were conflict-free. Although Levy is not sure why the
link should exist in this case, studies of other conflicts suggest
explanations. Drought can cause food shortages, generating anger against
governments, for example. "Semi-retired" armed groups may return to
conflict in these situtations.

Levy wants to see if a model based on the link between rainfall and
climate can help aid agencies. For each of the 70 or so locations on the
ICG's watch list, he will use rainfall measurements and forecasts to
calculate the impact the weather is having on conflict risk. That
analysis is likely to flag up the Ivory Coast among others, he says. A
2003 peace accord ended years of violence in the country, but many armed
groups have not surrendered their weapons. Ongoing drought in the north
might soon destabilise the country and trigger a return to violence,
Levy says.

Including rainfall would be a fairly basic addition to the analyses that
the group performs, but it could be the start of a major change in
thinking. If the rainfall data helps, information on floods and severe
storms could be added, for example. "We're starting to see a real focus
on this," says Dan Esty of Yale University. "Suddenly people are making
the link."

Not everyone is as confident of the link as Levy, however. Over a decade
ago, the CIA set up the Political Instability Task Force to produce
models that can flag up vulnerable governments. It relies on variables
such as infant mortality, which measures the strength of a country's
health system. Although events such as droughts cause tension, the
models showed it is other factors that determine whether tension becomes

"Research has not succeeded in establishing robust, systematic
connections between climate and conflict," says Halvard Buhaug of the
International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway. With the
connection still under debate, it may be too early to talk about climate
change wars. "So far, climate change has not been powerful enough to be
the main driver of conflict," says Jack Goldstone at George Mason
University in Fairfax, Virginia. "Drought was a contributory factor in
Darfur, not the main cause."

Yet many researchers say that this uncertainty should not stop Levy from
working with aid groups. They say droughts and floods add to the
pressure on governments and need to be monitored. A simple link may not
exist, says Esty, but climate change will exacerbate issues known to be
linked to conflict.

From issue 2606 of New Scientist magazine, 30 May 2007, page 12

Bonnie Zone 7/7 ETN
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