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Jürgen Scheffran, Peter Michael Link, and Janpeter Schilling

Climate change was conceived as a “risk multiplier” that could exacerbate security risks and conflicts in fragile regions and hotspots where poverty, violence, injustice, and social insecurity are prevalent. The linkages have been most extensively studied for the African continent, which is affected by both climate change and violent conflict. Together with other drivers, climate change can undermine human security and livelihoods of vulnerable communities in Africa through different pathways. These include variability in temperature and precipitation; weather extremes and natural disasters, such as floods and droughts; resource problems through water scarcity, land degradation, and food insecurity; forced migration and farmer–herder conflict; and infrastructure for transport, water, and energy supply. Through these channels, climate change may contribute to humanitarian crises and conflict, subject to local conditions for the different regions of Africa. While a number of statistical studies find no significant link between reduced precipitation and violent conflict in Africa, several studies do detect such a link, mostly in interaction with other issues. The effects of climate change on resource conflicts are often indirect, complex, and linked to political, economic, and social conflict factors, including social inequalities, low economic development, and ineffective institutions. Regions dependent on rainfed agriculture are more sensitive to civil conflict following droughts. Rising food prices can contribute to food insecurity and violence. Water scarcity and competition in river basins are partly associated with low-level conflicts, depending on socioeconomic variables and management practices. Another conflict factor in sub-Saharan Africa are shifting migration routes of herders who need grazing land to avoid livestock losses, while farmers depend on land for growing their harvest. Empirical findings reach no consensus on how climate vulnerability and violence interact with environmental migration, which also could be seen as an adaptation measure strengthening community resilience. Countries with a low human development index (HDI) are particularly vulnerable to the double exposure to natural disasters and armed conflict. Road and water infrastructures influence the social and political consequences of climate stress. The high vulnerabilities and low adaptive capacities of many African countries may increase the probability of violent conflicts related to climate change impacts.


Benjamin F. Zaitchik

Humans have understood the importance of climate to human health since ancient times. In some cases, the connections appear to be obvious: a flood can cause drownings, a drought can lead to crop failure and hunger, and temperature extremes pose a risk of exposure. In other cases, the connections are veiled by complex or unobserved processes, such that the influence of climate on a disease epidemic or a conflict can be difficult to diagnose. In reality, however, all climate impacts on health are mediated by some combination of natural and human dynamics that cause individuals or populations to be vulnerable to the effects of a variable or changing climate. Understanding and managing negative health impacts of climate is a global challenge. The challenge is greater in regions with high poverty and weak institutions, however, and Africa is a continent where the health burden of climate is particularly acute. Observed climate variability in the modern era has been associated with widespread food insecurity, significant epidemics of infectious disease, and loss of life and livelihoods to climate extremes. Anthropogenic climate change is a further stress that has the potential to increase malnutrition, alter the distribution of diseases, and bring more frequent hydrological and temperature extremes to many regions across the continent. Skillful early warning systems and informed climate change adaptation strategies have the potential to enhance resilience to short-term climate variability and to buffer against negative impacts of climate change. But effective warnings and projections require both scientific and institutional capacity to address complex processes that are mediated by physical, ecological, and societal systems. Here the state of understanding climate impacts on health in Africa is summarized through a selective review that focuses on food security, infectious disease, and extreme events. The potential to apply scientific understanding to early warning and climate change projection is also considered.