Global climate change is predicted to increase the number and severity of natural
disasters and other severe weather events. Concern about how this change will affect
the livelihoods, resources, and security of people, particularly those in developing
and unstable nations, has led to a debate over the relationship between climate and
the risk of conflict.
To date, a clear link between climatic events and conflict has not been found. Results
have been highly sensitive to issues of data selection and model specifications. In
this paper I estimate two new models in an attempt to clarify any climate conflict
relationship that may exist
Data and Methods
First, I test a global climate-conflict-aid relationship using country-year observations
of violent civil conflict, natural disasters, official development assistance, and
humanitarian assistance. This model is similar to much of the existing literature,
but includes additional controls for international aid and aid’s interactive effects
Second, using geocoded conflict, rainfall, and development project data from East
Africa I examine local, rather than national, conflict behaviors. I test if proximity
to aid projects is a contributing factor to conflict frequency in Ethiopia, Kenya,
and Uganda. This approach complements the cross country analysis because rainfall
variation is the primary factor in most natural disasters reported in East Africa.
Using a cross county dataset including country-year observations in both the presence
and absence of conflict or disaster incidence, I found no evidence that the incidence
of natural disasters is a significant predictor of the risk of violent civil conflict.
This finding of its self was not necessarily surprising since both disasters and conflicts
are rare events. Interestingly, I do find that post-disaster humanitarian assistance
appears to reduce the probability of conflict. While the erogeneity of the humanitarian
assistance data in this model is suspect, this link deserves further study.
Using a geocoded conflict dataset from East Africa comprised of subnational monthly
observations of conflict incidence I found that extreme rainfall fluctuations lead
to an increase in the number of conflict events in a given location. Extreme rainfall
fluctuations are the primary cause of the most common natural disasters in East Africa,
suggesting that country-year aggregation, using civil war incidence as a dependent
variable, or the inclusion criteria from disasters may be hiding the link between
climate and conflict.
I find that a link between climate and conflict is plausible and deserving of additional
study. It appears that foreign aid influences this relationship, at least when delivered
as humanitarian assistance, and may also instigate rent-seeking behavior on in the
absence of climate variability. Policy makers should carefully consider these implications
when planning future projects.