The second edition of the Ecological Threat Report (ETR) from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), released in October, confirms that there is a cyclical relationship between ecological degradation and conflict: degradation of natural resources leads to conflict and conflict leads to further resource degradation.
The study covers more than 2,500 subnational administrations in 178 countries and focuses on food and water risks as well as population growth, temperature anomalies and natural disasters. These factors were combined with indicators of socioeconomic resilience to determine which countries have the lowest capacity to cope with ecological threats.
The 2021 study highlights three geographical regions which are ecological “hotspots”: The Sahel-Horn of Africa belt, from Mauritania to Somalia; the Southern African belt, from Angola to Madagascar and the Middle East and Central Asian belt, from Syria to Pakistan.
The IEP measures socioeconomic resilience by means of a set of 23 indicators across three domains, i.e. “ongoing domestic and international conflict”, “societal safety and security”, and “militarisation”.
The combination of high population growth and food and water insecurity have been stressors of political instability in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East historically, leading to tensions for instance between Turkey, Syria and Iraq over the waters of the Euphrates Basin or between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the waters of the Nile.
While currently some 2.6 billion people live under conditions of water stress, this figure is expected to rise to 5.4 billion by 2040. South Asia is the region with the highest combined score on food and water risk: 44% of the population is exposed to moderate food insecurity, but in addition to this the region is prone to natural disasters.
South Asia is followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, in which some 66% of the population suffers from moderate to high levels of food insecurity coupled with low levels of access to safely managed water resources.
Eleven of the 12 African countries in conflict were experiencing food insecurity and featured competition over access to natural resources such as clashes between farmers and pastoralists over land and water resources. The Sub-Saharan region is followed by the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and subsequently the Russian / Eurasian region with high scores on Ecological Threat.
The report further found that existing ecological threats such as food and water insecurity are exacerbated by climate change: rises in average temperatures have been shown by earlier studies to increase the risk of deadly conflict. Climate change is not a necessary condition for the emergence of conflict, but it does increase the risk of a potential conflict.