Published on Development for Peace

Tackling the intersecting challenges of climate change, fragility and conflict

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Marshall Islands ? Children sitting on a seawall near their family houses. Their home village of Jenrok in Majuro is slowly being destroyed by the rising seas. Marshall Islands – Children sitting on a seawall near their family houses. Their home village of Jenrok in Majuro is slowly being destroyed by the rising seas.

Conflict and climate change each present immense challenges for poverty reduction—and even more so when they overlap. Climate change can create major strains on a society, especially in fragile settings where governments have limited resources to manage crises and help their populations adapt.  The adverse consequences associated with climate change—water scarcity, crop failure, food insecurity, economic shocks, migration, and displacement—can aggravate risks of conflict and violence. In other words, climate change can act as a threat multiplier both in the immediate and long term by intensifying contestation over scarce resources, reducing economic opportunities and social cohesion, and straining public institutions and trust in the state.

The links between climate and fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV) risks are on clear display across the globe. The impacts of climate change are felt most intensely by the poorest and most vulnerable communities, especially those living in fragile and conflict-affected settings.  If not addressed, they could push an additional 132 million people into poverty by 2030. In addition, conflicts as well as extreme weather events and natural disasters triggered 33.4 million new internal displacements worldwide in 2019. Of these, 24.9 million were triggered by disasters, mostly weather-related, including floods and storms – the highest figure recorded since 2012 and three times the number of displacements caused by conflict and violence. When people are forced to move away from their homes, they lose their land, jobs, homes and access to food, setting the stage for more fragility and instability. 

At the same time, slow-onset climate impacts are a potent driver of mobility, including those related to water availability, crop productivity, and sea-level rise augmented by storm surge. Without concrete climate and development action, by 2050 just over 143 million people—or around 3% of the population across Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia —could be forced to move within their own countries due to climate-induced migration.

In the Sahel, the situation has worsened due to longer periods of drought, growing insecurity, and more restrictions on the movement of herders. This has seriously disrupted traditional herd management methods, resulting in more frequent and potentially more serious conflicts. The Regional Sahel Pastoralism Support Project encourages transboundary migration as an adaptation strategy for pastoralists threatened by drought and conflict through a range of interventions including migration corridors, shared water points, surveillance for major diseases and veterinary services, as well as strengthened early warning systems and enhanced crises response.

The nexus between climate change, geographic isolation, and fragility is most pronounced in the Pacific Island countries. Because of their small size, weak infrastructure, limited economic opportunities and high youth unemployment, these countries face unique challenges which are magnified by repeated natural disasters such as tropical cyclones, volcanic activity, earthquakes, droughts, and flooding. Countries like Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati are among the most vulnerable to such natural hazards, and climate change can increase the frequency and intensity of these threats while also presenting new threats such as sea level rise. Pacific Island nations already lose on average between 0.5% to 6.6% of GDP annually due to natural disasters–and climate change threatens to increase their vulnerabilities and fragility  by threatening livelihoods, exacerbating resource scarcities and contestation, and intensifying pressure on governments to meet the needs of their people.

In 2019, weather-related disasters were the key driver of acute food insecurity for 34 million people in 25 countries. Eight of the worst food crises in 2019 were linked to climate shocks and conflict. Climate-related impacts on food security are especially acute in Africa and the Middle East.

In 2019, unusual weather conditions exacerbated by climate change created the ideal conditions for the desert locust outbreak. Increasing temperatures in the Western Indian Ocean gave rise to abnormally heavy rainfall, creating humid conditions that were ideal for locust hatching and breeding. Strong cyclones in typically arid areas of Africa and the Middle East then dispersed the swarms, which ravaged crops, trees, and pastureland, destroying food and vegetation and jeopardizing food security across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

In Yemen, the Desert Locust Response Project provided immediate assistance to help poor and vulnerable farmers, herders, and rural households overcome the loss of crops and income in one of the worst upsurges of locust swarms in decades. The US$25 million World Bank-funded project, in full partnership with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), provides targeted social safety nets like cash transfers while investing in the medium-term recovery of agriculture and livestock production systems and other aspects of rural livelihoods in areas affected by this crisis. Yemen’s food security crisis is one of the world’s largest human-made crises, with the impact of locusts compounded by the country’s devastating conflict , which has created severe constraints on food production and imports, limited supply and distribution, and reduced people’s ability to buy food. Currently, over 20 million people are food insecure in Yemen, with a staggering 10 million at risk of famine.

Through the Adaptation and Resilience Action Plan, the World Bank Group is also stepping up its efforts to help countries adapt to a changing climate through increased support for social resilience—including for climate risks associated with migration, food security, and economic shocks. Better understanding and acting on the potential impact of climate change in fragile and conflict-affected settings is a priority area. The plan stresses a more strategic medium- to long-term approach beyond crisis management that helps communities stay in place where local adaptation options are viable, while also helping people move away from unavoidable climate risks. After migration, it ensures that sending and receiving areas, and their people, are well connected and adequately prepared. Under the plan, the Bank Group has increased direct adaptation climate finance to reach $50 billion from 2021 through 2025.

To deliver on durable development outcomes that ensure peace, stability and security, it is vital to act decisively to address both FCV and climate change . The World Bank Group’s Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence, as well as the recently approved IDA19 replenishment, place a strong focus on the nexus between FCV and climate change, sending a strong signal that attention to these issues is central to the international community’s efforts to eliminate extreme poverty.


Bernice Van Bronkhorst

Former Global Director,Urban, Resilience and Land Global Practice (GPURL)

Franck Bousquet

Former Senior Director of the Fragility, Conflict, & Violence Group

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