Sunday, June 10, 2007

More Saharasia Support: Rainfall Records Could Warn of War

Of course, my findings on Saharasia go back to the early 1980s, with publication of various summary articles since then, and the larger book "Saharasia" in 1998.

Nice to see some confirmation in the mainstream, nevertheless.
James DeMeo

Tip-of-the-hat to Jai Daemion for alerting us to this item.



Rainfall records could warn of war
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.
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 conflict.
"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

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