Africa, the Middle East and South Asia are the worst afflicted. Go to the maps, find all the borders. The straight lines are the tell tales. That's the fingerprint of European colonialism from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Whether it's the handiwork of Sykes and Picot or Durand or any of the other European planners, those lines were drawn to demark spheres of European control in distant lands and they were invariably drawn with scant regard for ethnic, religious, even tribal realities. Some people, such as the Kurds, saw their ancient homeland carved up and divided among a half dozen or more "states" from Iraq and Iran to Syria and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the process the Kurdish land was wiped from the maps. We know what Saddam did to Iraq's Kurds. We know what Turkey has done to them. We know what has befallen Syria's Kurds. We should know. We, the West, were instrumental in their fate.
Damaging as those Euro-centric borders have been for the locals, even bigger problems loom.
A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks deeply at the link between ethnic division, violence, and natural disaster data. It found that between 1980 and 2010, 25% of conflict outbreaks in "ethnically highly fractionalized countries" coincided with climate calamities, like drought, or heat wave. Globally, armed conflict and climate disasters only coincided 9% of the time.
Experts are usually careful to avoid saying that climate factors directly leads to war—usually it is described as an important exacerbating or escalating factor, and even that can be controversial or hard to prove. But as the study’s authors, based in Germany and Sweden, note: "Ethnic divides might serve as predetermined conflict lines in case of rapidly emerging societal tensions from disruptive events like natural disasters."
...this is bad news in some of the world’s most fragile places—which happen to be where climate change is expected to hit hard. Of the 33 countries predicted to experience "extreme water stress" by 2040, 14 of them are in the Middle East. Security experts, the authors write, are going to have to pay closer attention to these dynamics.
Says one co-author, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber: "our study adds evidence of a very special co-benefit of climate stabilization: peace."
Can we undo our colonial tragedy? Probably not. No country, especially not Turkey, Syria or Iraq, would tolerate a reconstructed Kurdistan. They consider the Kurdish ancestral land extinguished, subsumed. The same thinking applies to the mish-mash of Sunni and Shiite states.
Some, such as Peter Galbraith, think the only future for Iraq lies in its dismemberment into a Shiite state in the south, a Sunni state in the middle and a Kurdish state in the north but that hardly seems feasible with endless conflict tearing at that region.
And so these mangled nations shall remain primed for climate change-driven ethnic, tribal and sectarian violence that could resemble the butchery we saw in Rwanda.