WPS Global Early Warning Tool December 2020 Quarterly Update

Global Early Warning Tool December 2020 Quarterly Forecast


This December 2020 Quarterly Update flags potential hotspots in Mozambique, Chad, Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.


We have noted in previous updates that Mozambique has been torn by two weather extremes in recent years.  The northern and central parts of the country were ravaged by back-to-back cyclones in March and April 2019. Climate change is said to intensify the rainfall associated with such cyclones. Meanwhile, in the central and southern parts of the country, drought and abnormally high temperatures have produced poor harvests over successive planting seasons. These drought and flood events, together with ongoing conflicts in the central and northern parts of Mozambique, and government efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 have been creating significant food insecurity. 

In central regions of Mozambique, the dissident Renamo Military Junta has been conducting attacks in Manica and Sofala. In the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, a local Islamic extremist group with possible ties to the Islamic State and East African extremist groups has been battling government forces, killing local villagers and setting their homes on fire over the past several years. According to experts, poverty, economic grievances, and political powerlessness are fueling this violence.

Below average rainfall conditions continue to persist in both northern and southern Mozambique. This has forced many households to purchase food in local markets (which contributes to increasing food prices) or migrate in search of alternative livelihood options. Continued violence in Cabo Delgado is also contributing to migration pressures. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict in parts of northern and central Mozambique.


The African Sahel has been impacted by exceptional rainfall and record floods over the summer and early fall of 2020. Some of the worst affected countries include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Congo Republic, Sudan, and Senegal. In early September in Sudan, the Nile River reached its highest water level since records began over 100 years ago.

In Chad, the floods have affected nearly 400,000 people, through displacement, loss of food stocks, loss of housing, and loss of agricultural livelihoods. Twenty of Chad’s 23 provinces have been impacted. The international donor community has been racing to provide food and shelter to those impacted and is trying to provide livelihood opportunities as well. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict in places of heavy flooding, including the Lac province (where Lake Chad is located) and Mayo-Kebbi East. Emerging and ongoing conflict is also predicted in other parts of Chad impacted by the flooding, including Salamat and Tandjile.


As noted in previous quarterly updates, a year and a half of violent protests across southern and central Iraq culminated in the resignation of Iraq’s prime minister in late 2019. Protesters cited a lack of access to basic services, including clean water and electricity, as one of several grievances against the government. Other grievances included widespread corruption and a lack of economic opportunities, especially for young people.

Declining flows in both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are allowing salt water from the Persian Gulf to flow upstream, ruining productive land and rendering freshwater sources undrinkable throughout much of southern Iraq. A number of factors are driving declining river flows in the Tigris-Euphrates. One major factor is the construction of dozens of dams by upstream countries, most notably Turkey. Water in those Turkish reservoirs is being siphoned off to irrigate crops, reducing flows into Iraq.

The Iraqi government has been increasing pressure on Turkey to negotiate agreements on adequate flows of water into Iraq. The UN International Organization for Migration, meanwhile, is warning that declining flows could result in large-scale migration out of heavily impacted regions in southern Iraq. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging or ongoing conflict throughout much of southern and central Iraq over the next 12 months. In what we hope becomes a breakthrough, it is now being reported that an agreement may be signed between Iraq and Turkey “that will guarantee Iraq a constant water quota per month from the Tigris River.”


As we’ve reported in previous quarterly reports, relations between Iran and Afghanistan — where a significant share of Iran’s water resources originates — have deteriorated as Afghanistan’s Kamal Khan Dam nears completion. This dam along the Helmand River — Afghanistan’s water lifeline — is expected to irrigate 174,000 hectares of land in three districts, supply water to the city of Zaranj, and generate nine megawatts of electricity for Nimroz Province. But Afghan leaders increasingly fear Iranian interventions against the dam, which is intended to improve water security in western Afghanistan but at a likely detrimental cost to downstream Iran.

Many media sources report that the Iranian government has been conspiring with the Taliban to physically sabotage dam construction efforts in Afghanistan. Afghan authorities also accuse Iran of using deep wells along three rivers in the border region — the Helmand, the Farah Rud, and the Harirud — to illegally siphon off water. These accusations, which remain unproven, are contributing to increasing tensions between the countries, especially in the border regions.

In late October 2020, a spokesman for the Afghan National Water Management Authority accused the Taliban of killing six security personnel assigned to protect the Kamal Khan Dam. The Taliban has not commented on the attack, according to a news report. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging conflict in the Helmand River border region of Afghanistan over the next 12 months.


About 400,000 people have been killed and over 4 million more have been displaced through years of civil war (2013-2020) in South Sudan. The conflict formally ended in February 2020, but violence nevertheless continues. Some of this violence is occurring between sedentary farmers and migrant cattle herders who are being forced out of their traditional grazing areas by extreme weather events, among other reasons.

Massive flooding in 2020 has left hundreds of thousands of people displaced throughout the country with little or no means of feeding themselves. In late December 2020, the UN warned of catastrophic famine and pleaded for a halt to violence to allow urgent access to parts of Jonglei state, where people had run out of food due to flooding and the coronavirus pandemic. James Wani of Christian Aid observed that “floods, conflict and Covid-19 have entwined to deliver devastation and fuel the food crisis; the combined result is the destruction of crops, livelihoods, houses and dwellings, roads have become impassable, markets have stopped, supply chains have been crippled and food prices have soared.” The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging or ongoing conflict throughout most of the country over the next 12 months.


Water, Peace and Security (WPS) Partnership. The WPS Partnership offers a platform where actors from national governments of developing countries and the global development, diplomacy, defense, and disaster relief sectors can identify potential water-related conflict hotspots before violence erupts, begin to understand the local context, prioritize opportunities for water interventions, and undertake capacity development and dialogue activities.

The Global Early Warning Tool. Our Global Early Warning Tool provides the initial step in a multi-step process, employing machine-learning to predict conflict over the coming 12 months in Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia. So far it has captured 86% of future conflicts, successfully forecasting more than 9 in 10 “ongoing conflicts” and 6 in 10 “emerging conflicts”.[1]

Quarterly Updates. We are publishing Quarterly Updates to accompany our updated maps. These Quarterly Updates flag some of the hotspot areas we are tracking and describe what journalists and other actors are seeing on the ground. While we are primarily concerned with water- and climate-related conflict, the tool is designed to forecast any type of violent conflict (and can therefore be used by a variety of users interested in conflict).

Our multistep process. Early warning is very important, especially given limits to the number of problems that national and international actors can track and address at one time. Our Global Early Warning Tool ensures that emerging conflicts can get the attention they need, early enough that potential risks can still be mitigated. Our regional- and local-level tools then support the next steps in the process and can be used to verify (or disprove) global model predictions, better understand regional and local conflict dynamics, and begin to identify opportunities for mitigating risk. WPS partners offer training and capacity development to global-, national-, and local-level actors to help them better manage risks. We can also help build constructive dialogues among parties to disputes (and other key stakeholders) that can engender water-related cooperation, peacebuilding, and design of conflict-sensitive interventions.

[1] The trade-off for this high recall is low precision for emerging conflicts. Around 80% of all emerging conflict forecasts represent false positives, that is, instances where conflict was forecast but did not actually occur. Ongoing conflicts are much easier to accurately predict and have both high recall and high precision (<1% were false positives). We continue to work on improving the early warning model and expect that future versions will be able to better predict conflict.