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The security impact of climate change on Sub Saharan Africa

Written by Mickey Beckmann and Kevin Heller


Around the globe, people are increasingly facing the dire repercussions of environmental crises. Sub Saharan Africa is in a tough spot at the moment, experiencing an accelerated warming compared to the global average. This is reflected in the manifestation of extreme weather phenomena causing food insecurity, land disputes and mass displacement. Conflict and political instability are colliding with climate change, causing a high-stakes situation, which is defining the fate of millions of people in the region. With an increasingly risky living environment, the search for a better life is driving people from these countries across Europe, leaving policymakers struggling for solutions.

Extreme weather events

Food insecurity

Sub-Saharan Africa is facing some serious challenges because of climate change. The region is warming faster than the rest of the world, which causes extreme weather events. In recent months, devastating rains resulting in floods took place due to the El Niño phenomenon, especially in the Horn of Africa. In May 2024, floods and landslides across Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi, claimed hundreds of lives. 

On the other hand, other nations experience a lack of rainfall, resulting in extreme droughts which are turning once-fertile land into desert wastelands, making it tough for farmers to grow food. Agriculture remains important to Sub Saharan Africa both from a food security and economic perspective. Most food farming in the region relies heavily on rainfall, forcing farmers to migrate to places where they can still grow their crops. This not only hurts local livelihoods and the availability of food, but also makes certain parts of land overcrowded. Combined with rapid population growth, it causes disputes over land and leads to urban unemployment. 

The extreme weather events lead to alarming levels of food insecurity, as resources run out faster and agricultural production declines. With less food available, food prices soar and result in inflation. This affects isolated communities in particular and people who are already struggling. Currently, Africa confronts one of its severest droughts in over four decades, with an estimated 25 million people in Southern Africa confronting acute hunger. United Nations agencies warn that nearly 55 million people across West and Central Africa will grapple with food insufficiency in the coming months.

Clashes herder and farmer communities

SSA experiences growing conflict between herders and farmers. Droughts and floods are making it harder for herders to move their animals around like they used to. As land becomes scarcer, competition with both farmers and other herders for what's left is getting fiercer, especially when it comes to water and grazing areas. In December 2023, a clash in Central Nigeria killed over 100 people, and in February 2024, fights between two herder groups in South Sudan left around 40 dead and 50 injured. Part of the problem is that these groups often carry weapons, which can quickly turn disagreements into deadly fights. Additionally, these conflicts often escalate into broader communal strife when one of the two groups gets help from armed groups to kick the other out of disputed areas. These clashes exacerbate food insecurity and make the overall conflict situation worse. 

Weak governance and insurgency groups

In SSA, climate vulnerability is converging with state fragility and instability. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies indicates that in the period 2021-2023 about 82 percent of the 149 million Africans facing acute food shortages, lived in conflict-affected countries. A lot of countries in SSA have trouble with governance and the presence of militant insurgency groups, causing widespread conflict. This is both fuelled and exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. Although US and European counterterrorism and government stabilizing efforts have taken place since the early 2000s, there seems to be little change in the number of conflicts happening in the region. Jihadi attacks and clashes between militant groups have killed tens of thousands of people, made millions flee their homes, and left many others in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Conflict between governmental security forces and rebel groups is both a cause and a result of weak governance, having enormous impact on civilians. In areas where people are dissatisfied with how the government handles problems such as unemployment and corruption, on top of a bad delivery of basic services, discontent gives rebel groups a chance to grow. When the government can't or doesn’t want to protect people in isolated areas, rebel groups step in and promise to keep them safe from criminality. Militant groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, Group to Support Islam and Muslims, and Islamic State, have used the chaos in these countries to attack both the government and regular people. Meanwhile government forces are also known for committing atrocities. In February 2024, soldiers of Burkina Faso’s army killed about 220 people, including kids, in its northern Yatenga Province, allegedly to take revenge on locals that helped jihadist groups. Meanwhile, private security actors like the Wagner Group are behaving violently as well, trying to get more power in the region. The group helps both weak regimes and rebel groups to deal with insecurity, in return for access to resources and diplomatic backing. 

Climate change plays a significant role in shaping the decisions on recruitment of armed groups. These groups use means like money and food to get people to join them, especially in areas where climate change has had a major impact. For instance, in central Mali, the Katiba Macina group has capitalized on issues exacerbated by climate change, such as disputes over land rights and social inequalities among herders, to garner local backing and support. Besides, the current extreme heat waves expose the struggle of junta-led countries, such as Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso, to guarantee basic services when the need for water, food and electricity is most acute. Recent service disruptions have fueled discontent among the population towards the military leadership, increasing social tensions in and between both countries. In addition, fighting between Boko Haram and security forces has cut access to waters that people need for farming and fishing. In general, such conflicts cause infrastructure destruction, further jeopardizing food security. Overall, political instability and violent conflict undermine community resilience to the effects of climate change, and make locals more dependent on militant groups to survive. 

Mass Displacement

In Sub-Saharan Africa, mass displacement is caused by a mix of climate disasters, insecurity, and conflicts. The worsened conditions force people to migrate in search of safety and resources. The connection between migration and conflict is complicated and influenced by many social, political, and economic factors. When people move into new areas, they might compete for resources or clash with different ethnic or religious groups, leading to more tension and conflict. Recent events show how serious the displacement crisis is in SSA. In Somalia, about 1.4 million people had to leave their homes because of drought in April 2024. Similarly, floods and landslides in Kenya have killed around 250 people since March 2024, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee. Conflict adds to the problem. In Sudan, the one-year-long ongoing fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces has caused 580,000 Sudanese people to seek refuge in Chad. This high number of refugees creates challenges for hosting countries and aid groups, as they struggle to keep up with the demand for food, medicines, and safety in general.

Implications for Europe

The mass displacement doesn’t only affect countries in SSA, but also has consequences for Europe. Over the past years, Europe has been politically divided on how to handle the influx of migrants. European countries are taking a careful look at their migration policies, considering the political pressure and increasingly upcoming unrest and conflict with their own citizens. At the end of 2023, France had a heated debate over a law that would make it harder for migrants coming into the country. Germany is also discussing its migration policy after receiving nearly a third of all asylum requests of the EU in 2023. Italy plans to build two centers in Albania to accommodate up to 36,000 migrants each year, after seeing over 145,000 migrants reaching its shores from North Africa in 2023. Similarly, the Netherlands is currently collaborating with other EU nations to organize accommodation for asylum seekers in non-EU nations, however, such joint initiatives are regularly causing serious political discussions 

The displacement presents another major security issue as well – the journey migrants have to undertake to arrive in Europe. Many people died while attempting to cross the African continent, and eventually the Mediterranean, crossing conflict zones in poor safety conditions. Worldwide, 2023 was the deadliest year on record for refugees and migrants crossing migration routes, with the Mediterranean crossing between North Africa and Europe remaining the deadliest route. This situation might worsen in the coming years, as many nations are tightening restrictions on legal pathways for migrants, leaving them with scant alternatives but to embark on increasingly perilous journeys to find safety.


The challenges faced by Sub Saharan Africa, including extreme weather events, food insecurity, clashes between herder and farmer communities, weak governance, insurgency groups, and mass displacement, present complex and interconnected issues that require urgent attention. Looking ahead, climate change is likely to exert a lasting influence on security conditions in SSA, presenting significant security implications for both the region and Europe. It is expected that tens of millions of people across the region will keep struggling because of extreme hunger and insecurity in the coming months, if not years. To address these complex issues, innovative and proactive efforts from both regional and international actors seem necessary, with a focus on sustainable solutions that mitigate the impact of climate change and promote overall resilience in the region. Until measures are taken, the situation is likely to get only harder for people living in Sub Saharan Africa.


14052024 Article Climate Change SSA (1)
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