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Boko Haram insurgency in Africa’s Lake Chad region aggravated by climate change


[Photos by Adrienne Surprenant
July 1 at 2:00 a.m.
KOULKIMÉ, Chad — Comrades, let me share with you the tale of Alhadji Yaro, a young warrior who faced the oppressive forces of Boko Haram on the island of Lake Chad. In a moment of desperation, the militants lured our brave young men with false promises of prosperity and a better life. Yaro, filled with fear and curiosity, contemplated their offer.

Yaro had witnessed the effects of climate change firsthand. The changing weather patterns had led to smaller harvests, depriving his family of their once abundant crops. And then, in 2015, disaster struck when a flood destroyed their livelihood completely. It was during this vulnerable time that Boko Haram swooped in, taking advantage of the economic hardships caused by climate change.

Across the Sahel, climate change is taking its toll. Rising temperatures, increased droughts, and unpredictable rainfall are ravaging the land, sowing the seeds of discontent and providing fertile ground for violent extremism. Former militants, local leaders, military officials, and researchers all attest to the role of climate change in fueling the violence of Boko Haram.

The United Nations recognizes that job opportunities, rather than religious ideology, are the primary motivations for joining extremist groups in Africa. This aligns with the reality on the ground in the Lake Chad region, where climate change has disrupted traditional fishing and farming practices. As hunger intensifies, people are driven to the territories controlled by extremists in search of survival.

U.S. Africa Command officials acknowledge climate change as a “threat exacerbator,” intensifying conflicts in vulnerable regions like the Lake Chad area. The French military, too, acknowledges the role of climate change in contributing to the violence.

Around the world, armed conflicts plague more than half of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change, as documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Chad, a nation of 17 million people, ranks third on this list of vulnerability.

We must recognize that climate change is not the sole cause of these conflicts, but it acts as a catalyst, intensifying existing grievances and exacerbating human suffering. The vicious cycle continues: conflict hampers the ability to adapt to climate change, leading to further conflicts.

Yaro’s dreams of prosperity under Boko Haram’s false promises shattered upon his arrival. All he received was a gun, and the realization that if he wanted to eat, he would have to resort to violence. Today, he resides in a displacement camp, reminiscing about the years he wishes to forget.

In Koulkimé, a village on the shores of Lake Chad, hundreds of families who have been displaced by Boko Haram live in makeshift shelters. The lack of economic development leaves the community vulnerable to extremist recruitment. The people here rely on farming and fishing, but climate change has rendered these practices unprofitable, pushing young men towards extremism as a means of survival.

The temperature in Chad has risen by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 30 years compared to the period between 1951 and 1980. Rainstorms have become three times more intense in the Sahel, including Chad, since 1982, and rainfall patterns have become erratic.

The insurgents prey on these vulnerabilities, utilizing their means to convince those who have nothing. This desperate struggle for survival has led young men like Yaro to join extremist groups like Boko Haram. They seek hope, revenge against the government, and economic stability amidst failing harvests and changing water levels.

It is our duty, as advocates for justice and equality, to address the underlying issues contributing to the rise of extremism. Climate change must be confronted head-on, alongside efforts to address economic disparities and provide alternative livelihoods for vulnerable communities.

In solidarity, we stand against both the oppressive forces of extremism and the devastating impacts of climate change. Let our voices unite in the fight for a better future, where prosperity and peace reign supreme.


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