WPS Global Early Warning Tool June 2021 Quarterly Update
Our machine learning model predicts peace or conflict over the next 12 months. It does this on the basis of 15-20 global indicators that serve as model inputs. We define conflict as one that produces 10 or more deaths in any given Admin Level 2 region over a 12-month period. Generally speaking, our predictions of ongoing conflict are a lot more accurate than our predictions of emerging conflict. We continue to work on improving our model and extending its geographic coverage.
In western Sahel countries, including Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria, our machine learning model is predicting emerging and ongoing conflict across much of the region (see orange and yellow regions in the upper map). Compared with the last year, however, there are many places in these countries where the model is now predicting peace instead of conflict (see blue regions in lower map).
In eastern Africa, the model is still predicting conflict across much of Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Compared with the last year, however, there are parts of southeastern Sudan and northeastern South Sudan where the model is now predicting peace instead of conflict. The same is true for western South Sudan and northern Somalia.
In southeastern Africa, the model is predicting ongoing conflict in the northern Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique, and emerging conflict in central Mozambique. In the northernmost region of Madagascar, the model is now predicting peace instead of conflict, but it is predicting conflict across the rest of the island.
In southeastern Turkey, the model is now mostly predicting peace instead of conflict. The model is still predicting conflict across much of Syria and northern Iraq; however, it is predicting more peace in this region than last year. In Iran, the model is also predicting peace for more regions than last year.
In India and countries east (except for Myanmar), the model is now predicting peace, a significant improvement from last year. It could be that COVID is reducing the number of current conflicts throughout much of the developing world, thereby influencing the model’s predictions for the coming 12 months.
STORIES WE ARE TRACKING
somalia: drought punctuated by flooding
Drought, flooding, and the worst locust infestation in years are contributing to a dire humanitarian situation in Somalia. As of late June 2021, the UN estimated that 2.9 million people remained displaced from their homes and 2.8 million would need urgent food assistance. Figure 3 shows internally displaced people in Somalia due to conflict and natural disasters. In late April, the Somalian government declared a drought, with over 80% of the country experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions. Two weeks later, heavy rains caused the Juba and Shabelle rivers to overflow their banks. Riverine and flash floods led to loss of life, homes, and livestock. Despite the urgent need, the UN warned in late June that only 26% of the funds needed to implement the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia had been provided to date. Forecasts for the coming growing season (October to December) are for “an increased likelihood of below-average rainfall,” which would mark a third consecutive season of drought. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging or ongoing conflict throughout most of the southern half of Somalia over the next 12 months.
ethiopia: grand ethiopian renaissance dam
The Blue Nile originates in the highlands of Ethiopia and is the source of most of the water that reaches Egypt (via Sudan). Now Ethiopia is beginning to fill its new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which will be Africa’s largest (Figure 4). Egypt considers the dam an existential threat. Trilateral negotiations (Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia) over the dam and its filling have been acrimonious and unsuccessful to date. In late June, Sudan rejected Ethiopia’s plans for a second round of filling. “Ethiopia’s proposal for the second filling was a good beginning,” according to Ashok Swain, an international expert, “but I think the real problem has been the Ethiopian plan to expand the negotiation scope. It has intended to move from water management to water sharing.” Colonial era agreements, which Ethiopia was not party to, divided all the Nile waters (Blue Nile and White Nile) between Egypt and Sudan, allocating none of the waters to the nine upstream riparian countries. In trying to include “water sharing” in the tripartite negotiations, Ethiopia is officially questioning those colonial era agreements and trying to initiate an effort to renegotiate them. This has been rejected by Egypt and Sudan, and Egypt has lately suggested possible use of force in not-so-veiled terms, if it doesn’t get its way through diplomacy. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool is not currently designed to predict state-on-state conflict.
Central african republic: farmer-herder violence
Amidst a backdrop of widespread violence and displacement within the Central African Republic (CAR), an incident in Tiri, in northern CAR, near the border with Chad, further inflamed tensions between the two countries. Following the killing of a herder, whose cattle had trampled a farmer’s crops, fellow herders – who came from Chad – retaliated by killing 14 people, including women and children in June. They also burned more than 66 houses and granaries, forcing nearly 3,000 people to flee their villages. Conflicts between farmers and herders are common in this region. Following the incident, the region’s prefect stated that Central African Armed Forces would be deployed to the border, which has been closed since 2014. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging conflict in this border region over the next 12 months.
madagascar: extended drought
David Beasley, head of the UN’s World Food Programme, announced in late June that over a million people in southern Madagascar were facing starvation and about 14,000 people were already in famine-like conditions. According to media reports, “the country has suffered a series of successive droughts since 2014, leading to poor harvests. Last year, swarms of desert locusts swept through East Africa. Earlier this year two tropical storms appeared to bring some drought relief, but the rainfall, combined with warm temperatures, created ideal conditions for an infestation of fall armyworms, which destroy maize.” Ironically, many inhabitants have managed to stay alive on a diet of locusts, in the absence of anything else to eat. The problem, explains Lola Castro, the WFP regional director for southern Africa, is “clearly climate change.” At the same time, massive deforestation has contributed to ecosystem degradation, which left the country more vulnerable to droughts. The back-to-back droughts are described as the “worst in four decades.” The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict throughout most of Madagascar over the next 12 months.
syria: drought, low flows hit bread basket
Poor precipitation during the past growing season has badly affected the northeastern governorate of Al-Hasakeh, Syria’s breadbasket. At the same time, water flows in the Euphrates River from Turkey, which has also experienced several seasons of drought, have fallen by over 50% over the past six months. These water shortages are diminishing hydroelectricity supply and reducing the operation of water pumping stations, causing shortages of drinking water and water for growing food staples such as wheat and barley. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts ongoing conflict throughout most of Syria over the next 12 months.
iraq: reduced water levels in euphrates and tigris
Drought in the region, including in Turkey and Iran, have dramatically reduced water flows in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which provide over 90% of Iraq’s freshwater. The Minister of Water Resources told a press conference in May that flow rates in both rivers had been cut in half, compared to the same period last year. Dams in both Turkey and Iran hold back water from flowing downstream to Iraq. Iraq has struggled for years to reach agreement with its upstream neighbors on fair water allocations, but such agreements have proven elusive. Farmers are being told not to plant summer crops, and many are leaving their farms to seek out livelihoods in cities. The pain is being felt throughout Iraq, from the Kurdistan region in the north, to areas around Baghdad, to Basra in the south. Drought, dams, poor water management, and unmitigated water pollution combine in many situations to impair drinking water and water for irrigation and electricity production, undermining public health, food security, and energy security. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict throughout much of northern, central, and southern Iraq over the next 12 months.
turkey: “water-hoarding bogeyman?”
Turkey has leveraged its extensive damming of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to support regional agricultural development, and it has also used that leverage against its downstream neighbors, “such as cutting off the Euphrates when Iraq invaded Kuwait and coercing Syria into halting support for Kurdish insurgents.” Yet not all is well in Turkey this year. A severe drought is cutting crop production estimates for wheat, barley and lentils by at least 20%. And the Southeastern Anatolia Region, the country’s hardest-hit area (immediately north of Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq), saw a 90 per cent reduction in rainfall in April of this year, compared with April 2020. Yet there appears to be growing cooperation between the Turkish and Iraqi governments on water, including exchanges of information, possible help in developing Iraqi dams, and cooperation on various agricultural projects, among other things. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging conflict in regions of southern Turkey near the Syrian and Iraqi borders over the next 12 months.
afghanistan: multiple pressures
Afghanistan is suffering on multiple fronts. In April, the United States announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan after two decades of war. In the wake of this announcement, the Taliban has taken over 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts since the beginning of May. Figure 7 shows conflict events where the Taliban was a major actor. At the same time, a third wave of COVID-19 has hit the country very hard. According to the United Nations, 42% of people being tested are positive for the virus, “suggesting it is widespread.” Severe drought has also returned to Afghanistan. According to the International Rescue Committee, “[A] drastic reduction in rainfall has caused levels of food and water scarcity across 25 provinces in Afghanistan not seen since the drought of 2018 that displaced a quarter of a million people.” In addition, the Taliban is targetting the Salma dam, one of the largest dams in the country that provides irrigation and energy for thousands of families. Despite these multiple pressures on the Afghan people, only 30% of the $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid requested for 2021 has been funded to date. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts ongoing conflict throughout most of Afghanistan over the next 12 months.
India: farmer protests
Indian farmers – largely from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana – have been protesting three new Modi Government laws that aim to change the way agricultural markets operate in India. These laws were pushed through with very little farmer consultation. The farmers have been in the streets of Delhi and elsewhere, protesting for months. But Kabir Agarwal, an independent journalist, argues that what the farmers really fear is a transition away from water-intensive rice and wheat cultivation which dominate croplands in these two states and which are depleting groundwater in these areas at alarming rates. The problem is so dire, writes Agarwal, “that the government fears that parts of Punjab and Haryana could turn into deserts in the next two decades as [they] completely exhaust their groundwater resources.” Right now, farmers are guaranteed minimum prices for their rice and wheat, and benefit from free electricity to pump virtually unlimited amounts of groundwater. Agarwal argues that the government needs to ensure that farmers are supported as they make the difficult transition away from cultivating these very water-thirsty crops. Though there are increasing political tensions, the WPS Global Early Warning Tool is not predicting any violent conflict in India over the next 12 months.
IMPROVEMENTS OR DETERIORATION FROM PREVIOUS QUARTERS
SOUTH SUDAN: FLOODING
In our last quarterly update, we reported that over one million people had been affected by heavy flooding, which submerged homes, farmland and livestock. Since then, the overall situation in the country has deteriorated, with food insecurity reaching its highest levels since independence ten years ago. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, “the worsening conditions are attributed to the prolonged flooding, ongoing violence, displacement and COVID-19 pandemic.” As of late May 2021, 7.2 million people (60% of the population) were projected to face crisis levels of food insecurity. As of mid-June, two million people were in emergency phase (IPC 4), while 108,000 people were suffering from famine (IPC 5).
MALI, Niger, and Burkina faso: PEACE AGREEMENTS and new attacks
In our last quarterly update, we reported on the January 2021 signing of three peace agreements between Fulani and Dogon communities in the Koro region of central Mali, near the border with Burkina Faso. These and other peace agreements were not taking place under the auspices of the Malian state. They were being brokered by jihadist groups who were generally aligned with Fulani fighters and who required the local population to break with the Malian army, which was generally aligned with Dogon fighters.
Mid-June reporting by Reuters noted a continuation of such efforts: “in the worst-hit parts of Burkina Faso and neighboring Mali, local leaders were pursuing unofficial talks with militants. The governments do not publicly acknowledge the discussions, but five sources involved in them told Reuters the authorities have been quietly supportive.” But while African governments have been supportive of such efforts, France – which is very influential in the region – has rejected them, arguing that “the militants will exploit truces to regroup, rearm and recruit.” In early July, France announced it would reduce its forces in the region by nearly half.
IRAN: water OVER-ABSTRACTION
In our last quarterly update, we reported that farmers in the central Iranian city of Isfahan staged several large rallies in January and February 2021 to protest the “denial of their water rights” from the Zayandehrood River. We explained that due to increasing irrigation and water resources mismanagement in the basin, the river no longer reaches the city of Isfahan. This is not an isolated problem in Iran. The drying up of lakes, rivers, and marshlands across Iran has become commonplace due to drought and resource mismanagement. Over the past three months, Iran appears to be sinking into further water-related turmoil. In late April, Deputy Energy Minister for Water and Wastewater Affairs Ghasem Taqizadeh Khamesi declared that water storage in the country’s dams had declined 20 percent over the past year. In addition, he announced that due to a 40% decline in rainfall relative to the long-term average, “we won’t be able to supply water for the three cultivation periods of spring, autumn and summer.” It is still too early to know the ultimate ramifications of this severe drought. We will keep this region on our radar. Over the next 12 months, the WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging conflict in southwestern Iran, near the Iraqi border, and emerging and ongoing conflict in southeastern Iran, near the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
OTHER REGIONS OF INTEREST
Kyrgyzstan and tajikistan: violence
At least 31 people were killed in late April 2021 along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border after a dispute over the installation of surveillance cameras at a water facility escalated out of control. Disputes in the region over water and land resources are somewhat common. But this dispute marks a significant escalation of hostilities. WPS will soon be publishing a paper that examines issues in this region in depth.
crimea: drought and water cut-off
The 250-mile-long Northern Crimean Canal was the main source of water for the Crimean Peninsula – linking it to Ukraine’s Dnieper River – until Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Ukraine retaliated by damming the canal and shutting off the flow of water. This spring, a severe drought in Crimea appeared to bring the situation to a boiling point. It was feared that Russia might invade, in part to restore the flow of water from the Dnieper River to Crimea. “Now, the fertile plain through which the canal runs in southern Ukraine’s Kherson Region has emerged as one of Europe’s main geopolitical flash points.” It appears the drought has subsided, and perhaps with it the tensions. But this remains a region and an issue to keep an eye on.
Several states in central and southern Brazil are said to be suffering the worst drought in 90 years. The drought is reducing agricultural and hydroelectric power production, worsening the risk of wildfires, and hampering economic recovery as Brazil also wrestles with COVID-19. A meteorologist with the national disaster monitoring center says the crisis is the result of years of below-average rainfall since 2014. In the central-western part of the country, “the drought is being driven by the destruction of the Amazon forest, experts say. Deforestation has diminished the clouds generated by the Amazon, which dump precipitation across much of South America.”
Two-thirds of Mexico has been suffering from long-term drought, which is expected to worsen under searing temperatures forecast for July. Crops are being hit hard by both the high temperatures and a lack of sufficient water for irrigation. Mexico’s drought is said to parallel the drought in the western United States and Canada. Seventy-seven of Mexico’s 210 principal reservoirs were below 25% capacity at the end of June, a poor sign. Mexico’s hopes for the easing of the drought are now pinned on the July through September rainy season.