Why climate-induced conflicts are a threat to global stability

Shamo Ali, a herdsman leads his camels to a community water point at Horr Gutha springs in North Horr, Marsabit county. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The world is beset by more frequent and destructive disasters. However, lurking behind these repetitious news headlines is an insidious force tearing at the fabric of our existence - conflicts fueled by climate change.

A paradox is unfolding across our planet today in a scary conflict where humanity is simultaneously playing two characters: the architect of its own extinction and the protagonist. It is a vicious fight, and both the beneficiaries and casualties lie within the competition over dwindling resources.

Let's talk about interconnected climate and migration risks within the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region. For some time now, we have been grappling with climate-linked migration and displacement, and the situation has been aggravated by irregular cross-border movements, which are often driven by desperation and lack of sustainable options. The recent drought in the region was the worst in nearly 40 years, resulting in a serious food crisis, with the total number of those at risk oscillating around the 22 million mark.

More populations are being compelled to migrate in search of basic resources and better livelihoods, and this is straining the host communities beyond their limits. We are increasingly witnessing security-related challenges as human mobility and transhumance trigger competition and disputes, social instability, regional tensions, and communal violence.

Looking at these patterns, it is now clear that climate change is no longer a distant threat. Each day, the bell tolls ever closer to our own doorstep.
Here in Kenya, one of the most serious crises that we have had to deal with is livestock rustling in the North Rift region. A critical analysis of the nature of the issue points to prolonged droughts and the consequent competition over water and pasture resources among the pastoralists. The situation has escalated to an upheaval involving organized criminal activities and bloodbath.

In response, we have gone all out to sweep away the bandits who have been meting out violence on innocent civilians under the guise of protecting their twisted and misguided ideology. That means establishing permanent government presence in those areas.

However, what we thought was confined to arid and semi-arid lands has become a national security threat. The sporadic invasion of private farms and ranches by herders is sounding the urgency of ugly realities glaring at us. With the arid and semi-arid lands constituting 80 percent of our country's land mass, the stakes couldn't be higher when it comes to balancing between the survival of the herders and the rights of the targeted farmers.

The ripple effect of frequent clashes for control over arable lands, limited grazing fields, and water points is displacement of vulnerable populations, a crisis that not only threaten the livelihoods of those directly involved but also destabilizes communities. The wave has been growing and spreading, both in intensity and geography.

We have been working closely with our development partners to avail direct support to the affected areas through provision of relief food and other essential supplies.

However, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that such a bandage solution is sufficient to address climate-related risks to peace and security in Kenya and the wider region.

Kenya's move to elevate climate change to the list of the biggest socioeconomic security threats facing our country communicates our level of commitment to deploying every mitigation solution available for the sake of our future generations. This is why we are progressively advancing sustainable resource management measures, conflict resolution mechanisms, and community resilience-building initiatives.

As a region, we are jointly rallying our border communities to recognize their common environmental challenges, especially perennial droughts and famine. It is encouraging to note that resilience, fragility and displacement in the borderlands of the Horn of Africa was also given attention during the Summit. One of our strategies is deployment of initiatives to resolve the conflicts among our people living along the borderlands, key among them armed and violent clashes.

We have also been advocating for resource sharing and conflict prevention through cross-border cooperation. Our prime focus is on empowering the borderland communities and building their resilience to climate impacts and the related shocks. This statement is a wake-up call for each one of us to take the issue of climate change seriously and save our planet.

For the longest time, humanity has lived extravagantly at the expense of other species. Now, we have a chance to make amends for our mistakes lest we exterminate ourselves. We have now prioritized the development and implementation of comprehensive adaptation strategies, and our long-term focus is to reforestation and afforestation.

We already have a greening campaign in our quest to improve our forest cover from the 12 percent to 30 percent by 2032, and the plan is anchored on planting at least 15 billion trees during this period. Indeed, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The writer is Principal Secretary for the State Department for Internal Security and National Administration