Terra Incognita: land degradation as underestimated threat amplifier


This report from Clingendael questions how, whether, and to what extent land degradation might trigger or increase conflict risk.

Louise van Schaik and Rosa Dinnissen | March 2014

Based on existing literature about the influence of environmental factors on insecurity, the report concludes that it is very likely that an indirect relationship between land degradation and conflict exists. This applies in particular to poor countries, where populations are heavily dependent on locally produced food. This local effect appears most relevant for the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as for countries in south-east and central Asia.

The relationship between land degradation and conflict in conjunction with food and water scarcity, population growth, migration, poverty and good governance is analysed in case studies on conflicts in Kenya, Rwanda, Mali and Tunisia. In these four countries, land degradation was found to be a major problem and seemed to have contributed to the outbreak or escalation of conflict(s). However, in all four cases the report authors found other factors explaining the outbreak of the conflict, such as identity issues, the use of land for cash crops, or the massive influx of weapons from a neighbouring country.

Analysis of the four cases led the authors of the report to conclude that land degradation appears to act as a ‘threat amplifier’. In combination with other factors land degradation can lead to the outbreak or escalation of conflict, although it has not been proven to be a direct or major cause – yet.


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