One of these days, we may diversify our “whack a mole” approach to security. A critical step on the road to a more dynamic strategy is recognizing underlying causes of instability in the developing world.

This week’s Economist has a special report on the Horn of Africa that highlights the severe demographic, environmental, and agricultural challenges that undercut stability and exacerbate all manner of tribal, religious, economic, and political divisions. While the language is at times overheated, the dire situation perhaps warrants “the shock them out of their stupor” approach to reporting. The piece particularly highlights the dramatic population growth challenges — both on the ground and in terms of political predilections to avoid the “elephant in the corner of the room” as an Ambassador told the unnamed Economist reporter. In the midst of the fashion to switch our policy focus to a supposed birth dearth, the Horn’s high total fertility rates and population growth rates illustrate that there are still large swathes of particularly sub-Saharan Africa where demographic pressures remain a dominant factor in human well-being.

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It strikes me as a host of missed opportunities when we limit our foreign assistance and political priority in the areas of environment, health, family planning, agriculture, and ultimately, climate change. These problems, as manifested in the Horn, are worth tackling on humanitarian and ultimately, economic grounds. But in today’s political context where security is the first, second, and third priority, this basket of quality of life challenges offers both threat and opportunity in more traditional security terms — ones that that continue to be ignored.

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