Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation



Droughts, Migration and Communal Conflicts in Darfur

Type of conflict main
Intensity 4
Northern Africa
Time 1980 ‐ ongoing
Countries Sudan
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary Livestock raiding and low intensity communal clashes over access to land and water have a long tradition among pastoralist and farming communities in Sudan’s...
Droughts, Migration and Communal Conflicts in Darfur
Livestock raiding and low intensity communal clashes over access to land and water have a long tradition among pastoralist and farming communities in Sudan’s western Darfur region. However, recurring droughts, famine and the outbreak of civil war in Darfur have propelled these conflicts to unprecedented levels of violence.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

The steady decline of rainfall led to deteriorating environmental conditions in the Sahel, and culminated with a drought in 1984 to 1985.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Climatic conditions, the increased scarcity of resources, and desertification steered the southward migration of pastoralists, placing them in close proximity with other groups and inciting clashes over land use and stolen livestock. As discontent with the Sudanese government rapidly grew by the end of the 1990s, tensions between groups escalated as Arab-African animosities were exploited by the Sudanese government, as well as by local insurgent movements.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Communal clashes left more than 3700 people dead between 1993 and 2013.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Extreme weather event is consistent with predictions regarding more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events.In-migration leads to demographic change.Demographic changes increase pressures on available land resources.Economic developments lead to changes in land use.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity hampers agricultural production.Extreme weather event leads to scarcity of essential natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources induces migration.State elites strategically use resource scarcity for political advantage/power.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.Use of resource, livelihood, and health pressures for political advantage/power increases tensions between groups.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityAn increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsA specific extreme weather event such as a flood or a storm.Extreme Weather EventVoluntary or involuntary movement of people from one area to another.Migration patternsChange in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural Resources(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationUse of resource, livelihood, and health pressures for political advantage/power.PoliticisationNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups
Context Factors
  • Food Insecurity
  • Water-stressed Area
  • History of Conflict
  • Lack of Alternative Livelihoods
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Political Marginalization
  • Unresponsive Government
  • Weak Institutions
Conflict History

Prior to the outbreak of civil war in 2003, Darfur had already witnessed several armed clashes between different local groups, often divided after an Arab-African and/or farmer-herder dichotomy and mostly revolving around issues of stolen livestock and competing land use. As discontent with the Sudanese government rapidly grew by the end of the 1990s they were increasingly exploited both, by local insurgent movements as well as by the Khartoum government, and played an important part in the onset of the Darfur war in 2003 (Brosché & Rothbart, 2013). According to the UCDP conflict data, communal clashes in Darfur left more than 3700 people dead between 1993 and 2013 (UCDP, 2014).

Deteriorating environmental conditions in the 1980' exacerbated communal conflicts in Darfur
Communal conflicts in Darfur were driven to an important part by deteriorating environmental conditions in the Sahel. Rainfall in Darfur had constantly been declining in the 1960’, 1970’ and the first half of the 1980’, culminating with the drought and famine of 1984/85. Reduced availability of water and land in conjunction with the expansion of agriculture and increased migration from northern Sudan and neighbouring Chad led to a vicious cycle of overexploited soils, deforestation, wind erosion, and further depleted resources, thus exacerbating local resource conflicts (Milani, 2006; Leroy, 2009; Auswärtiges Amt, 2014). Loss of livelihoods and widespread destitution in the wake of serious droughts provided young herders with economic incentives to engage into illicit and violent activities, while distress migration and the ensuing reconfiguration of local power structures led to the weakening of traditional resource sharing and conflict mitigation mechanisms. More importantly the migration of camel pastoralists following the southward expansion of the Sahara “[…] placed ethnically distinct populations in close proximity and in circumstances that were likely to give rise to competing claims over land and indigeneity” (De Waal, 2007).

Communal conflicts in Darfur were also encouraged by the regions' political marginalisation
The processes described above were mediated by several political and economic factors: structural neglect of the region by central authorities in Khartoum had left Darfur without the necessary infrastructures to lower its dependency on local markets and facilitate the introduction of fertilizers and new irrigation techniques, which would have helped local communities to adapt to deteriorating environmental conditions. The central government also failed to mitigate immediate drought impacts and avert famine (De Waal, 2007). Moreover, the removal and replacement of the Native Administration system in 1971 had crippled much of the functionality of customary land tenure and conflict mitigation institutions, without providing viable alternatives (Unruh & Abdul-Jalil, 2012; see also Conflict between Masalit and Reizegat Abbala). Finally, the immigration of many Chadian Arabs and other nomadic Arab groups from further west in conjunction with a supremacist ideology propagated by Lybia’s Muammar al-Qaddhafi contributed to tensions between ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ groups in Darfur. This divide was subsequently exploited by the government in Khartoum to encourage attacks against African groups suspected to support local rebel movements (De Waal, 2007; Rothbart, Brosché & Yousif, 2012).

Despite the deployment of the UNAMID peacekeeping force in Sudan and various local level agreements, communal conflicts remain an important source of insecurity in Darfur. Their resolution will not only depend on the sustainable and equitable management of local resources but also on the containment of the higher level political conflicts plaguing Sudan and its neighbours.

Resolution Efforts

National and international attempts to resolve the Darfur crisis have struggled to find lasting solutions that tackle all dimensions of the conflict (see Civil war in Darfur).

Resolution efforts led by UNAMID and the Government of Sudan
At the local level, the joint African Union and United Nations UNAMID mission has supported various mediation and reconciliation initiatives, with a mixed record of success (PANA, 2012). The Government of Sudan has played a central role in many local agreements. However, these have centred on immediate security issues and compensation, rather than on sustainable solutions to local resource conflicts.

Resolution efforts led by insurgent groups and peace agreements between local communities
Other inter-group agreements have been brokered by local insurgent groups, notably the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLM-AW). In some cases, these have allowed amnesty for past crimes and fostered economic relations between formerly enemy groups. In other cases they have only been short-lived due to shifting alliances between local communities, rebels and government troops. In addition, communal agreements have been reached without external mediation. These focus strongly on resource access and collective resource use in line with customary conflict mitigation institutions. Yet, they are mostly implemented at a very localized level and thus susceptible to be disrupted by wider political and conflict dynamics (Buchanan-Smith, 2014).

Local level peace agreements have allowed containing some of the communal violence ravaging Darfur. However, they remain highly vulnerable to wider political and conflict dynamics and their effectiveness is seriously undermined by the present weakness of traditional conflict mitigation institutions. Ultimately, a lasting solution to these conflicts will require the Sudanese government to effectively address the issue of land rights in Darfur (De Waal, 2007; Buchanan-Smith, 2014).

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

3 700
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement More than 100.000 or more than 10% of the country's population are displaced within the country.
Cross Border Mass Displacement Best estimate that more than 100.000 or more than 10% of country population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries S. Sudan, Central African Rep., Chad
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Government of Sudan
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Communal groups (Darfur)
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A)
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Sudan Liberation Movement/Army - Abdul Wahid faction
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal National
United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleExternal
UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
2 Mediation & arbitration The joint African Union and United Nations UNAMID mission has supported various mediation and reconciliation initiatives in Darfur.
3 Treaty/agreement Local level peace agreements have been brokered by local insurgent groups and in some cases by the government of Sudan with mixed success in containing communal violence.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Mixed: The abilities of parties to affect the environmental resource is mixed.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse