Maps to the rescue: New tool shows climate-driven clashes across Africa

Maps to the rescue: New tool shows climate-driven clashes across Africa

A new mapping tool ties climate change to humanitarian issues including conflict and displacement in countries like Somalia. Photo: <a href="http://www.mercycorps.org/topics/displacement">Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps</a>
A new mapping tool ties climate change to humanitarian issues including conflict and displacement in countries like Somalia. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The U.S. military is targeting an unorthodox foe in the battle for political stability in Africa: climate change.

That’s the goal of a new $7.6 million joint military project with the University of Texas, focused on developing a new mapping tool to show where “vulnerability to climate change and violent conflicts intersect throughout the African continent,” according to Scientific American.

The Climate Change and African Political Stability Project (CCAPS) compiles data on civil unrest and other violent conflicts in Africa dating back to 1996. The program also “visualizes multiple dimensions of climate vulnerability and risks in a single map,” Fast.Co.Exist reports, and overlays this with data about conflicts and ongoing climate-related aid initiatives.

The result, project managers hope, will be a tool that shows how climate change causes droughts and food insecurity, which in turn can drive violent local and regional clashes over limited and dwindling resources.

The mapping tool is “a starting point for a conversation … about how we prioritize resources" Joshua Busby, project researcher and assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, told Scientific American.

Climate change impacts can slow economic growth and damage livelihoods. Clearly violent conflict does as well.

Knowing how and where these intersect can help governments and international agencies best allocate limited resources to head off and alleviate impending disasters.

"It is not enough to say ‘Ethiopia is vulnerable’ without explaining which parts of Ethiopia are particularly vulnerable and why," states CCAPS’ research document. “Decision-makers need research that is evidence-based and detail-oriented to help them target aid in the most effective way possible.”

A look at the document’s ‘composite vulnerability’ maps (composed of both climate-related and socio-political indicators) show particularly high risk in troubled countries such as Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But even within each of these, risks vary by location, and a micro-scale understanding is essential for appropriate responses.

The military might not be on the verge of winning the war against climate change. But it’s hopeful that weapons like CCAPS will aid in the battle against its ugliest side-effects.

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