>> Voices

Uche Okpara

The Disappearing Lake

Uche-OkparaClimate change is likely to be a threat multiplier in conflict-prone regions. Is this emerging? Under what condition? What can be done to ameliorate it? These questions broadly capture the focus of my research. Much literature has sought to quantify the strength of climate-conflict links by taking advantage of improvements in climate and conflict data and data computing software. While progress in this direction has provided evidence that validates a relationship between climate and conflict, the mechanisms behind how and why climate affects conflict remain significantly absent in literature.

This study is being approached from a transdisciplinary perspective that cuts across three steps, which also reveals the impact the study would have in practical terms. First, by applying knowledge about livelihoods and vulnerability assessments, the study describes the influence of the receding Lake Chad on rural livelihoods and identifies factors driving current vulnerabilities to climate and conflict (double exposures). This is a critical first step in a study of this nature because it is difficult to understand how climate links to conflict without assessing the vulnerability context in which livelihood assets, capabilities and activities are located. Second, a conflict database for Lake Chad will be developed which would feed into a climate-conflict model. The model will integrate relevant theories across a range of thematic/disciplinary areas to empirically detect the lines of causation from climate to conflict and highlight the potential opportunities for interventions. Third, an assessment of national and international best practices on climate-adaptation, water governance and conflict management will be undertaken. Currently, a research gap exists on how to integrate these three subjects. Also, there is a lack of consensus concerning what appropriate policy responses will look like for the Lake Chad region. By unpacking how existing best practices fit in with situations in Lake Chad and establishing collaborations with relevant stakeholders, sustainable solutions can be achieved in terms of improved human and rural livelihoods security.

Evidence emerging from my field research (so far) shows that less than a quarter of local hydro-conflicts are reported beyond the village and community boundaries and are often unknown by water management institutions (such as the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the institution managing the resources of the basin) and therefore to a large extent “invisible” to the outside world. By developing a conflict database, this study will provide a key entry into the dynamics of conflict outcomes in the region.

In sum, focusing this research on Lake Chad, a location within the Sahelian hotspot where the impact of climate on water is mobilizing several conflict channels, makes it suitable to enhance understanding of how theories in environmental security research, traditional peace and conflict studies and vulnerability literature can be integrated in a modeling study to explain climate-conflict lines of causation at sub-national and river basin levels. This is the overarching academic contribution this study seeks to make.