ECC Platform Library


Droughts, Migration and Communal Conflicts in Darfur

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Northern Africa
Time 1980 ‐ ongoing
Countries Sudan
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary Livestock raiding and low intensity communal clashes over access to land and water have a long tradition among pastoralist and farming communities in Sudan’s...
Droughts, Migration and Communal Conflicts in Darfur
Livestock raiding and low intensity communal clashes over access to land and water have a long tradition among pastoralist and farming communities in Sudan’s western Darfur region. However, recurring droughts, famine and the outbreak of civil war in Darfur have propelled these conflicts to unprecedented levels of violence.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

The steady decline of rainfall led to deteriorating environmental conditions in the Sahel, and culminated with a drought in 1984 to 1985.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Climatic conditions, the increased scarcity of resources, and desertification steered the southward migration of pastoralists, placing them in close proximity with other groups and inciting clashes over land use and stolen livestock. As discontent with the Sudanese government rapidly grew by the end of the 1990s, tensions between groups escalated as Arab-African animosities were exploited by the Sudanese government, as well as by local insurgent movements.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Communal clashes left more than 3700 people dead between 1993 and 2013.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Extreme weather event is consistent with predictions regarding more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events.In-migration leads to demographic change.Demographic changes increase pressures on available land resources.Economic developments lead to changes in land use.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity hampers agricultural production.Extreme weather event leads to scarcity of essential natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources induces migration.State elites strategically use resource scarcity for political advantage/power.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.Use of resource, livelihood, and health pressures for political advantage/power increases tensions between groups.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityAn increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsA specific extreme weather event such as a flood or a storm.Extreme Weather EventVoluntary or involuntary movement of people from one area to another.Migration patternsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural Resources(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationUse of resource, livelihood, and health pressures for political advantage/power.PoliticisationNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups
Context Factors
  • Food Insecurity
  • Water-stressed Area
  • History of Conflict
  • Lack of Alternative Livelihoods
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Political Marginalization
  • Unresponsive Government
  • Weak Institutions
Conflict History

Prior to the outbreak of civil war in 2003, Darfur had already witnessed several armed clashes between different local groups, often divided after an Arab-African and/or farmer-herder dichotomy and mostly revolving around issues of stolen livestock and competing land use. As discontent with the Sudanese government rapidly grew by the end of the 1990s they were increasingly exploited both, by local insurgent movements as well as by the Khartoum government, and played an important part in the onset of the Darfur war in 2003 (Brosché & Rothbart, 2013). According to the UCDP conflict data, communal clashes in Darfur left more than 3700 people dead between 1993 and 2013 (UCDP, 2014).

Deteriorating environmental conditions in the 1980' exacerbated communal conflicts in Darfur
Communal conflicts in Darfur were driven to an important part by deteriorating environmental conditions in the Sahel. Rainfall in Darfur had constantly been declining in the 1960’, 1970’ and the first half of the 1980’, culminating with the drought and famine of 1984/85. Reduced availability of water and land in conjunction with the expansion of agriculture and increased migration from northern Sudan and neighbouring Chad led to a vicious cycle of overexploited soils, deforestation, wind erosion, and further depleted resources, thus exacerbating local resource conflicts (Milani, 2006; Leroy, 2009; Auswärtiges Amt, 2014). Loss of livelihoods and widespread destitution in the wake of serious droughts provided young herders with economic incentives to engage into illicit and violent activities, while distress migration and the ensuing reconfiguration of local power structures led to the weakening of traditional resource sharing and conflict mitigation mechanisms. More importantly the migration of camel pastoralists following the southward expansion of the Sahara “[…] placed ethnically distinct populations in close proximity and in circumstances that were likely to give rise to competing claims over land and indigeneity” (De Waal, 2007).

Communal conflicts in Darfur were also encouraged by the regions' political marginalisation
The processes described above were mediated by several political and economic factors: structural neglect of the region by central authorities in Khartoum had left Darfur without the necessary infrastructures to lower its dependency on local markets and facilitate the introduction of fertilizers and new irrigation techniques, which would have helped local communities to adapt to deteriorating environmental conditions. The central government also failed to mitigate immediate drought impacts and avert famine (De Waal, 2007). Moreover, the removal and replacement of the Native Administration system in 1971 had crippled much of the functionality of customary land tenure and conflict mitigation institutions, without providing viable alternatives (Unruh & Abdul-Jalil, 2012; see also Conflict between Masalit and Reizegat Abbala). Finally, the immigration of many Chadian Arabs and other nomadic Arab groups from further west in conjunction with a supremacist ideology propagated by Lybia’s Muammar al-Qaddhafi contributed to tensions between ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ groups in Darfur. This divide was subsequently exploited by the government in Khartoum to encourage attacks against African groups suspected to support local rebel movements (De Waal, 2007; Rothbart, Brosché & Yousif, 2012).

Despite the deployment of the UNAMID peacekeeping force in Sudan and various local level agreements, communal conflicts remain an important source of insecurity in Darfur. Their resolution will not only depend on the sustainable and equitable management of local resources but also on the containment of the higher level political conflicts plaguing Sudan and its neighbours.

Resolution Efforts

National and international attempts to resolve the Darfur crisis have struggled to find lasting solutions that tackle all dimensions of the conflict (see Civil war in Darfur).

Resolution efforts led by UNAMID and the Government of Sudan
At the local level, the joint African Union and United Nations UNAMID mission has supported various mediation and reconciliation initiatives, with a mixed record of success (PANA, 2012). The Government of Sudan has played a central role in many local agreements. However, these have centred on immediate security issues and compensation, rather than on sustainable solutions to local resource conflicts.

Resolution efforts led by insurgent groups and peace agreements between local communities
Other inter-group agreements have been brokered by local insurgent groups, notably the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLM-AW). In some cases, these have allowed amnesty for past crimes and fostered economic relations between formerly enemy groups. In other cases they have only been short-lived due to shifting alliances between local communities, rebels and government troops. In addition, communal agreements have been reached without external mediation. These focus strongly on resource access and collective resource use in line with customary conflict mitigation institutions. Yet, they are mostly implemented at a very localized level and thus susceptible to be disrupted by wider political and conflict dynamics (Buchanan-Smith, 2014).

Local level peace agreements have allowed containing some of the communal violence ravaging Darfur. However, they remain highly vulnerable to wider political and conflict dynamics and their effectiveness is seriously undermined by the present weakness of traditional conflict mitigation institutions. Ultimately, a lasting solution to these conflicts will require the Sudanese government to effectively address the issue of land rights in Darfur (De Waal, 2007; Buchanan-Smith, 2014).

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

3 700
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement More than 100.000 or more than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Best estimate that more than 100.000 or more than 10% of country population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries S. Sudan, Central African Rep., Chad
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Government of Sudan
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Communal groups (Darfur)
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A)
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Sudan Liberation Movement/Army - Abdul Wahid faction
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal National
United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleExternal
UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
2 Mediation & arbitration The joint African Union and United Nations UNAMID mission has supported various mediation and reconciliation initiatives in Darfur.
3 Treaty/agreement Local level peace agreements have been brokered by local insurgent groups and in some cases by the government of Sudan with mixed success in containing communal violence.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Mixed: The abilities of parties to affect the environmental resource is mixed.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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