Understanding the interplay of fragility, conflict and climate change for education – Part 1

The impacts of climate change in countries affected by fragility and conflict are more severe. Read about the various ways in which fragility, climate change and education intersect.

July 09, 2024 by Anna-Maria Tammi, GPE Secretariat, and Spandana Battula, IFC
4 minutes read
A boy passing by a damaged school in Baghlan-e-Jadid district, Baghlan province, which was affected by recent flash flooding across northern Afghanistan. Credit: UNICEF/UNI577682/Khayyam
A boy passing by a damaged school in Baghlan-e-Jadid district, Baghlan province, which was affected by flash flooding across northern Afghanistan.
Credit: UNICEF/UNI577682/Khayyam

Nearly half of GPE partner countries are considered fragile and conflict affected, and all are increasingly impacted by climate change. But what do we know about the relationship between fragility, conflict and climate change?

We did some analysis to understand the implications of these dynamics for education planning and delivery in the coming decades. This first blog explores the impacts of climate change on fragility and conflict as well as effective climate action in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. The second blog reflects on the implications of this multifaceted relationship for education planning and programming.

Climate change amplifies fragility

Although climate-induced disasters affect all countries, the lowest-income countries and those affected by fragility and conflict are more severely impacted.

Children living in conflict-affected countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, both because of the more severe impacts of climate change in these countries and because of the limited capacity of the governments to act to mitigate risks. These countries are overall more vulnerable to climate impacts due to structural issues such as weaker institutions, lack of resources, large informal sectors and governance challenges.

Between 2004 and 2014, 58% of deaths from disasters occurred among the top 30 countries affected by conflict and fragility. Such countries also suffer disproportionate macroeconomic impacts from climate-related disasters: the IMF estimates that three years after an extreme weather event, cumulative GDP losses will be 4% in fragile and conflict-affected states compared to 1% in other countries.

For countries affected by fragility and conflict, climate change acts as a “threat multiplier” by amplifying humanitarian crises.

Somalia's experience with drought exemplifies how climate-induced challenges intersect with conflict dynamics. The drought worsened the humanitarian crisis in areas that were dominated by the extremist group al-Shabab.

Specifically, conflict in combination with decreased rainfall and challenging humanitarian access for the delivery of food aid, led to the loss of 43,000 lives, with half of these being children under the age of 5. The crisis also caused educational disruptions to 2.4 million school-age children, with 250 schools closed due to the drought.

Climate change amplifies the risk of conflict

Climate change doesn't directly cause armed conflict, but it exacerbates existing tensions by affecting socio-economic conditions and resource availability.

Some studies have found that changes in temperatures and precipitation patterns increase the risk of conflict, whereby conflict outbreaks in ethnically fractionalized countries coincide with climatic calamities such as heat waves or droughts.

The literature highlights two pathways through which climate change can increase the risk of conflict: food insecurity and migration.

Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns contribute to agricultural failures and food insecurity, and as such can contribute to subsequent conflict over scarce resources. Between 1970 and 2012 in sub-Saharan Africa, reduced crop yield due to higher temperatures were shown to increase rates of conflict.

Over the past decade, more than 15,000 people were killed in farmer-herder conflicts linked to scarce land and water resources to grow crops. Militant groups have exploited grievances over agricultural land and water resources to recruit members (see UNEP, 2012 and Brock, 2012), as happened in central Mali in the context of farmer-pastoralist tensions.

Additionally, climate-induced disasters and slow-onset climatic changes can trigger migration, including due to economic losses and reduced monetary assets. Even in the context of slow onset changes from climate change, many individuals and households choose migration as a coping mechanism.

Climate migration can lead to competition over resources and stress economic and social systems and infrastructure, which may lead to conflict, particularly in countries with weak institutions and pre-existing tensions. In a review of 38 cases of climate migration, conflict arose in the receiving areas in over half of cases.

An increased risk of conflict and displacement is of course bad news for education and for children overall. Exposure to armed conflict negatively impacts children's education as violence in and around schools decreases attendance and impacts learning and academic progress (see for example Grogger, 1997 & Wodon et al., 2021).

Conflict can lead to attacks on schools, children being recruited into armed groups and forced displacement, in addition to the direct impacts on children’s mortality, health and well-being.

The security-related consequences of climate change and conflict can also play out as gender-based violence.

The positive spillover effects of disaster response

While climate-induced disasters often exacerbate conflict, they also present opportunities for peacebuilding and conflict resolution. The solidarity fostered during disaster response efforts can pave the way for reconciliation and cooperation among previously opposing factions.

Research shows that when all sides of a conflict are equally affected by a natural disaster, the likelihood of negotiations significantly increases. Similarly, natural disasters can increase the likelihood of ceasefires. In some cases, disasters have led to ceasefires and peace agreements, as seen in post-tsunami Indonesia and earthquake-affected Kashmir.

Climate adaptation actions also need to be mindful of potential negative spillover effects for conflict, especially in situations where resource distribution is perceived unequal.

On the flipside, effective climate adaptation strategies must consider the complex interplay between climate change and conflict dynamics. Interventions which involve redistribution of resources or planned relocation need to be implemented with sensitivity to avoid exacerbating existing tensions.

The second part of this blog will consider the implications of this multifaceted relationship for education planning and programming.

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