Last year, hundreds and millions of desert locusts infected East Africa. They decimated the region’s food supply, eating their own crops each day. After a swarm entered Lebanon this year, Lebanon deployed military helicopters in order to spray pesticides. In October, the UN warned of the dangers of the insects posing a threat to food supplies in Tigray, Ethiopia’s war-torn region.
It is hard to imagine a worse scenario for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. This phenomenon has plagued humanity since our discovery of agriculture many thousands years ago. Scientists are becoming more concerned about the growing evidence of a link between locust populations and climate change. This is just one indicator of how uncertain the region’s future environmental health in the coming decades.
The climate crisis is set to be one of the most difficult issues of our time. Niger, France, and UAE are currently trying to raise awareness to the UN Security Council about another threat it presents. Another major global problem could be exacerbated if environmental issues are not addressed: terrorism. In the words of Mohamed Abushahab, the UAE’s deputy ambassador to the UN: “Even if indirect, there is a connection between climate impacts from migration to unemployment, and the feelings of helplessness, resentment and loss of faith in governance systems that contribute to terrorist recruitment.”
This issue needs to be advocated more at the international level. A number countries have opposed a UN resolution to recognize the issue. We can draw strength from the experience of the Middle East and East Africa which, as we’ve seen, are at the forefront in some of the worst effects of climate changes. Think about Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. All three have been and continue to be affected by a serious terrorist problem. They also are home to millions struggling – particularly farmers – to cope with the burden of rising temperatures, drought and desertification. It’s not surprising that both ISIS extremists and Houthi extremists exploit water shortages.
Terrorism’s traditional causes are well-known and well-studied. They range from social disaffection to conflict or strife. However, it is much harder to deal with the problem after it occurs. The world cannot afford not to deal with climate change as a significant and growing risk factor.
While long-term solutions to protect communities most at risk from radicalisation are difficult and far-fetched, there are many short-term options that can help ease some of the burden. The World Bank has, for example, helped communities in the Sahel with their simple but effective irrigation systems. This is an important safety net for farmers.
It all boils down ultimately to one goal: building resilience. This is the priority that the UAE has made for its two-year tenure in the UN Security Council. It can make the case with its early partners that two of the most dangerous global problems are on the verge of becoming dangerously intertwined.
Because of terrorist attacks, prevention is more effective than the often ineffective and elusive cures.
Published at 3:00 am, December 13th 2021