Darfur Peace Must Address Water Crisis: Economist
Darfur Peace Must Address Water Crisis: Economist (by Megan Rowling, Reuters July 17, 2006)
There is no chance of peace in Darfur unless the region's dire water shortages are tackled as part of a settlement between rebels and the Sudanese government, a top international economist said on July 17.
The conflict in Sudan's arid west is often attributed to political and ethnic grievances, Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, told a climate change conference.
But he said its origins can be traced to severe drought and population growth in the 1980s that sparked a struggle between settled farmers and pastoralists.
"(In Darfur) we need to understand that, at the core, there is a massive ecological and demographic challenge exacerbated by climate change," Sachs said.
"I would say there's not a chance in the world for Darfur to be peaceful unless a solution is found to water stress."
Three years of fighting has killed tens of thousands of people and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes. A peace deal was signed between the government and one rebel faction in May, but violence continues.
International efforts to solve the conflict have been too focused on peacekeeping and not enough on development, Sachs told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference on the outskirts of Helsinki.
"In general, crises like these are viewed through the optic of geopolitics and the military. ... But when you are dealing with very hungry people and desperately poor people, unless you also put forward a realistic and viable development option, you can't make peace," he said.
Sachs called for greater international recognition of the role of climate in sparking violence and a deeper understanding of the affect of climate change on vulnerable communities.
Policymakers need to integrate knowledge about climate change into their planning, he said.
Sachs also criticized the time it took the international community to respond to disasters, saying delays in addressing food shortages increased the risk of violence.
"The world is overloaded with crises. ... We need to buffer agencies so that (when a disaster happens) they don't have to beg rich governments for money," he said.
Droughts that cause food shortages and hunger can often be predicted using climate modeling and seasonal forecasting, but the current international system for raising funds only kicks in once a crisis is under way -- meaning that relief may not start arriving until months after its onset.
"By then, there may be violence, and then people say they can't respond because the situation is too violent," Sachs said. "Where rains fail in Africa, violence increases. We know that, but we don't seem to be able to do anything about it."
Sachs also said the international community needed to come up with a framework for dealing with growing migration caused by droughts, floods and other disasters linked to climate change.
Population growth -- which is expected to increase the number of people in Africa by 1 billion by the middle of the century -- is likely to make the problem worse by fuelling competition for scarce resources, Sachs said.
Dry, landlocked African nations were likely to become a major source of environmental refugees and richer countries should be prepared, he warned.
"The world needs a better response than locked gates, barbed wire and shooting people. The political challenge is enormous," Sachs said. The conference, organized by several agencies including the World Meteorological Organization, continues until July 21.
Photo: Women use a water pump to fill their containers at the Galap camp for Internally Displaced Persons in the town of Fasher, Darfur, Sudan, June 14, 2006. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)