Global warming may heat up conflicts, too
The worst effects of climate change may destabilize regions that were already shaky. The prime example:
The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 6, 2007
The reason he gives is one heard throughout this corner of
It is a visceral fear in
For now, there is relative calm. But security analysts worry that unrest could flare up again because of a new threat: global warming. As negotiators gather in
And this area of
The effects of global warming could amplify the forces of instability, experts say.
That remains an extreme view. The clearest threat, most agree, is a mass migration that sparks renewed conflict in the Indian Northeast an independent-minded area of mountains and jungles fiercely proud of its distinct heritage and already fretted by a dozen insurgencies.
"It is the No. 1 conflict zone for climate change," says Peter Schwartz, chairman of the Monitor Group, a research firm in
That field of study is relatively new, but analysts are beginning to lay the map of forecasted climate change over the map of political weakness to see where changes in weather could lead to volatility. No one argues that climate change alone will lead to war. But analysts suggest that it could be a pivotal factor that tips vulnerable regions toward conflicts.
"Climate change is a threat multiplier," says Geoff Dabelko, director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in
For that reason, few expect climate change to throw Europe or
History suggests that climate can help breed political instability. One recent study charted climate changes, wars, and several other variables back to the 1400s. It found that significantly cooler periods were characterized by large-scale crop loss, starvation, and conflict.
Stronger storms predicted
"There was certainly a discernible effect," says Peter Brecke, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in
Earth today is warming, not cooling. But "the model is such that if you apply it with warmer climate, you should see similar effects," Professor Brecke says.
The scenario for
" It is a frequent target of severe weather. During the worst floods, one-third of the country can be submerged. Last month's cyclone Sidr was an example of the kind of storms many scientists say will become more frequent in the future. Aid groups say the death toll in
" Most of
"This is a very precarious piece of geography," says Adil Najam, one of the lead authors of the last two reports from the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "What we are talking about is an intensification of this to levels taking it even more out of control."
Even now, many Bangladeshis cannot cope. Last month, Selim Hossain Howladar's home vanished, swept away by the 150-m.p.h. winds of cyclone Sidr. "I have seen so many cyclones in my lifetime, but I have never seen anything that could flatten entire villages like it has done this time," says Mr. Howladar, a fisherman from the village of coastal
Where Howladar's house used to be is now just a clearing. The trawler he bought last year with a loan was torn to pieces by the storm. "I don't even have a fishing net," he says. "What can I do but move to the city?"
In the north of the country, the story is the same. Three years ago, 25 Hindu families lived in the border
"When you have nothing left to lose, does it matter where you live?" asks Haripada, patriarch of the last remaining Hindu family in his village. "You live where you think you might find work and earn some money."
Evidence suggests that current migration is mostly toward the capital, Dhaka, but people from border districts are increasingly going to
The population shifts could exacerbate security issues beyond
More stress for a stressed nation
That would be an unwelcome development for a country frequently under duress. In its 36 years of independence,
"This is an added stress on a country that doesn't necessarily have the capacity" to deal with it, Mr. Ogden says.
More certainly any increase in migration will increase competition for land, water, and jobs. In
Like many in
Squeezed by erosion and the arrival of Bangladeshi migrants, other families have had to move upriver permanently where, ironically, they, too, are seen by the people there as Bangladeshis. According to recent voting records, 99 percent of the residents in the area nearest the Bangladeshi border are migrants.
"Our land is shrinking," says Abdul Hamid Sheikh, standing in a shallow skiff that ferries locals to the river
Experts expect the effects to intensify as global warming intensifies, with more Bangladeshis being forced into
The fear is that this fate awaits every state in the Northeast. In the wake of the turmoil of Bangladeshi independence in 1971, one state, Tripura, saw its indigenous people consigned to a minority by Bangladeshi refugees. In
On one hand, it has given rise to numerous anti-Indian, pro-independence insurgencies. On the other, it has created a climate of paranoia about
For this reason, the debate about Bangladeshi migration here is often based not on fact or reasoned analysis, but "on conjecture and perception," says R.N. Mathur, director-general of police in
Politicians stoke local fears
And politicians have used it, stoking local fears and heightening tensions.
"This [migration] is a design," says Prafulla Mahanta, a member of the state assembly of
Police official Mr. Mathur has not seen evidence of this. The
Militants have not found haven among migrant communities, he adds: "They are not using areas of
The depth of the distrust is compounded by the almost total isolation of the two communities from each other. Sitting on his porch amid the primary colors of Dhing's British-era bungalows, D.N. Hazarika says that he does not know what to make of the "many new faces."
"The newspapers are always telling us that they are coming with weapons in their hands, and the government always says that they are up to something," says the former high school principal with equal measures of consternation and confusion. "But I cannot give you any proof."
"We do not know where they come from," he adds. "What is their ambition?"
The divide is not the traditional Indian divide: Hindus versus Muslims. Like Mr. Hazarika, few in
At this point, the potential for global warming to add to the trend has not reached the streets. "I have not come across views on this subject at all," says Mathur, the police official.
Memories of killings
But the past offers a window into what happened the last time the Assamese felt in danger of being overwhelmed by Bangladeshis. In 1983, at the height of a six-year antimigrant campaign of protests and strikes, a band of Assamese killed some 3,000 Muslims believed to be Bangladeshi migrants.
For Loknath Das and other former residents of the riverside
Tonu Ram Das, another displaced resident, points out landmarks in the village: the pond where he fished as a boy; the place where his house stood now two shacks by a stand of bamboo; his family's farmland, where he harvested rice and jute. At last, he stands gingerly on a small causeway. This is the place where Chandra Kanta Das was murdered, he says.
"I hardly come here anymore," he says. "It is painful because I remember my childhood."
Loknath Das is even more cautious. Seated under the shade of a simul tree, he says: "We don't dare to venture into their village after nightfall."
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