ECC Platform Library


Climatic Changes and Communal Conflicts in South Sudan

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Southern Africa
Time 1944 ‐ ongoing
Countries S. Sudan
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary Closely linked to South Sudan's deteriorating environmental conditions, communal conflicts over land, livestock and water have played an important part...
Climatic Changes and Communal Conflicts in South Sudan
Closely linked to South Sudan's deteriorating environmental conditions, communal conflicts over land, livestock and water have played an important part in the country's troubled history. They remain a major source of political instability in this young nation.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

South Sudan has been experiencing rising temperatures, decreased rainfalls, and the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Adverse environmental conditions are directly affecting pastoral communities, causing them to shift migratory routes for camels and cattle. These changes often lead to local conflicts with farmers and other herders over crop damages, access to water, and grazing resources. Young herders in drought-prone regions also engage in livestock raiding as a means of subsistence. Furthermore, local resource conflicts were frequently exploited as a way to foster support for different military and political leaders during the civil war.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Resource conflicts between and within local communities such as the Dinka, Nuer and Murle, have frequently amounted to violent attacks on wells and villages, claiming more than 7,000 lives between 1993 and 2013 alone.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.More frequent/intense extreme weather events lead to decreased water availability.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. 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.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 EventsReduced 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
  • History of Conflict
  • Lack of Alternative Livelihoods
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Political Transition
  • Unresponsive Government
  • Weak Institutions
Conflict History

Rising temperatures, recurrent drought, economic marginalisation and decades of civil war in South Sudan (formerly part of Sudan) have exacerbated resource conflicts between and within local communities such as the Dinka, Nuer and Murle. Frequently taking the form of attacks on wells and villages in contested areas these conflicts have claimed more than 7000 direct victims between 1993 and 2013 alone (UCDP, 2015). In 1992 and 1993 particularly intense fighting killed more than 1000 people and disrupted the local economy. This contributed to famine conditions, which killed an estimated 300.000 people (Prendergast, 1997). In 2013, South Sudan's two largest communities - Dinka and Nuer – aligned with rival army factions loyal to South Sudan's president Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar. The ensuing violence left more than 1188 people dead (UCDP, 2015). Recurrent conflicts have also impeded local trade and agro-pastoral production, initiating a vicious cycle of impoverishment and further violence in certain parts of South Sudan.

Changing weather patterns and communal violence
Pastoral communities in South Sudan are increasingly exposed to adverse environmental conditions. Rainfalls have decreased by 10-20% and temperatures have increased by more than 1ºC  since  the  middle  of  the  1970s (Funk  et  al., 2011). At the same time, the frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods has augmented, with more than 55% of the South Sudanese population being directly affected (UNEP, 2007; Tiitmamer, 2015).

These changes have forced local pastoralists to shift migratory routes for camels and cattle, often leading to local conflicts with farmers and other herders over crop damages and the access to water and grazing resources (Richardson, 2011). Not coincidentally some of the worst communal conflicts have occurred in drought-prone regions. Droughts do not only create poverty and destitution among pastoralist communities, thus providing strong incentives for livestock raiding as a means for young herders to immediately improve their livelihoods. They also displace large populations and bring them together under stressful conditions, which facilitate conflict over scarce resources. This situation is further aggravated by the inability of the South Sudanese government to prevent the proliferation of weapons and armed militias across its territory (Patey, 2010; Schomerus & Allen, 2010).

Political rivalries and the exploitation of local conflicts
Most importantly, communal conflicts in South Sudan have been and continue to be closely linked to wider political dynamics. During the civil war opposing the Government of Sudan and the South Sudanese SPLM/A (Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army) as well as the period following South Sudan's independence in 2011, local resource conflicts have frequently been exploited and exacerbated as a way to foster support for different military and political leaders. These conflicts have been associated with counter-insurgency strategies utilised by the Government of Sudan and with different factional disputed within the SPLM/A during the civil war (Bradbury et al., 2006; Schomerus & Allen, 2010), but also with more recent rivalries within the South Sudanese government (see Schneider, 2013; Gordon, 2014).

Various local initiatives have tried to address South Sudan’s ongoing communal conflicts. However, lacking capacities, unclear roles and responsibilities of local government and customary authorities, as well as the lack of involvement by the national government have often impeded the design of lasting solutions for local resource conflicts.

Resolution Efforts

At the national level, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 has laid the foundations for a settlement between the SPLM/A and the Government of Sudan and prepared the transition of South Sudan into an independent state in 2011. It has, however, not addressed the multitude of local conflicts between South Sudanese communities (Schomerus & Allen, 2010). The UN has sent over 12.000 personnel to South Sudan with a broad mandate that includes the prevention of inter-communal violence and the protection of civilians (UN, 2015). Effective conflict management is however hampered by internal capacity and security challenges (Gordon, 2014).

Local initiatives
At the local level, church-based organisations have worked together with the Sudanese Government, the SPLM/A and different international aid organisations to enable various “people to people” peace meetings, including local chiefs, elders, women community leaders, and military commanders (see Bradbury et al., 2006). The most notorious and by far most successful of these meetings, the 1999 Wunlit Peace and Reconciliation Conference, helped pacifying Dinka-Nuer-relations (see Conflict between Dinka and Nuer in South Sudan).

Institutional pluralism and lacking capacities
Yet, considering the omnipresence of communal violence in South Sudan, the overall effectiveness of these local initiatives has to be questioned (Wilson, 2014). Lack of financial resources, trained facilitators and trusted third parties, as well as the weakness of local government have often precluded the efficient implementation of local agreements. In many cases linkages between formal and customary authorities have not been clarified, leading to a proliferation of actors with unclear roles and responsibilities (Wilson, 2014).

Further challenges
Attempts at political decentralisation and the redefinition of internal administrative borders by the Government of South Sudan, in some cases, have fostered inter-group competition over resources and encouraged populist patronage politics, rather than solving local disputes between communities (Schomerus & Allen, 2010). At the national level, internal power struggles and economic challenges, as well as tensed diplomatic relations with the northern neighbour Sudan have hindered the Government of South Sudan from taking more effective measures against local resource conflicts (Gordon, 2014).

A lasting solution to these conflicts needs yet to be found, which reflects both, local competition for resources and national struggle for political power between South Sudan’s multiple communities.

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

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

7 000
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 Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence Violence reduced significantly, but did not cede.
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 The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity Decrease in conflict intensity at least partially the result of conflict resolution strategies.
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
Communal groups (South Sudan)
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Government of South Sudan
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
2 Peacekeeping The UN has sent personnel to South Sudan with a broad mandate that includes the prevention of inter-communal violence and the protection of civilians.
2 Mediation & arbitration Church-based organisations have worked together with the Sudanese Government, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), and different international aid organisations to enable various peace meetings.
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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