Climate change is fuelling social tensions and conflict

By Published On: 9th March 2020

Climate change has wreaked havoc across the world — and Africa is likely to be worst hit by its destructive consequences. There have been droughts, floods, cyclones and locusts, all of which have placed a strain on natural resources.  Climate change causes land degradation, which is exacerbated in some countries by increased population growth and urbanisation.

Changes in climate patterns intensify water shortages and desertification which make those dependent on agriculture even more vulnerable. It also threatens food security in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana among others.

Additionally, it has the potential to cause civil unrest. Climate change is a threat multiplier that intensifies the existing political, social, economic and environmental problems communities are already facing. It aggravates grievances, spurs migration and overwhelms coping capacities. The strength and quality of governing institutions will determine whether nations and communities are able to manage the additional stress placed on social systems and the economy by climate change.

Therefore, the threat of conflict is greater in countries with pre-existing difficulties such as low institutional capacity to manage and respond to conflicts, poor natural resource management policies and poor governance.

The contest for natural resources and the means to make a livelihood is a key driver of conflict in Southern Africa. For example, migrants moving from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia due to climatic factors, such as drought and an inability to grow crops sustainably, has created a cauldron of societal pressure in neighbouring countries.

For example, in 2017 the unemployment rate in South Africa was recorded at 27% indicating that there is already a dearth of jobs. The additional migration from neighbouring countries triggers xenophobic sentiments and tensions. Local citizens, particularly in the low-income categories, and immigrants find themselves pitted against each other in a contest over jobs and other scarce resources. There is a glaring disregard, however, for the significant role of climate change in driving this tension.

Violent conflicts, fuelled by the effects of climate change, will continue to persist in the Southern Africa region. It is necessary for the government and wider society to raise awareness about this phenomenon. Climate change ultimately constrains the capacity of governments to provide essential services such as education, public safety and health, increasing grievances and conflict.

The inability of governments to respond effectively to climate change challenges leads to a reduction in how people view government legitimacy, fragmenting the social contract It is necessary for the linkage between climate change, instability and tension to be much better understood in order to ensure more sustainable approaches to consolidating peace and reconciliation in Africa.

Tanaka Manungo is a programme intern with the Peacebuilding Interventions Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town. He is completing his master’s degree in justice and transformation at the University of Cape Town


Article first published on Mail and Guardian

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