The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a statement on May 12e drawing attention to the Sahel region, where more than 10.5 million people in the countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Mauritania are at risk of hunger due to an ongoing food crisis. The upcoming lean season – the time between harvests, when food levels are at their lowest – is being made worse by a combination of continued violence and the effects of climate change. This intersection has created a humanitarian crisis throughout the region, particularly in Burkina Faso.
Conflict has destabilized Burkina Faso for years. What began as a rebellion in neighboring Mali has spread across the region, with armed groups taking advantage of poverty, tensions between local communities and weak government control to expand their influence, triggering widespread displacement and unrest policies. In Burkina Faso, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), which has become the fastest growing violent group in the world, is behind most of the conflict. This led to Burkina Faso replacing Mali at the center of the crisis in the Sahel, with reported deaths in the conflict rising from a low of 8 in 2013 to 303 in 2018, before soaring to 2,354 in 2021. 1.8 million Burkinabe, nearly 10% of the population, have already fled their homes in search of safety.
At the same time, Burkina Faso is grappling with the effects of climate change. The region is currently experiencing record levels of rainfall amid the worst drought in decades. This recent drought is just the continuation of a long-term trend driven by climate change, which, according to UN estimates, is already affecting around 80% of agricultural areas in the Sahel. The temperature is rising 1.5 times the global average, with a projected rise of 3°C by 2050 in a region that already has an average temperature of 35 degrees.
These effects are compounded by the fact that the region has the fastest growing population in the world – with a corresponding demand for food. More than four out of five people in the region depend on agriculture for their survival and up to 50 million people in the Sahel are nomadic, but there is less and less access to grasslands and other valuable resources. Traditional pastoral and nomadic routes have been disrupted. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that 33 million people in the Sahel are already food insecure due to these issues.
These factors, climate change and conflict, have combined to sever Burkina Faso’s local ties and complicate conflict resolution efforts. The destruction of water infrastructure, amid the effects of drought, has created a severe water crisis. Many Burkinabé face 72-hour queues just to access boreholes. Previously, disputes between nomads and resident farmers were resolved through local negotiations. Today, violence is forcing farmers to flee conflict zones. The Red Cross has found that the provinces of Yatenga and Loroum have yield losses of up to 90% after the conflict. This societal flight and instability, coupled with the desperation caused by the lack of resources, has broken down traditional peacekeeping mechanisms and fractured societies, allowing growing violence to claim thousands of lives each year. Thus, conflicts, and the destruction and displacement they cause, intensify the effects of climate change on populations; at the same time, climate change contributes to the desperation and tensions that drive people to conflict in the first place.
Burkina Faso has experienced increasing political instability at the national level. In 2014, President Blaise Compaoré resigned after millions of Burkinabé forced his hand with widespread protests. However, the new government was unable to resolve the conflict, leading Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba to stage a military coup in early 2022, citing the security crisis as the main reason. . Damiba’s new administration continued increasing militarization and counterterrorism in an effort to stabilize the region.
“Burkinabe people seem to trust the army and hope the junta will stem the violence,” Fahiraman Rodrigue Kone, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, told Al Jazeera. “However, comparing the limited resources available to the military, [the Burkinabés’] expectations are too high.
Only Burkina Faso will be able to solve neither the problems linked to the conflict nor the underlying climatic and food insecurity factors which exacerbate the violence. However, useful international assistance has been hard to come by.
European powers, led by France, have been trying to solve Burkina Faso’s security problems for a decade. However, these countries have been criticized for partnering with reckless regional forces in their conduct, with accusations that hundreds of unlawful civilian deaths are at their hands. The inability of foreign powers to resolve the conflict led to public discontent with Europe and frequent anti-French demonstrations. European forces then withdrew from the Sahel.
Apart from their armies, European countries have also shown their reluctance to help solve refugee problems, preferring to focus on enforcing their own borders and preventing refugees from arriving in Europe rather than solving problems at home. origin of migration.
Finally, the recent violence in Ukraine, in addition to aggravating food insecurity issues, has led to a reprioritization among many Westerners. “Some donors have already indicated that they will cut our funding by 70% [in order] to support operations in Ukraine,” said Safia Torche, director general of Médecins du Monde in Burkina Faso. This drop in funding prevents humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross from accessing hundreds of thousands of people in the Sahel.
Therefore, as the crisis in Burkina Faso deepens, the international community has, paradoxically, only moved further and further away.
The reality is that climate change is both a problem beyond Burkina Faso’s ability to deal with unilaterally and a problem it did not create. No action by the government of Burkina Faso will be able to rebuild its ability to produce the required amount of food in the near future. That the European countries most responsible for climate change are doing little to address its effects in places like Burkina Faso not only represents a moral abdication, but has come back to bite in the form of various refugee crises and mounting military costs. International actors must do more to manage the fallout from climate change in regions like the Sahel, where the capacity of national actors to act in the short term is limited.
At the same time, European military and counter-terrorism efforts have proven ineffective. So, in the face of public discontent, European nations should either rethink their approach or withdraw military support in favor of economic support.
Militaristic tactics have also failed at the national level. The recent military coup indicates that Burkina Faso is likely to continue its militarization and aggressively counter the armed forces. However, Burkina Faso’s army has yet to prove its ability to maintain security in the region, and the cross-border nature of the conflict complicates military action.
While one option would be to increase cooperation with neighboring partners like Mali, a more effective approach would have to combine this with an effort to address the underlying issues that drove the armed groups in the first place – namely poverty, local tensions and government issues. neglect. None of these issues can be resolved without considering how factors such as climate change are altering living conditions and exacerbating resource conflicts, so any effort to address them must take into account past climate changes. and future, in addition to investing in social services such as education.
Finally, Paul Melly of Chatham House told the Inter Press Service that previous administrations, such as that of former President Blaise Compaore, used to make deals with armed groups to reduce violence. Current administrations, with their more aggressive approach, are eliminating this possibility. Although this type of negotiation may be unpleasant for some, it remains one of the best ways to end hostilities and, with the emphasis on tackling economic, environmental and social problems, to finally get Burkina Faso out. of its vicious circle of climate catastrophe. , poverty and conflict.