In view of the effects/impacts of climate change in Nigeria, we aim to examine the potential of climate change to fuel violence in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s climate is witnessing changes in temperature, rainfall, and sea levels. One of the impacts of these changes is resource (land and water) shortage. Poor adaptive responses to these shortages have been responsible for violent conflict in some areas of the country.
Nigeria, in the midst serious ethnic divisions, development challenges, and a history of poor leadership, already struggles to meet its resource needs.
The impacts of climate change, if left unchecked, could throw already stressed resources such as land and water into even shorter supply creating serious negative effects, such as hunger, sickness, fewer jobs, and poor economic growth, which in turn could lead to more violence.
Indeed, in a few conflict-prone spots such as the Niger Delta and the arid northeast, this sequence is probably playing out already.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did identify Nigeria as a climate change “hot spot” likely to see major shifts in weather in the twenty-first century.
Nigeria, situated in a tropical belt, spans six major vegetation zones, from mangrove-saltwater swamp to montane regions to grasslands to desert.
Soils and weather patterns vary widely, and altitudes range from 3,000 feet to less than 10 feet above sea level.
There are three main types of shifts that could ultimately lead to conflict.
1. Reduced Rainfall and Increased Heat in the North: The arid north, especially, are facing more heat and less rain. Parts of Nigeria’s northern Sahel area (the transition zone between the Sahara desert to the north and the grasslands to the south) get less than 10 inches a year already. Temperatures can top 105 degrees Fahrenheit and are likely rising.
2. Frequent Adverse Weather Events: Many parts of the country will likely experience more severe weather. Data show torrential rains and windstorms becoming harsher and more common across Nigeria. For instance, recorded volumes of torrential rains has increased by 20 percent across various southern states, some of which already see up to 160 inches of rainfall a year, with wet seasons lasting eight to ten months.
3. Rise in Sea Level: Along the southern coastline, sea levels could rise 1.5 to 3 feet by century’s end—a further increase over the nearly 1-foot rise observed in the last fifty years.
Nigeria may likely encounter serious resource shortages before the end of the century if it responds poorly to these three types of climatic changes.
1. Land Scarcity: The combination of more heat plus less rain increases the process of desertification, especially in northern Nigeria. According to some estimates, fully two-thirds of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara states could turn desert or semi-desert in the twenty-first century. Already the Sahel creeps south by approximately 1,400 square miles a year, engulfing whole villages.
Furthermore, much of Nigeria’s densely populated, increasingly urbanized 500-mile-long southern coast is less than twenty feet above sea level; the Delta region, with its easily flooded network of estuaries, rivers, creeks, and streams, sits especially low, as does Lagos. These areas are vulnerable to sea level rise. Actually, hydro-logical models indicate that a 1.5-foot sea level rise would submerge more than 11,000 square miles of coastal land.
2. Water Shortage: Portable/Usable water is already at a premium for much of Nigeria. More heat plus less rain is already creating drought conditions in parts of northern Nigeria. This is troubling when considering that northern groundwater tables have dropped sharply over the last half century, owing partly to less rain. In parts of southern Nigeria, flooding caused by sea level rise is also contaminating freshwater aquifers, rivers, and stock-watering points, leaving them with high salinity and more polluted with sediment and sewage.
Some negative impacts could follow poor responses to climate change–induced resource shortages.
1. More Sickness and Deaths: First, some populations could experience more sickness and death. Considering Nigeria’s dismal public health profile, more polluted water from floods or sea level rise would mean increased mortality from malaria, cholera, or heat stress.
2. Human Displacement: Severe weather events leave thousands of people homeless, and resource shortages may be accelerating migration in some parts of the country, especially the north.
3. More Hunger: Though Nigeria has not suffered the famine woes of its neighbors Niger or Chad, its hunger profile is far from good, and climate change could worsen it. Some 85 percent of all Nigerian agriculture is rain-fed, and many crops are sensitive to even tiny shifts in rainfall and temperature. What little irrigation exists is increasingly stressed. For instance, less rainfall and higher temperatures have helped shrink Lake Chad, once the world’s sixth largest lake and the north’s biggest irrigation resource, to one-tenth its size a half century ago. The rising sea is also flooding farmland along the southern coast and making soils too salinized for planting. More severe rain is causing massive sheet erosion in the sandy soils of the southeast, again resulting in lower yields.
The full security implications of climate change are far-reaching. Conflicts over resources have long been a familiar part of Nigeria’s social order. Moreover, links to climate change can be more or less strong.
A case in point is Nigeria’s frequent farmer-herder conflicts. In a pattern seen across the Sahel since the thirty-year drought, feed and water shortages caused partly by desertification and drought have sent nomadic herdsmen (pastoralists), most of them ethnic Fulanis, wandering south, outside their normal grazing routes.
At the same time, a mix of weather-related factors has pushed farmers to cultivate more land each year, leaving wanderers fewer places to water and graze their stock. The ensuing struggle for land and water has been responsible for the deaths of several hundred of thousands of Nigerians since the return of democracy in 1999.
In the chain of events linking climate change to violent conflicts, some climatic shifts (if not managed well) lead to resource shortages; then poor responses to the resource shortages heighten one or more conflict risks. For instance, in the south, many farmers now plant over grazing routes long agreed upon with Fulani herders, in some cases leading to violence. Their reasons for doing so are partly climate related.
Although inadequate analysis has clouded the picture of how climate change contributes to Nigeria’s environment and resource base, and experts are divided over the precise causal links between climate change and violence, there is broad agreement that, in the absence of intelligent, even-handed responses, the impacts of climate change could worsen the risks of violent conflicts in Nigeria.
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