When regions reach a 'breaking point'
Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a lead author of a recent study examining the links among climate change, migration and conflict in northwest Africa, said the scenario that aid workers such as Thomas fear, of local communities growing weary of refugees, is a real one. Patterns of refugee crises exist in many parts of the world of countries starting off accepting their neighbors with a solidarity that eventually gives way to frustration, he said.
"Even in a country like Turkey where there are a lot of Syrian refugees in a country that is fairly well off and well-organized, patience wears thin," he said. "Then, if you have a political situation, it just takes one conflict or one crime of opportunity to have a situation in which people take political advantage and lobby against the refugees."
In northwest Africa, where what Werz has called an "arc of tension" runs through Nigeria, Niger, Algeria and Morocco, he said the projected massive population growth combined with small-onset changes brought about by climate change -- like sea-level rise along the Niger Delta, the loss of hundreds of villages through desertification and the virtual disappearance of Lake Chad -- is bad enough.
Add to that neighboring countries like Algeria, and now Mali, that have an influx of weapons and established al-Qaida structures, he said, "and you have different pressure points that, if they come together at any given time or in any given region compounded by migratory flows, exacerbate problems to a degree that can be to the breaking point."
Werz called for a comprehensive strategy that includes diplomatic measures, short-term and long-term development policies "and a strategy that doesn't shy away from looking at the security dimension," something he said "we just don't have at this moment."
Meanwhile, Thomas said, aid workers want to see more resources put into the Sahel region, which is on the brink of its third major food shortage in seven years. In a region where 80 percent of the population relies on natural resources, conflicts can easily turn droughts into famines. Meanwhile, she said, food insecurity exacerbates conflicts and governments need to start thinking long-term.
"There needs to be a lot more focus on long-term development assistance in this part of the world," she said. "It's very obvious that the main way the U.S. and the E.U. have been operating in the region is though humanitarian response." But she added, "As these emergencies are coming closer and closer together, it becomes more and more important that you can build resilience that is actually effective."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500