Boko Haram terrorists thriving on climate crisis: report

As chronic water shortages create instability and violence around Lake Chad, researchers warn climate change feeds terror

Zara collects water at a camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria, for people displaced by conflict (Pic: UNICEF/UN057061/Abubakar)


Chronic drought around Lake Chad is reinforcing terrorist group Boko Haram’s stronghold on the region, a report commissioned by the German government has warned.

Some 30 million people across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon are competing over a shrinking water resource.

As farming and pastoral livelihoods suffer, the legitimacy of state governments has eroded and the region has become a ripe recruiting ground for Islamic extremism and the illicit trades in drugs, arms and people that sustain it.

It is a prime example of how climate change can fuel instability and conflict if the impacts are not addressed, according to the analysis by consultancy Adelphi.

“The report does not say that climate change creates terrorists,” author Lukas Rüttinger told Climate Home. “But climate change changes the context in which these groups operate – it contributes to creating the conditions in which those groups can thrive. We can observe that already.”

The role of global warming was acknowledged in the UN Security Council’s first resolution on conflict in the Lake Chad basin last month.

Nigerian diplomat Anthony Bosah told the council the diminishing resource had worsened the situation for those living under the shadow of Boko Haram and the region’s future was inextricably tied to the shrinking lake.

Excerpt from a UN resolution on the crisis around Lake Chad

Studies cited by Adelphi show that the frequency of rainy days in northeastern Nigeria has decreased 53% since the 1970s, while neighbouring Chad has seen warming at twice the global rate.

Those trends have combined with a doubling of the population to put water resources under unprecedented pressure.

Further drought across the Sahel region of Africa this year only intensifies the struggle for survival. In northern Nigeria, the UN refugee agency estimates seven million people face food insecurity.

The link between Boko Haram and climate change was also made by former US president Barack Obama in 2015.

Aid to the region must be spent in a way that makes communities more resilient, said Rüttinger, and not – for example – creating jobs in unsustainable sectors.

“If you look at Lake Chad now, the international community has woken up to that crisis and is increasing humanitarian funding to the region. It is really important that that funding takes into account the climate perspective. If we spend money on a crisis like that we need to try to think as long-term as we can.”

The German government called for preventative strategies to tackle the root causes that stoke conflict.

Peter Fischer, a senior energy and climate change official at the German Federal Foreign Office, said: “This report confirms once again that is in all our interest to tackle climate change, and to invest in holistic solutions to conflict, starting now. Instability and turbulence are rising around the world and climate change is helping to drive them. We must pay attention to the early stages of the conflict-cycle, anticipate risks arising from climate change and take preventive measures.”

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