Innocent Suffering In Sahel Region


Paolo Cernuschi

Countries with high carbon emissions have responsibilities to those with low emissions. They must, for example, help Niger to become more resilient and cope with food insecurity. On the southern fringes of the Sahara desert, informal subsistence agriculture is increasingly becoming unviable.

Niger is exposed to extreme burdens of global warming. Temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster here than on average at the global level. Niger contributes less than 0.1 per cent to the world’s carbon emissions, but that does not shield it from weather-related disasters such as drought and increasingly erratic rainfall. The Sahara desert is slowly expanding south. Currently, about 4.4 million people in Niger – about one fifth of the population – are suffering food insecurity. That is twice more than last year.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made matters worse because food and fuel prices are rising fast. The underlying problem, however, is that global heating is making the largely informal subsistence agriculture most people in Niger depend on gradually unviable. That applies to pastoralism as well as to traditional farming. Not quite 90 per cent of the people live in rural areas and rely on rain-fed pastures and crops.

Resource conflicts are escalating. Access to potable water and arable land is becoming increasingly scarce. At the same time, demand is growing. Conflicts over natural resources are exacerbated by climate change and fast demographic growth. Local tensions can trigger intercommunal conflicts. This feeds into armed conflicts and population displacement, as well as less access to arable land, disruption of farming cycles and potentially reduced productivity of future cycles. 

In the past 50 years, the surface of Lake Chad, which connects Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, has shrunk by 90 per cent. The surrounding areas are haunted by violence. Observers now speak of the Lake Chad Basin conflict. Niger alone has 313,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), and another 234,000 refugees have come to the country. Feeding all of these people puts extra pressure on Niger’s polity, economy and infrastructure.

Scientists expect that, by 2030, Niger’s temperatures will increase by another 1 °C, and by 2050, they may even rise by 3 °C. Access to natural resources will thus become yet more difficult, further propelling conflict dynamics. This summer, food insecurity is expected to affect almost 41 million west Africans, and 4.4 million of them – more than ten per cent – are in Niger. 

Poor village communities must depend on their own resources. Long-term investments in health and women’s empowerment are needed. A recent study prepared by the IRC showed that related measures could drastically reduce malnutrition and undernourishment. Even simple things like telling expectant mothers how to breastfeed make a difference.

Much more needs to happen, however. It is important to diversify the economy and build climate-resilient infrastructure, preparing communities to confront the impacts of climate change. This includes investing in productive infrastructure to reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture and promoting sustainable crop, livestock and land management.

On its own, Niger has neither the capacities nor the funding to escape the vicious cycle of worsening resource conflicts and food insecurity. Nations with huge carbon footprints must fulfil the responsibilities they have to those with tiny ones in the Sahel region. The European Green Deal points in the right directions – and implementation must now follow fast.

- Development And Cooperation

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