Whether you believe that climate change is real or not, you cannot help but notice that weather events, like hurricanes, have gotten more intense. The coastal communities are accutely affected by it; food and water sources are threatened; political and religious zealots are sowing the seeds of their extremist views from the instability, resulting in bloodshed.
Thor Benson reports in his recent CityLab article, "The Cities at Risk of Climate-Driven Conflict," that a 2013 University of California study (emiguel.econ.berkeley.edu; 2013; date accessed Apr. 10, 2013), Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict, looked at 60 previous studies and "concluded that the connection between climate and human conflict is strong." Natural phenomena such as: droughts and famines, floods, wildfires, and so on are partly caused by climate change results in instability that allow extremist groups to stir the metaphoric pot and create conflict.
A 2015 study by the research non-profit firm with national security expertise CNA (online library.wiley.com; 2015; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018), centered on the link between water stress and conflict. The authors write,
Water stress can empower violent extremist organizations and place stable governments at risk
Mr. Benson adds, "Some experts believe we are heading towards a point where water will be more difficult to come by and brutal wars will be fought (nationalinterest.org; Sept. 15, 2015; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018) over control of fresh-water resources."
Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and the former deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security, uses the phrase "threat multipliers" (atlanticcouncil.org; date access Apr. 10, 2018) to describe how climate change fuels security risks. Ms. Goodman said, "water stress is a source of instability around the globe." Specifically,
When there is a shortage or scarcity of water, it can be used to make people vulnerable and can be used by combatants, terrorists, other to put innocents in precarious positions for exploitation, to force migration, and to target vulnerable populations,....You can see that's happening now in Yemen. You can see the patterns of prolonged drought in Syria, which forced migration.
Mr. Benson asks, "Where else could climate change prove especially destabilizing?" Experts in the field of environmental security point to Cape Town, South Africa; Karachi, Pakistan; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Manila, the Philippines as cities with the highest risk of climate-related conflict. However, there is a silver lining: Two of these cities are taking steps to prevent it.
Cape Town, South Africa: if you have been following world news, you are aware that the taps in may be totally turned off (citylab.com; Feb. 1, 2018; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018) in the coming months because of dwindling water supplies. Mr. Benson writes in an aside, "...officials recently announced that 'Day Zero' may be averted (Ibid; Mar. 7, 2018) thanks to conservation measure in place now." If the taps are completely turned off, residents will have to travel to collection points (enca.com; Jan. 31, 2018 date accessed Apr. 10, 2018) to receive their allotment of water, and the military and police would be deployed to maintain order. Cape Town residents are preparing for chaos (cbsnews.com; Jan. 19, 2018; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018). Sherri Goodman said, "Violence could flare."
Resource mismanagement and unsustainable development have been cited as the cause for the water shortage (theatlantic.com; Feb. 15, 2018 date accessed Apr. 10, 2018). This is despite the fact that climate experts have been literally forecasting a shortage for decades (iol.co.za; Feb. 1, 2018; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018), civic officials continued to approve developments that drained away resources and permitted more affluent residents to consume more than their fair share of water (voanews. Feb. 3, 2018; com; date accessed Apr. 10 2018).
Unsustainable development and mismanagement combined with Cape Town's worst drought in over a century created the circumstances that led to the unavoidable diminishing water supply. Thor Benson reports, "But it's clear that is disaster could have, at minimum, been delayed with better resource management."
Karachi, Pakistan: In parts of Pakistan's largest city, the taps have run dry for prolonged periods of time (interactive.aljazeera.com; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018), and the well water is too salty to drink. Mr. Benson reports, "According to Karachi's water utility, a full 42 percent of the municipal water supply is either lost to leakage or stolen. Water thieves siphon it off to sell to thirsty residents."
Neil Bhatiya, a research associate at the think tank Center for a New American Security (cnas.org; date access Apr. 10, 2018), cites Karachi as "an example of the nexus between climate change and conflict." India and Pakistan share water resources (cnn.com; Apr. 3, 2017 date accessed Apr. 10, 2018) and historically have had a very contentious relationship on a variety of issues, including water management.
Mr. Bhatiya told CityLab,
Pakistan has a pretty well documented link between rhetoric around resource scarcity--in particular, water--and a lot of the anti-Indian terrorists that operate out of either Kashmir or Pakistan itself,.... It's something extremist groups have used as a recruiting tool.
Protests, often violent, are a common occurrence on the streets of Karachi. With a fast growing population, the demand for water--and for water-intensive food--will grow. In the meantime, the Indus River, a primary source for Pakistan's water is providing less than it did 50 years ago (nature.com; June 29, 2016 date accessed Apr. 10, 2018). Some of the newcomers growing Karachi's population of 15 million are climate migrants, "who have left rural areas due to extreme heat,drought, or flooding." If their numbers continue to grow, the competition for resource will increase.
Compounding this situation, Karachi, which is located on the Arabian Sea, is at a high risk from rising sea levels (foreignpolicy.com; Mar. 4, 2016date accessed Apr. 10, 2018) which could displace residents for years to come.
Dhaka, Bangladesh: Bangladesh's biggest city is faces multiple threats, rising sea levels, water and food shortages, overpopulation, and other challenges. In the face of all these threats, the nation has become a renewable energy model. Thanks to the national-government-sponsored company Idcol millions of homes, across the country, have small solar panels and a solar plant supplies electricity to the national grid (nytimes.com; Oct. 4, 2016; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018). Other climate resilience intiatives include improved rubbish collection to keep the drains clear, green roofs to offset the urban heat-island effect and absorb storm water.
Laurie Goering authored the Thomson Reuters Foundation report, "Rising tide of climate migrants Spurs Dhaka to seek solutions," (reuters.com; Apr. 26, 2016; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018), which she states,
In [Dhaka's] poor neighborhoods, communities are training emergency response volunteers, installing solar panels, starting community savings schemes and providing job training,....
Neil Bhatyia adds,
Of all of the governments of the developing world, I think Bangladesh is the one that has been fairly good about articulating the nature of the crisis and placing it within a larger political and diplomatic context,...
Political instability is a looming threat to Bangladesh's ability to responds to disasters (irinnews.com; Apr. 22, 2013; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018). However, Ms. Goodman said "many national officials see the connections between climate issues and conflict and want to make sure citizens aren't taken advantage of by extremist groups. Specifically,
Extremists thrive on conditions of vulnerability, where people can't provide for themselves and their families.
Manila, The Philippines: In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan tragically demonstrated that the archipelago is among the countries most vulnerable to natural hazards. The Philippines are also at his risk from climate change--for a map of a break down by region, go to washingtonpost.com; Nov. 12, 2013.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that Manila, other tropical and sub-tropical coastal cities are at risk from,
Heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, as well as drought and water scarcity pose risks... (theguardian.com; Mar. 31, 2014; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018)
The coastal regions of the Philippine capital (global nation.inquirer.net; Jan. 11, 2017; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018) are faced with the possibility of having...huge portions of their communities are submerged.
Compounding the misery, this past September, torrential rains caused a landslide (alijazeera.com; Sept. 12, 2017; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018), killing two people outside the city.
As a signatory of the Paris Agreement, the Philippines promised "a 70 percent reduction of climate emissions by 2030 (climateactiontracker.org; Nov. 6, 2017; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018). In 2009, the nation created a national climate change commission, which administers adaptation and mitigation intiatives. President Rodrigo Duterte's position on climate change has shifted (climatechangenews.com; July 18, 2016; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018), however a $500 million flood-control system for Manila is part of the president's "golden age of infrastructure" is due to begin construction soon.
Complicating matters are terrorist groups including Abu Sayyag and IS are active in the Philippines (cnn.com; May 29, 2017; date accessed Apr. 10, 2018) and "radicalization could thrive in the uncertainty and hardship following a major disaster. Sherri Goodman said, "arguably, the country's proactive measures on climate change could help it avoid a major increase in conflict."
As we have seen from these examples, climate change and conflict are enmeshed but effort to create more sustainable cities in developing nations lead to more stability and security. Preparation can create the conditions that avoid a breakdown of civic order. Failure to act can lead to chaos.