Environmental degradation fuels violence in Africa

Environmental problems like water shortages, deforestation, and overgrazing — all exacerbated by global warming — are tightly linked to violent conflict in parts of Africa, according to a new U.N. report. “The link could go in either or both directions,” says the report, “conflict creates conditions promoting ecosystem degradation, or environmental resource depletion could be a cause of conflict.” The report focuses on southern and east Africa and highlights ecological hotspots, where three or more environmental stressors overlap. On nearly every such hotspot there have been armed clashes — over dwindling livestock, water, and most of all land. In many areas, the presence of oil adds to the tension, as the young, bored, and angry men who live there see only the “negatives: unemployment, oil spills, and environmental degradation, but no dividends,” says analyst Keith Myers. Though the report focuses on Africa, experts say its conclusions could apply well beyond the continent.