5 December 2023 — International Rescue Committee (IRC) is sounding the alarm about the compounded crises of conflict and climate change in West Africa during the meeting of world leaders at COP28 in Dubai. The Sahel region contributes less than 1% to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, and Mali are among those most afflicted by climatic hazards driving displacement, destroying people’s economic livelihoods and disrupting access to food.
The impacts of climate change are exacerbated by conflict in the central Sahel, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, amplifying existing risks, cracks and inequalities in already fragile or conflict-affected societies where populations face widespread poverty and are particularly dependent on sectors vulnerable to climate change.
Modou Diaw, Vice President of the IRC in West Africa, said:
"There is cause for concern due to the unequal burden of the climate crisis already shouldered by communities in the Sahel. In August and September, rainfall in southern Mali, south-west Burkina Faso and north-west and central Nigeria was below average for this period. In addition, persistent insecurity in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria is making it difficult to access certain areas and compromising food production and storage.
"During COP28, it is crucial to focus on greater collaboration between humanitarian actors, local and national authorities, climate scientists, and other stakeholders. Global leaders must address immediate humanitarian needs by investing in humanitarian access and support households to anticipate shocks, dismantle the feedback loop between climate change and armed conflict, and fund climate adaptation initiatives that suit the needs and challenges of conflict-affected, climate-vulnerable states such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger. Together, we can focus on solutions for the communities most impacted to better cope with climate change, which exacerbates other challenges seen in the region.
"The communities at the epicentre of the climate crisis are the communities the IRC knows best - we have worked in the Sahel countries that are both climate vulnerable and conflict affected, providing wraparound humanitarian services, whether responding to droughts, strengthening WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) programming or prioritising protection and livelihoods - all while putting women and girls’ agency at the centre of our work.”
Most IRC country programmes have identified climate change as a priority in their strategic plans, and have successfully piloted innovative programmes for adaptation, resilience, and anticipation measures on several fronts, rather than focusing solely on mitigation.
In Nigeria, where in 2022 more than 600 people lost their lives in floods and 1.3 million people were displaced, the IRC has developed a flood risk monitoring platform in the northeast of the country. This innovative initiative, carried out in collaboration with the private sector and national bodies including the Nigerian Meteorological Agency and the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency, uses indigenous, hydrological, meteorological and satellite data to anticipate and take active action.
In Burkina Faso, the IRC is responding to one of the world's fastest-growing displacement crises, addressing the growing challenges posed by climatic threats, such as droughts and floods with integrated adaptive and climate-smart solutions to food insecurity and malnutrition, targeting over 70,000 people in the eastern region (Diabo, Diapangou and Tibga), northern region (Séguénéga) and Sahel region (Dori and Gorom-Gorom).
In Mali, the IRC has led activities to address the adverse effects of climate change in the Ténenkou cercle. Alongside enhancing access to clean water and food security, these interventions have facilitated the rejuvenation of grazing areas and the implementation of agricultural practices tailored to climate change in the inland basin of the Niger River. More than 7,600 people have benefited from these initiatives. Furthermore, we provided training to the populations of Ténenkou and Youwarou in techniques for the peaceful management of community conflicts arising from the depletion of natural resources due to the negative effects of climate change.
In Niger, addressing the challenges of climate change, the IRC is currently undertaking three projects in Diffa, each funded by different international donors. The projects focused on strengthening a protective environment and building the resilience of populations affected by conflict and the impacts of climate change in the Lake Chad basin. Key activities within these projects include land restoration initiatives, such as the implementation of half-moons and dune fixation, alongside market gardening activities, which involve the distribution of seeds and other relevant interventions.
In Côte d'Ivoire, one of the countries that experiences flooding every year, an ambitious project aims to strengthen resilience, social cohesion and cooperation in communities facing major challenges such as violent extremism and the negative impacts of climate change. With a particular focus on natural resource management and the adaptation of agroecological practices, this project contributes to food security and livelihoods in a context of climate change.
As climate change intensifies in our region each year, the IRC urges global authorities, stakeholders, and donors to unite in bolstering resilience and prioritising preventative projects.