Natural disasters promote armed conflicts

Ethnically diverse countries are particularly susceptible to this effect

The consequences of climate extremes and natural disasters have often worsened conflicts © Zabelin / thinkstock
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War through the climate? Natural disasters with serious economic consequences increase the risk of wars and social conflicts. This correlation is again confirmed by a worldwide study. Thus, the onset of armed conflict often coincides with periods of drought, heat spells, or other climactic extreme events. The effect is particularly evident in ethnically highly fragmented countries - presumably because existing tensions between population groups are exacerbated by such disasters.

Whether persistent periods of drought, floods or hurricanes: In many parts of the world, people are constantly suffering from climate-related natural disasters. The consequences, such as crop failures or water scarcity, not only make it difficult for the inhabitants of the affected areas to survive, they may also promote wars and conflicts. Researchers have already established this connection using the example of the El Niño. Thus, with the appearance of the Pacific weather phenomenon, bloody conflicts are accumulating in tropical countries.

"Nevertheless, science argues violently about whether climate-related factors have actually contributed significantly to the recent armed conflicts around the world, " write researchers Carl-Friedrich Schleussner from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. They now provide a comprehensive analysis to clarify this issue.

Natural disasters and outbreaks of war in a time comparison

For their study, the scientists examined when and where new conflicts broke out between 1980 and 2010. These data compared them to the occurrence of natural disasters such as heat waves and droughts. They also looked at how strongly a region was affected by such an event. This was based on the economic damage caused by the disaster, which they assessed as a function of the gross domestic product.

"A clear weakness of most studies in this regard is that they look at meteorological values ​​such as rainfall - but not analyze the actual impact of the affected areas, " explains the team. But not in every country, a drought is equally strong. "This could be a reason why experts are so divided about the validity of the available research." Display

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Context in one of four conflicts

The evaluations of Schleussner's team show that in the past, warlike conflicts were, in fact, surprisingly often in temporal connection with a natural disaster that had exceeded a defined threshold of economic damage.

This has been particularly prevalent in countries that are ethnically very heterogeneous. In the fifty states with the highest levels of ethnic diversity, around one in four conflicts broke out after a climate-related event with serious economic consequences that took place in the same month. The scientists worldwide also observed this correlation albeit less clearly. They stated, among other things, that nine percent of all outbreaks of war coincided with drought or heat waves.

Tightening of existing stresses

The researchers are not surprised that multiethnic countries are more susceptible to the influence of such climate and weather events. After all, most of the bullying wars of the past 70 years have been fought along ethnic lines. Tensions between population groups have played a significant role in armed conflicts around the world.

According to Schleussner and his colleagues, natural catastrophes could exacerbate subliminal social tensions gewiss and to a certain extent make the barrel overflowing. It is also possible that the socio-economic discrimination of certain groups in a country plays a role in the likelihood of such outbreaks. Depending on their ethnicity, people suffer differently from natural disasters - an inequality that could provoke conflict.

Further destabilization?

Ironically, some nations with the greatest ethnic heterogeneity are likely to seek more and more natural disasters in the future, as the researchers report: "Climate forecasts predict a dramatic increase in extreme weather phenomena for these regions." In particular, many countries in Africa and Central Asia are affected by this - hence the risk of armed conflict could increase particularly sharply in the future. "Especially since these states are usually also very economically fragile and partly already shaken by conflicts, " writes the team.

As the scientists emphasize, the results do not mean that natural disasters directly trigger bloody conflicts. But they have the potential to increase the risk of a war outbreak. "Such incisive events can amplify existing social tensions and stressors and further destabilize some of the most conflictive regions in the world, " they conclude. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; doi: doi / 10.1073 / pnas.1601611113)

(PNAS, 26.07.2016 - DAL)