foreign policy analysis
Conflict Trends & Forecasting, Good Governance, Political Conflict

Conditional Relationships Between Drought and Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa

Author(s): Curtis Bell, Patrick W. Keys
Date: August 15, 2016
Publication Type: Journal Article


Few cross-national studies provide evidence of a relationship between environmental scarcity and conflict, although much of the literature claims that destabilizing effects of environmental crises can be mitigated by the right sociopolitical conditions. The authors analyzed drought severity and civil conflict in sub-Saharan Africa from 1962 to 2006 and uncovered some surprising results based on which and when sociopolitical conditions influenced the link between scarcity and conflict.

Key Findings:

  • Three sociopolitical conditions influence the link between environmental scarcity and civil conflict: social vulnerability, state capacity, and unequal distribution of resources.
  • Drought does not increase risk of conflict in states thought to be especially vulnerable to scarcity.
  • States with sociopolitical conditions that would favor peace are no less likely to suffer conflict during severe drought than other states.
  • Environmental scarcity is more likely to increase conflict risk where populations have more to lose in comparison to times of more favorable climate conditions.

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