Human activities over the years have immensely contributed to the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere thereby, resulting in global warming. The impact of global warming on the earth has led to a drastic and rather unstable change in global climate.[i]
Climate change, therefore, has been defined as “a change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods of time”[ii]. Studies have shown that climate change exists as an exacerbating factor of food and water insecurity, economic disruption, conflict, and terrorism.
Large cases of famine, flooding, soil erosion, volcanic eruptions and the likes have illustrated climate change as a global phenomenon that has fast become a threat to international peace and security.[iii] Statistics reveal that the global occurrence of famine alone from the 1860s to 2016 resulted in a total of 128 million deaths.[iv] There is no country within the globe that is immune to the grave effects and consequences that climate change poses.
Geographically, the Sahel, otherwise known as Sahil in Arabic, means the coast or shore’. It is a vast region that stretches along the southern rim of the Sahara Desert from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. As such, the Sahel region stretches to include parts of countries such as Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Niger.[v] The Sahel Region has over the years had its peace and stability on shaky grounds as governments within the region fail to address issues of weak governance, terrorism, inter-communal conflicts, the proliferation of small arms, transnational organized crimes, among others.
A more silent contributor to the insecurities of the region is climate change which has led to conflicts within the Sahel. As a major hotspot for climate change in Africa with higher temperatures, the Sahel region continues to experience severe droughts and famine. As a result of the droughts and famine in the region, the land available for livestock to feed on keeps diminishing.[vi] This has increased the recurrence of inter-communal disputes that have stemmed out of disagreements between farmers and marginalized pastoralists for decades over access to increasingly coveted resources – particularly land. The scarcity of land has heightened land pressure, particularly in rural areas and has resulted in squabbles mainly because traditional or central authorities lack the ability or the legitimacy to mediate conflicts over access to these lands.[vii]
In desperate search of fertile pasture by Fulani herdsmen to the south for their livestock, thousands of civilians from Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso are being killed each year in bloody inter-communal clashes which are getting out of hand. In Nigeria alone, around 4,000 people died as a result of farmer-pastoralist conflicts between 2016 and 2019.[viii] Lake Chad has been known to be one of Africa’s largest freshwater bodies. It straddles Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon making it home to about 17.4 million people. For so many years, the lake has been supporting drinking water, irrigation, fishing, livestock and economic activity for over 30 million people in the Sahel region. Lake Chad has also been instrumental in pastoral and farming activities within the region.[ix]
However, climate change within the Sahel has caused Lake Chad to shrink by 90% over the last 60 years. As of 1963, the surface area of the lake was 26,000 square kilometres. Currently, it has been reduced to less than 1,500 square kilometres. This is a lake that has served multi-purposes for inhabitants within the Sahel and across Africa.[x] The temperature of the Sahel rising one-and-a-half times faster than the global average is a major cause of Lake Chad’s shrinkage, irregular rainfall patterns, drought leading to infertile land and low crop yields. For this reason, food insecurity continues to intensify in the region. Thousands of people have lost their lives to famine with several others migrating to different countries within and outside the region for survival[xi].
The adverse effects of climate change pose a threat to the peace and security of the Sahel region. Inter-communal conflicts brewed from the grapple of land have a high probability of spillovers in other West African countries mainly because the national borders are porous and unguarded. Governments within the region ought to effectively tackle the issue of drought and famine by coming up with innovative irrigation systems that will produce more fertile lands for increased grazing and avoid low crop yields.