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The Environment Challenges and Regional Conflicts

The Case of Darfur

1.0 Introduction

The conflict in Darfur is actually an indirect intra-national one because by definition an indirect intra-national conflict is that which arises when renewable resource scarcity interacts with one or more social economic factors to elevate friction within the state (Schwartz & Singh, 1999, p. 8). As we shall see, the environmental and resources are factors underlying and exacerbating the conflict in Darfur but they interact with other peripheral factors such as religious and ethnic animosity. Because of its spill over to Chad, there is a feeling that the Darfur conflict is slowly taking the international dimension as well, however, in this case study we will limit ourselves to the Darfur conflict within the Sudan.

1.1 Background to the Case

Sudan is Africa’s largest country, located south of Egypt on the eastern edge of the Sahara desert. The Darfur region is a drought-prone area of western Sudan. By area, Darfur is roughly the size of Texas and is divided into three states that had a collective population of approximately 6 million people before the crisis in Darfur began in 2003. Darfurians exist largely on subsistence farming or nomadic herding. There are around 80 ethnic groups in Darfur. Most villages are multi-ethnic and, despite ethnic differences, there is a history of peaceful coexistence. Local languages include Arabic, Fur and Massalit.

1.2 History of the Conflict

The conflict in Darfur began in the spring of 2003 when two Darfuri rebel movements the; Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), launched attacks against government military installations as part of a campaign to fight against the historic political and economic marginalization of Darfur. The Sudanese government, at the time engaged in tense negotiations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) to end a three decades long civil war between North and South Sudan, responded swiftly and viciously to extinguish the insurgency in Darfur. Through coordinated military raids with government armed militia (Janjaweed), the Sudanese military specifically targeted ethnic groups from which the rebels received much of their support. The civilian casualties were immense. Over 400 villages were completely destroyed and millions of civilians were forced to flee their homes.

1.3 Humanitarian Crisis and Challenges

An immense humanitarian crisis resulted from the mass displacement of these civilians. From direct attacks and the deterioration of living conditions, many experts estimate that as many as 300,000 people lost their lives between 2003 and 2005. In September 2004, President George W. Bush declared the crisis in Darfur a “genocide” (FCN, 2009). Despite the world’s growing outcry, the violence continued in Darfur and the number of dead and displaced persons increased considerably.
Throughout this conflict, international aid groups have worked to care for Darfur's victims. But continuing attacks have made their jobs increasingly difficult. More than a dozen employees of international aid organizations have been killed in the violence (FCN, 2009).The lack of security has forced many relief organizations out of the region altogether, and limited access for those that have stayed.

2.0 Underlying Issues

2.1 Arab Vs African?

There is a feeling that the conflict in Darfur is between Arab and black Africans, however, as we may realize this might not be actually the case. While the Janjaweed are often described as Arab militias, this labeling does not imply that all Arabs in Darfur are fighting on the side of the Janjaweed. Many Arabs in Darfur have actually opposed the Janjaweed and some Arabs have fought with the rebel movements. Furthermore, Darfur is a diverse land where people speak many different languages. The terms “Arab” and “African” apply not only to ethnic and linguistic similarities but also to cultural and socio-economic connections (Barash & Webel, 2002). Intermarriage and mixed settlement makes it difficult to tell the difference between ethnic groups. It is true, however, that the conflict has intensified identity differences between groups in Darfur. So the Arab versus African issue could only be secondary or peripheral issue.

There was a claim for the systematic marginalization of the region's black African ethnic groups by the Muslim central government. Supported by government, the Janjaweed soon began enacting policies of ethnic cleansing, including forced displacement and starvation, murder, torture and rape against Darfur's civilian population.

2.2 Muslims Vs Christias

What we do here is a critical examination of this claim. There has been such a feeling that the conflict is therefore based on the religious differences and rivalry. This could not be surprising given the fact that the Janjaweed militia has been supported by the Khartoum administration which is predominantly Muslim. The Christian Darfuri population claim to have been targeted by the militia and the government.

However, another fact is that almost 99% of Darfurians are Muslim, and the leaders of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed that carried out the genocide in Darfur are predominantly Muslim. Is it really true that the conflict in Darfur is centred on purely religious differences?

2.3 Climate Change

According to the UNEP report, there is a very strong link between land degradation, desertification and conflict in Darfur. Rainfall in northern Darfur has decreased by a third over the last 80 years. Exponential population growth and related environmental stress have created the conditions for conflicts to be triggered and sustained by political, tribal or ethnic differences, the report said, adding that Darfur “can be considered a tragic example of the social breakdown that can result from ecological collapse” (UNEP).

That hope is built upon an argument, advanced by a United Nations report released last month and an opinion article in The Washington Post by Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations secretary general, that environmental degradation and the symptoms of a warming planet are at the root of the Darfur crisis (October 29, 2007).

Like all resources water can be used for good or ill, says Alex de Waal, a scholar who has studied the impact of climate variation in Sudan and who witnessed the 1984-85 famine that is often cited as the beginning of the ecological crisis gripping Darfur (Muhammad, 2010). The droughts that gripped Sudan in the 1980s, and the migrations and other social changes they forced, have doubtlessly played a role in the conflict by increasing competition for water and land between farmers, who tend to be non Arab, and herders, many of whom are Arabs.

However critically we may argue that an environmental catastrophe cannot become a violent cataclysm without a powerful human hand to steer it in that direction. “These wider environmental factors don’t have impact in and of themselves” in terms of fomenting conflict, Waal said. “The question is how they are managed” (Muhammad, 2010). Therefore, climate change and the lack of rain are much less important than the land use patterns promoted by the government of Sudan and the development policies of World Bank and I.M.F., which were focused on intensive agricultural expansion that really mined the soils and left a lot of land unusable.

2.4 Dispute over Land and Water Resources

Water scarcity has attracted the attention of Africa and the international community and is considered one of the major environmental issues of the twenty first century (Tadesse, 2010, p. v). This is not an alien finding to the issues surrounding the Darfur conflict. Therefore the third possible cause of that conflict which in our case seems to be more tenable is that the underlying issue in Darfur which as caused the kind of protracted conflict experienced in that region is actually the fight over the natural resources, mainly water and land. According to the Washington Post, “the deadly conflict in Darfur has deep roots in a vast, arid and long-neglected region in Sudan's west, where battles over water and grazing rights stretch back generations” (October, 29, 2007).

The Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa has been severely affected over the last twenty years by desertification which some climatologists attribute to global warming. Severe droughts have become more frequent in both Darfur and Chad. These droughts and general alterations in rain patterns have affected migration patterns of Darfuri nomadic tribes who breed cattle and camels. These changes subsequently led to increasing clashes between nomadic and sedentary farmers over scarce resources especially of water.

The Sudanese government took advantage of rising tensions over land and water when it planned its response to the Darfuri rebel attacks in 2003. It sought recruits for the Janjaweed from the nomadic tribes that had been most affected by the changes in weather patterns and land-tenure system. The government in some cases offered these tribes land and other financial incentives for their participation in the attacks against the largely sedentary tribes from which the rebel groups drew much of their support.

The announcement by researchers at the Boston University that a vast underground lake the size of Lake Erie had been discovered beneath the barren soil of northern Darfur, a blood soaked but otherwise parched land racked by war for the past four years, was greeted by rapturous hopes (July 19, 2007). Could this, at last, bring deliverance from a cataclysmic conflict that has killed at least 200,000 people and forced more than 2.5 million out of their homes?

3.0 Conclusion

According to a report dating back to 1999 and sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), fighting over limited resources as the scarcity of water, over the next 25 years, will possibly be the leading reason for major conflicts in Africa not oil. What has been witnessed in Darfur seems to affirm this report.

UN estimates that roughly 4.7 million people in Darfur (out of a total population of roughly 6 million) are still affected by the conflict (FCN, 2009). Today, pockets of fighting between the rebel movements and the government continue. In the last few years, opportunistic bandits and militias have also taken advantage of the anarchy in Darfur. General banditry and looting jeopardize humanitarian aid and gender-based crimes are now being committed by many different armed groups due to the state of lawlessness. Despite this chaotic environment, the Sudanese government remains the most responsible for the violence in Darfur. President al-Bashir and others in his government created the anarchic conditions in Darfur today through their violent counterinsurgency campaign targeting innocent men, women and children. Furthermore, the Sudanese government has obstructed the deployment of an international peacekeeping force, avoided serious negotiations with the rebel groups, refused to prosecute any individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, and continued to expel international humanitarian aid groups from Darfur (FCN, 11-05-2009). These actions continue to leave many civilians in Darfur unprotected and dispossessed of their basic human rights.


Barash, D.P. & Webel, C. (2002). Peace and conflict studies, London: Sage.

Woldemichael, D. T. (29-30 September 2009). Climate change and transboundary water resource  conflicts in Africa. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies

http//www.finalcalls.article/6654African Union High Level Panel on Darfur - A Blueprint For      What Plagues Africa (FCN, 12-14-2009).

http//www.worlnews3/article6561Serious questions about politics in Sudan and North Africa       (FCN, 11-05-2009).

Muhammad, J. (March, 9, 2010). Scarce water the root cause of Darfur conflict?

Schwartz, D. & Singh, A. (1999). Environmental conditions, resources and conflicts, an    introduction overview and data collection. Nairobi: UNEP.

The Washington Post, (October 29, 2007).

The Environment Challenges and Regional Conflicts The Environment Challenges and Regional Conflicts Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on January 02, 2016 Rating: 5

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