One of the world’s most environmentally degraded areas, the Sahel is suffering from a rise in intercommunal conflict over resources depleted by desertification, drought and other climatic extremes, speakers told a joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission today.
Opening the dialogue on “Linkages between Climate Change and Challenges to Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace” Ibrahim Thiaw, Special Adviser of the Secretary‑General for the Sahel, described the region as one of the world’s most vulnerable victims of climate change, with 300 million people affected.
Drought, desertification and scarcity of resources have led to heightened conflicts between crop farmers and cattle herders and weak governance to social breakdowns, he said. Pointing to the shrinking of Lake Chad and its threat to 45 million people, he said it is leading to economic marginalization and providing a breeding ground for recruitment by terrorist groups, as social values and moral authority evaporate.
Similarly, Inga Rhonda King, President of the Economic and Social Council, noted that the Sahel faces complex challenges, including prevalent insecurity, armed conflict, human suffering and escalating humanitarian needs. Continuing deterioration in the region is due to poverty, lack of access to basic social services, rising inequalities, dwindling economic activities, growing unemployment and poor natural resource management.
Underscoring the region’s environmental deterioration and vulnerability to climate change, she noted that temperature increases are projected to be 1.5 times higher than the rest of the world. Largely dependent on rain‑fed agriculture and regularly hit by droughts and floods, some 33 million people in the Sahel are currently food insecure, along with 4.7 million children suffering acute malnutrition.
Also highlighting the Sahel’s mounting risks, Ion Jinga, Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (Romania), lamented the region’s inadequate international attention and assistance. Agreeing that climate change and peacebuilding in the Sahel are linked, the Economic and Social Council and Peacebuilding Commission aim to achieve a risk‑informed and resilient 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for the region.
Ahmed Aziz Diallo, Mayor of Dori, Burkina Faso (a Sahel country), stressed the need to develop initiatives to improve the soil and combat unemployment in the region. Highlighting ongoing initiatives, he described the “River Project”, which focuses on the replanting of 740 hectares of arable land and forests, including hundreds of baobab trees.
With support from Italy and Burkina Faso, his area is also beginning to clear large areas for water storage, so that people have access to that resource throughout the year, he said. During the dry season, animals must move to new pastures for water, but with storage tanks, people will have more stable, less nomadic lives and children can continue in the same schools.
During the ensuing discussion, delegates repeatedly emphasized the links between peace and sustainable development, noting that the world is facing a historic challenge in the Sahel. Social and political vulnerability make the region particularly sensitive to climate change, France’s representative said, given water and arable land are a requirement for human security. He noted that implementation of the Sahel Partnership is part of the Sahel Alliance, bringing together nine members, including France and Germany, to address youth employment, agriculture, food security, energy, governance and decentralization.
On a more positive note, speakers also noted that 60 per cent of the planet’s unexploited land lies in Africa, emphasizing the need to scale up on existing solutions to climate change. Morocco’s delegate noted that 70 per cent of Africa depends on rain‑fed agriculture and that six of 10 countries most affected by climate change are in that continent and the Sahel. Morocco partners with 33 African countries, she said, on the Adaptation of African Agriculture initiative to reduce the continent’s vulnerability to climate change.
Other delegates warned that associating climate change with the dependency between sustainable development and peace may give way to the mistaken assumption that environmental distress naturally leads to conflict. The security environment nexus requires further analysis, said Brazil’s representative, as it is not always a cause and effect relationship, given that stability often relies on multiple drivers, rather than a single indicator.
Also speaking today were representatives of Norway, Japan, Republic of Korea, Germany, Maldives, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Canada, United States, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Egypt, Algeria, India, Kenya, Cabo Verde, Chad, Switzerland, Belgium, Sudan, Senegal and Indonesia, as well as the European Union, World Meteorological Association and the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO).