Climate change not the main driver of human displacement, conflict in East Africa

April 24 (UPI) — New research suggests climate change isn’t the main driver of human displacement in East Africa.

Researchers have previously suggested climate change could inspire an increase in human conflict as heat waves and prolonged droughts tax the ability of land to provide food and water. While such a scenario remains possible — even likely — new research showed rising temperatures and prolonged droughts during the last half-century weren’t the primary drivers of conflict in East Africa.

“Our research suggests that socio-political factors are the primary cause while climate change is a threat multiplier,” Mark Maslin, a professor of geography at University College London, said in a news release.

Analysis showed population growth, slow economic growth or recession and political instability were the three strongest predictors of conflict. However, researchers found droughts amplified the negative impact of these socio-political factors.

When population growth or economic stagnation coincided with a prolonged drought, researchers measured greater levels of human displacement. In 2016, 20 million Africans were forced from their homes, a third of all global human displacement.

Scientists used advanced statistical models to tease out relationships between climate, socio-political unrest and displacement.

While socio-political factors proved the strongest predictors of total displacement and conflict in East Africa, researchers found a strong correlation between heat waves and droughts and the number of refugees, those forced to move across international borders.

“The question remains as to whether drought would have exacerbated the refugee situation in East Africa had there been slower expansion of population, positive economic growth and more stable political regimes in the region,” said Erin Owain, first author of the study published this week in the journal Palgrave Communications.

“Our research suggests that the fundamental cause of conflict and displacement of large numbers of people is the failure of political systems to support and protect their people,” said Maslin.

While economic growth and political stability could help curb the negative impacts of climate change on human populations, scientists still expect global warming to make some parts of the world uninhabitable. Extreme heat and prolonged droughts could displace millions in North Africa and the Middle East.

It’s also possible climate change will encourage economic stagnation in developing countries and nations more vulnerable to conflict. Previous research has shown climate change is shifting natural resources from poorer countries to wealthier countries, from the tropics toward the poles.