Rising temperatures in the Sahel region of Africa
Climate Change, Alhadji Yaro was a teenager when Boko Haram militants rampaged through his village in Lake Chad. He clearly remembers the militants pointing guns at all the people in the village and saying, ‘We will give you a better life.’ They enticed the village youth to join Boko Haram and said, ‘You will get everything.’
Yarrow was scared, but also a little curious. He was said to have grown up in relative abundance. Then, due to climate change, the production of crops in their family’s arable land gradually decreased. Before the Boko Haram rampage in 2015, floods destroyed maize and millet.
Researchers say that the temperature is increasing due to climate change. Drought is increasing, rainfall is less than expected. This changing situation has helped boost Boko Haram’s activities, fueling the militants’ violence, say former militants, local leaders, military officials and researchers. According to them, climate change is an ‘opportunity’ for Boko Haram to emerge in the northern part of Nigeria on the occasion of political unrest.
The effects of climate change are destroying the economic potential of young people in this region of Africa. It is becoming easier to recruit them into militant groups. This year, a report of the United Nations has also raised this issue. It said young people across Africa are joining radical groups not because of religious ideology, but because of job opportunities.
Lake Chad area is such that the borders of Chad
The location of the Lake Chad area is such that the borders of Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger meet here. Since 2014, Boko Haram and other militant groups have established a base in the area. Climate change is also fueling conflict in the Lake Chad region, researchers say. Because, in the face of extreme hunger, people are forced to fish and farm in the areas controlled by extremists.
US Africa Command (AFRICOM) military officials also say the effects of climate change have emerged as a “threat” in the region, including Lake Chad. They are closely monitoring the link between climate and conflict. Because countries like Mali and Burkina Faso, which are most at risk of climate change, are under AFRICOM. Islamist militants are active in these countries of the Sahel region.
Chad has one of the largest French military bases in Africa. A French military officer also agreed that climate change is contributing to the conflict.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
According to the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) based in Switzerland, more than half of the 20 countries that are most at risk from the effects of climate change are in armed conflict. Chad, a country of 1.7 million people, is at the third highest risk.
Janani Vivekananda, head of climate diplomacy and security at Adelphi, a German think tank, said climate change is not the cause of these conflicts, but it is complicating the level of conflict. Conflict is reducing people’s ability to adapt to climate change…which is creating new conflicts.
Former Boko Haram member Alhadji Yaro has been holed up in a dusty shelter since surrendering to Chadian forces. He said, Boko Haram has not fulfilled any of the promises it made.
The 26-year-old claimed, “When I approached them, they merely gave me a gun. His face got grimy at this point, and he averted his gaze. Yarrow wants to move on from that moment because he has been there for so long. They advised me to engage in conflict if I wanted food, Yarrow said.
Inside the red zone
Many people have been killed since Boko Haram fighters began operating in Lake Chad nearly a decade ago. Together they kidnapped the entire village. It pressured the youth to join them. Those who did not agree, their houses were burnt.
Many islands in Lake Chad now belong to the ‘danger zone’. Boko Haram dominates there. Homeless people still do not dare to return to their homes. Most non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian aid also consider it too risky to operate in the region.
Recently visited Koulafoua Island in Lake Chad, children are seen playing. Women are selling fish. The head of the area, Mahamat Ali Kongoi, said that many people in the area are flocking to extremist groups due to financial deprivation. Some of the boys in the area have passed primary school, but they have no options other than farming or fishing.
Most people in the region do not know what climate change is and what causes it, Mahamat Ali Kongoi said, adding that they only know the weather is not the same as before. Because of this they are getting poorer day by day.
According to World Bank data, the average temperature in Chad has increased by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last three decades compared to the period from 1951 to 1980. And British researchers report that storms have tripled across the Sahel region, including Chad, and forecasting rainfall has become difficult.
Mahamat Ali opined that the rebel groups took advantage of these. He said, they (various groups) used this situation to their advantage. People who have lost everything have gathered themselves into their group.
Opting for radicalism
A makeshift village has been built on the sandy shores of Lake Chad. The temporary shelter built outside the village of Kaulkim consists of small houses surrounded by reeds. Blankets, cloths or blankets are placed on top of them. Hundreds of families displaced by Boko Haram are living in these houses. Local leaders said about 200 men from this part of Kaulkim were either members of Boko Haram or their rival Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Alhadji Yarrow is now a father of four children. He lives in a small house made of reeds and blankets in Kaulkim. The room is so small that cooking utensils have to be placed on it. Yaro said he grew up on an island bordering Nigeria. They had big houses made of bricks. Fish, cattle, goats, corn—nothing was lacking.
Six more former members of Boko Haram were spoken to in the Lake Chad region. Their stories are almost identical. Some of them were forced to join Boko Haram, some may have signed up voluntarily. Others said they were motivated to join militancy out of financial woes and frustration with the government’s actions.
Malimiti Mahamat (35), a former member of Boko Haram, said they joined the militant group hoping that something good would happen, joining to take revenge (against the government). He also said they joined Boko Haram because crop production was declining, water levels were changing.
According to think tank Adelphi’s Vivekananda and other researchers, climate change and violent conflict can combine to create a deadly vicious cycle.
In areas where there is no conflict, people can leave the area if they want due to climate change. You can take shelter in a dry place during floods. Or you can go to a relatively fertile area if you are affected by drought.
But in areas where extremists are active and an army operation is underway to suppress them, such as the Lake Chad region, people have to either go without food or take shelter in areas controlled by the militants.
Conflict is inevitable
The world is getting warmer. Scientists believe that the Sahel region can become a ‘hot spot’. The region’s mercury could rise one and a half times faster than the global average temperature. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperatures in the region will exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) on more than 40 days of the year by the middle of this century. Water scarcity will increase and crop production will decrease.
A multinational force is fighting in the region to suppress militancy. It is headed by Brigadier General Asoualai Blama of Cameroon. He claimed that Boko Haram members are being defeated by the army.
However, he grows concerned as he considers the region around Lake Chad’s future. Because of climate change, an increasing population will have to share the region’s limited resources. Conflict will inevitably arise in that situation.
Some former members of Boko Haram spent some time in camps run by the army. Later get a chance to go back to their family. They say that the opportunities to make a living earlier have narrowed down. Weather anomalous behavior is increasing. At the same time, arable land and living space free from the reach of extremists are shrinking.
Ahmat Sulaiman fought for Boko Haram for 30 years, later joining ISWAP. Then he ran away. After returning to his family, he lost his wife and children one by one. Although they died of disease, Sulaiman blamed poverty for this.
Sulaiman was saying that if someone from Boko Haram or ISWAP did not kill him as a defector, he wanted to return to the militancy ring again. His words are clear, ‘Smoking to death cannot be a solution.’