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Assessing the relative contribution of economic, political and environmental factors on past conflict and the displacement of people in East Africa

Erin Llwyd Owain and Mark Andrew Maslin ()
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Erin Llwyd Owain: University College London
Mark Andrew Maslin: University College London

Palgrave Communications, 2018, vol. 4, issue 1, 1-9

Abstract: Abstract According to the UN Refugee Agency in 2016 there were over 20 million displaced people in Africa. There is considerable debate whether climate change will exacerbate this situation in the future by increasing conflict and thus displacement of people. To explore this climate-conflict-refugee nexus this study analyses whether climatic changes between 1963 and 2014 impacted the risk of conflict and displacement of people in East Africa. A new composite conflict database recording major episodes of political violence (MEPV) was compared with climatic, economic and political indicators using optimisation regression modelling. This study found that climate variations as recorded by the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and the global temperature record did not significantly impact the level of regional conflict or the number of total displaced people (TDP). The major driving forces on the level of conflict were population growth, economic growth and the relative stability of the political regimes. Numbers of TDP seemed to be linked to population and economic growth. Within TDP, ‘refugees’ were recorded as people that were forced to cross borders between countries. In contrast to TDP and conflict, variations in refugee numbers were found to be significantly related to climatic variations as well as political stability, population and economic growth. This study suggests that climate variations played little or no part in the causation of conflict and displacement of people in East Africa over the last 50 years. Instead, we suggest rapid population growth, low or falling economic growth and political instability during the post-colonial transition were the more important controls. Nonetheless, during this period this study does shows that severe droughts were a contributing driver of refugees crossing international borders. This study demonstrates that within socially and geo-politically fragile systems, climate change may potentially exacerbate the situation particularly with regards to enforced migration.

Date: 2018
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