WPS Global Early Warning Tool February 2022 Quarterly Analysis
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Places to Watch for violent Conflict
These are selected areas where the model predicts at least 10 deaths in the next 12 months in a given second subnational administrative unit.
- Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia: The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging conflict in northern and eastern Kenya over the next 12 months. Emerging and ongoing conflict is predicted throughout Somalia and in southern and southeastern Ethiopia. The crisis in southern and southeastern Ethiopia is separate from the armed conflict in northern Ethiopia, where political and ethnic factors are the main drivers. Drought is threatening a fourth consecutive growing season in parts of these three countries, putting over 25 million people across the horn of Africa at risk of “humanitarian catastrophe”, according to IRC.
- South Sudan: The Early Warning Tool is also predicting ongoing conflict throughout most of South Sudan, which is being devastated by a third year of flooding.
- Cameroon: The Early Warning Tool is predicting emerging and ongoing conflict in the Far North of Cameroon over the next 12 months. This is a region (Lake Chad) where many groups are vying for water supplies that are becoming increasingly unreliable as a result of erratic rainfall. Growing populations are also putting pressure on these resources while the entire region struggles with ongoing instability, extremism and violence.
- Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan: The model is predicting widespread conflict in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. These four countries continue to suffer through intense drought, combined with severe water management challenges caused by an overall weak or entirely failed government.
- Philippines: The Early Warning Tool is predicting emerging and ongoing conflict in a number of regions across the Philippines over the next 12 months. There was heavy devastation in December in the wake of Super-typhoon Rai.
Places to Monitor with water challenges
These are a few of the many areas where the model predicts 0 to less than 10 deaths in the next 12 months in a given second subnational administrative unit.
- Tanzania: In Tanzania, high temperatures, low rainfall, and high water use are leading to water shortages and power rationing.
- Israel and Jordan: There are protests in Jordan over increasing the Israeli supply of desalinated water to Jordan.
- Cambodia: Two to three years of low flows in the Mekong River have been devastating fishing and agriculture in the Tonle Sap region.
Other regions of interest
These are a few of the areas that are currently outside of the model's geographic scope, but have water-related challenges.
- China: Massive flooding has caused displacements in northern China, while cities in Southern China face water shortages.
- Southern Brazil and Argentina: A regional drought is impacting crop production, hydroelectric power production, river transportation, and water for human consumption.
- United States: The Western U.S. is experiencing a megadrought.
- Canada:Heavy rains caused flooding and devastation across much of southern British Columbia.
- Global Issue:Local food prices have been rising sharply, reaching levels that are out-of-reach for the poorest segments of society.
- Global Issue:Water-related disasters are adding financial challenges for many countries.
STORIES WE ARE TRACKING
Kenya, Somalia, and ethiopia: drought threatens fourth consecutive growing season
A December 2021 multi-agency drought alert noted that if the March – May 2022 period is dry, as anticipated, this will mark an unprecedented (since 1981) fourth consecutive season of drought for the Eastern Horn of Africa affecting at least 25 million people (Figure 2). This prolonged drought, moreover, comes on the heels of exceptionally wet seasons associated with flooding, displacement, loss of crops and livestock, and locust outbreaks. The drought has been exacerbated by climate change intensifying La Niña to produce prolonged and persistent dryness. The COVID-19 outbreak has added to the pressures these water shocks have had, creating massive economic upheaval and additional challenges for individuals, communities and the entire country.
The World Food Programme warns that at least 2.4 million people in Kenya risk going hungry as drought affects the northern and eastern parts of the country. The National Drought Management Authority reported the drought situation in Turkana County is at “alarm phase”. In September last year, President Kenyatta declared the drought a national disaster. Water sources for both people and livestock have become increasingly scarce, forcing families to walk longer distances and adopt extreme coping mechanisms (Figure 3). Cases of child marriage have been reported in some areas and school dropouts were reported in Kilifi, Kwale and Tana River. Several factors have increased conflict in the region; for instance, higher intensities of livestock raids during drier months and nomadic pastoralist communities migrating to better pastures and sources of water have put pressure on water resources. As communities seek increasingly scarce water and pasture, they are coming into violent conflict with one another, especially among communities from different ethnic and regional backgrounds.
The drought itself appears to be a climate-related natural hazard that is increasingly affecting the vulnerable Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) regions of Northern Kenya. At the same time, the high poverty rates and institutional capacity constraints in these poorest parts of Kenya result in a lack of resilience to deal with these natural hazards. Efforts to retain rainwater, re-green the area, invest in drinking water services and enhance the capacity of local communities to come to peaceful solutions to such tensions would make the region better prepared to handle these increasing risks. Other water management challenges in the region include poor coordination of existing water projects and poor water quality in areas that require desalination.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool is predicting emerging conflict in northern and eastern Kenya over the next 12 months. In August 2022, Kenya will hold elections which, based on past electoral cycles and current tensions, are likely to result in violence along political/ethnic lines.
Emerging and ongoing conflict is also predicted throughout Somalia. Over 80% of the country is experiencing severe drought, and the UN warns that about 2.3 million people are being ravaged by serious water, food, and pasture shortages. Drought, one source observes, is “forcing tens and thousands of herders and farmers to leave their rural homes to escape… climate extremes in a nation already crippled by years of war.” More than 1.4 million people are estimated to be displaced due to the drought, and cereal prices have shot up to levels last seen during the 2011 famine when approximately 260,000 people died.
Somalia continues to face an impasse over the failure to hold elections in 2021. While the process of deciding an indirect electoral model is ongoing, tensions between the federal government and others, including political opponents and some of the Federal Member States, mean this process could be derailed, which risks additional conflict.
In January 2022, the UN estimated that over 6.4 million people will need food assistance in the drought-affected regions of southern and southeastern Ethiopia. “The drought in the Somali, East and South Oromia regions is having a ‘devastating impact on the lives and livelihood of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities living in the area after the third consecutive failed rainy season,’ the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a [recent] statement.” This comes at a time when Ethiopia is facing tremendous challenges relating to fighting in the north and a significant weakening of the state in parts of the country. Growing instability in Ethiopia is already hampering emergency relief and the work of humanitarian actors, aimed at alleviating the population’s suffering from the current water and food crisis. The rapidly deteriorating situation in the country has led the International Rescue Committee to rank Ethiopia high on its watchlist for humanitarian crises in 2022, surpassed only by Afghanistan.
The Global Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict in southern and southeastern Ethiopia and ongoing conflict in the north.
SOUTH SUDAN: FLOODING
Having suffered through flood conditions in 2019 and 2020, South Sudan is now struggling with the worst flooding it’s seen in 60 years (Figure 4).
The rains in 2021 have been catastrophic because, as one source notes, “the water from the past two years simply never receded.” Rising water levels are swallowing up whole villages, killing off livestock and driving inhabitants in search of sustenance and drier ground (Figure 5). Many families have been reduced to a daily diet of water lilies, and some are facing starvation. Nearly 1 million people have been affected by the floods.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts ongoing conflict throughout most of South Sudan over the next 12 months.
Authorities in Dar-es-Salaam – home to 6 million people – declared a water shortage in early November and began rationing water. The Ruvu River, which is the city’s main source of water, had reached dangerously low levels. “President Samia said human activities like irrigation farming and livestock keeping were among factors to blame for the water shortages with climate change being singled out as the main factor behind the calamities.” The water woes have also led to power rationing, as falling water levels behind dams have led to a 21% drop in daily power production.
Tanzania has a relatively low history of conflict compared to nearby countries and formally graduated to a lower-middle-income country in July 2020 from its previous low-income status. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool does not predict extensive violent conflict throughout most of Tanzania over the next 12 months.
Violent clashes over dwindling water resources erupted among herders, fishermen, and farmers in the Far North region of Cameroon in early December 2021, sending over 100,000 people fleeing into neighboring Chad. For many years, shrinking water and productive land resources, together with a rapidly growing population, have led to increasing conflict among members of diverse ethnic groups. “On one side of the conflict,” according to one report, “are Mousgoum fishermen and Massa farmers, who dig trenches in order to fish and irrigate crops. The muddy trenches have trapped and at times killed the livestock of Arab Choa cattle ranchers. The farmers and fishermen, in turn, allege that herders’ cattle have destroyed plantations and fishing areas.” In early January, it was reported that 25,000 of those displaced had returned, many to homes that had been destroyed in the fighting. But over 75,000 people who fled to Chad were still reportedly reluctant to return home.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict in the Far North of Cameroon over the next 12 months.
ISRAEL-JORDAN COOPERATION ON WATER
In our last quarterly analysis, we reported that Israel and Jordan had agreed to an “unprecedented” sale of water by Israel to Jordan. The sale of 50 million cubic meters of water effectively doubled the amount of water that Israel sells or gives to Jordan. New technologies are reducing the cost of desalination, enabling Israel to transfer water to Jordan without threatening domestic demand.
In November 2021, Israel and Jordan signed a declaration of intent for a water-for-energy deal. The proposed project, it was reported, “would see Jordan build 600 megawatts of solar generating capacity which would be exported to Israel, contingent upon Israel providing water-scarce Jordan with 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water. Feasibility studies would start in 2022.” Shortly following this announcement, hundreds of people took to the streets in Amman to protest the proposed deal, arguing that it moved towards normalizing ties with Israel while it continued to occupy the Palestinian territories, and it would make Jordan dependent on Israel for its essential needs.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool does not predict extensive violent conflict throughout Israel and Jordan over the next 12 months.
IRAN: DROUGHT AND CHRONIC WATER STRESS
Iran has been facing severe drought. In our last quarterly analysis, we reported that Khuzestan Province in the southwest had been hit particularly hard. In July 2021, residents of the capital of the province, Ahvaz, were repeatedly left without water, while suffering under temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius. These developments continued in the following months and will most likely continue throughout 2022.
With livelihoods and economic opportunities deteriorating due to water shortages, thousands of people took to the streets in protest. Authorities responded with deadly force and at least eight protesters and bystanders were killed. There were protests elsewhere across Iran – including in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, Bojnourd, Saghez, and other big cities – to express solidarity with the people of Khuzestan and anger at the ruling party.
In late November, tens of thousands of people gathered in Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city. They were protesting on the dry bed of the Zayanderoud River, demanding the restoration of water flows to irrigate farmland “laid to waste from years of mismanaging water resources.” After two weeks of protests, which spread to at least one other city, authorities violently cracked down again. While the Iranian government has recognized the water crisis and tries to implement response measures, it has so far been unable to reverse the deterioration of the country’s water situation and struggles to deal with the social and political implications of it, which possibly put the stability of the regime itself into question.
In early January 2022, large swathes of south and southeastern Iran were devastated by flash flooding. At least 10 people were confirmed dead. These provinces, including Sistan-Baluchistan, Kerman, Fars and Hormozgan, had been some of the regions worst hit by drought.
Over the next 12 months, the WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict all along most of the western border with Iraq, as well as emerging and ongoing conflict across much of southeastern Iran, including the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
SYRIA: DROUGHT INTENSIFIES
In our last quarterly analysis, we reported that Syria was suffering its worst drought in 70 years. Over 5 million people were impacted by low flows in the Euphrates River. Hundreds of kilometers of agricultural land faced “total drought.” And 3 million people risked losing access to electricity produced by hydroelectric dams. This has also been affecting food security: In a December 2021 report, FAO reported that wheat production in Syria in 2021 was about one-third that of 2020 and about one-quarter of the pre-crisis average (for the period 2002-2011). Barley production was about one-tenth that of 2019 and 2020. FAO attributed this to “insufficient and poorly distributed rainfall in the 2020-2021 agricultural season, together with several heatwaves, the high cost of inputs, limited availability of irrigation water and high cost of fuel for pumping [water].”
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts ongoing conflict throughout most of Syria over the next 12 months.
IRAQ: CONTINUED LOW FLOWS IN EUPHRATES AND TIGRIS RIVERS
The water crisis in the region also continues to affect Iraq, which suffers from water and food insecurity. In our last quarterly analysis, we reported that wheat production was expected to fall by 70% due to the drought in the Nineveh governorate and by 50% in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
People in Iraq and Syria are quick to blame Turkey and Iran, who have dammed the two river systems upstream (Figure 7). “This year, inflows from Turkey fell by almost two-thirds; from Iran they’re about one-tenth of what they were,” according to Mahdi Rashid Hamdani, Iraq’s minister of water resources. But it should be noted that these upstream countries are dealing with drought themselves. The entire region is thus caught in a complex struggle with water insecurity and its many implications for people, the economies as well as regional stability more broadly.
In December 2021, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reported that “one in two families in drought-affected regions require food assistance… while one in five do not have sufficient food for everyone in the family.” The NRC findings were based on interviews across seven provinces, including Anbar in the west, Basra in the south and Nineveh in the north. “These three are traditionally considered to be the breadbasket of Iraq but have been hit hard by the crisis.”
The consequences of COVID-19 in parallel with the country’s water issues, are exacerbating exisiting health, economic, socio-political and security challenges. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict throughout most of Iraq over the next 12 months.
AFGHANISTAN: DROUGHT AND ECONOMIC TURMOIL
Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed in the wake of the Taliban takeover, the drying up of foreign aid, and the imposition of US sanctions such as the freezing of Afghan state reserves in the US. Afghanistan is also suffering through one of its worst droughts in decades, which is contributing to large-scale food insecurity. The UN estimates that the wheat harvest will be 25% below average. As a result, among many other challenges, the UN estimates that 22.8 million people, over half the population, face potentially life-threatening food insecurity. Of these, 8.7 million are nearing famine.
While so far no security implications of the worsening water and food situation have been reported, it can be expected that the inability of the Taliban to deal with the country’s water crisis will only worsen the situation. The Taliban government is increasingly aware of the direness of the situation and is reaching out for international support, as manifested for instance in a planned meeting between the Taliban and some Western countries in Norway in January 2022.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict throughout most of Afghanistan over the next 12 months.
Rainfall in the Mekong region over the past three years has been “anomalously low”, and water levels have dropped to their lowest levels in over 60 years. The Mekong is Southeast Asia’s longest river.
Low rainfall, together with the proliferation of dams throughout the basin and unsustainable fishing, is threatening the livelihoods of over one million Cambodians who depend on Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest lake. The lake, which is fed by the Mekong River, expands by six or seven times during the wet season. “Through this process, agricultural land is fertilized and irrigated, while flooded forests provide ideal breeding grounds for fish that migrate from the Mekong River to the lake in massive numbers.” But flooding has failed to materialize across much of the lake region over the past 2-3 years (Figure 8), jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishermen and farmers alike.
The Cambodian regime is often quick to arrest protestors and activists, cracking down on discord immediately. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool does not predict extensive violent conflict throughout Cambodia over the next 12 months.
Super-typhoon Rai hit the Philippines in late December 2021, causing large-scale destruction and loss of life. Over 5.4 million people were impacted and over a half million were displaced. The death toll stood at 397 as of early January. Over 535,000 houses were destroyed and there were approximately €350 million in damages to agriculture and infrastructure.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict in a number of regions across the Philippines over the next 12 months.
Other Regions of Interest
In mid-July, massive flooding hit central China, causing widespread destruction in and around the city of Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province and home to over 10 million people. The three-day storm reportedly dropped a year’s worth of water and displaced over a million people across the province. At least 300 people died in what was a 1-in-1000-year flood event according to Zhengzhou meteorologists.
Less than three months later, in October 2021, torrential rains devastated much of Shanxi Province. Over 120,000 people were displaced and over 17,000 homes were destroyed.
In December, the major southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen warned of severe water shortages into next spring, as one of the worst droughts in decades greatly reduces flows in the East River, a tributary of the Pearl River.
SOUTHERN BRAZIL AND ARGENTINA
In our last quarterly analysis, we reported that a regional drought that began in late 2019 was impacting crop production, hydroelectric power production, river transportation, and water for human consumption across much of midwestern and southern Brazil, as well as in neighboring countries, including Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. The Paraná River – South America’s second longest – had reached its lowest level in 80 years, owing to the drought in Brazil, where the river originates.
In January 2022, many towns and cities across Argentina and neighboring countries were experiencing record high temperatures, with some regions as hot as 45 °C (113 °F). The ongoing drought is impacting corn and soybean crops in the Pampas region, trimming Argentina’s annual economic growth by an estimated $4.8 billion. The ongoing drought has also led to record high Brazilian imports of liquefied natural gas during “a year of strong thermoelectric demand in Brazil, due to the worst drought ever recorded in hydroelectric reservoirs in more than 90 years.”
UNITED STATES: MEGADROUGHT
As of the third week of September, 94% of the US West was in drought. On the Colorado River, the country’s two largest man-made reservoirs – Lake Mead and Lake Powell – were seeing their water levels plumet at alarming rates, jeopardizing water supply and hydroelectric power production for millions of people.
Even though the drought was alleviated in many parts of the US West, due to heavy December storms in California and other parts of the West, as of mid-January nearly 55% of the lower 48 states remained in drought (Figure 9).
Heavy rains caused flooding and devastation across much of southern British Columbia in November 2021 (Figure 10). These floods marked the third large-scale natural disaster in six months this part of Canada had to endure. “Western Canada suffered a blistering heat wave for much of the summer as record-high temperatures caused uncontrolled forest fires that burned one community to the ground. Now, the region is facing washed-out roads and highways, mud-clogged houses and destroyed bridges after nearly a foot of rain poured from a weather event known as an atmospheric river.”
global food price spikesIn our last quarterly analysis, we reported that the Food Price Index (in real terms) had reached a level not seen since the mid-1970s. Reports from around the world – including both developing and developed countries – were that local food prices had been rising sharply, reaching levels that were out-of-reach for the poorest segments of society. A senior economist with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization stated in early January 2022 that the high cost of inputs, the global pandemic, and increasingly volatile climate conditions left “little room for optimism about a return to more stable market conditions… in 2022.”
cost of disasters
In late December 2021, Christian Aid reported that the cost of the 10 most expensive natural disasters in 2021 totaled $170 billion. The most expensive disaster in 2021 was Hurricane Ida ($65 billion), which left a wake of destruction from Louisiana to New York. This was followed by the floods in Germany and Belgium ($43 billion), the winter storm in Texas ($23 billion), and flooding in China’s Henan Province ($18 billion). These disasters were so expensive, of course, because they happened in highly developed parts of the world, where the value of property and infrastructure is very high. They did not include highly impactful events that took place in much poorer countries, such as the floods in South Sudan or the droughts in East Africa and South America.
In mid-December, insurance giant Swiss Re reported that weather-related insured losses in 2021 totaled $101 billion. Only two years had higher weather-related insured losses: 2017 (which included Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria) and 2005 (which included Hurricanes Katrina, Irma, and Wilma).
This shows that water-related risks are adding increasing financial challenges for many countries. Developing countries might not be able to bear these costs in the long run (let alone provide the financial means for disaster preparedness that would help prevent such dramatic events or reduce their impacts), adding to existing instability and potential risk of conflict.
ABOUT WPS AND ITS QUARTERLY ANALYSES
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. It does this on the basis of 15-20 global indicators that serve as model inputs. These indicators were selected as most significant in predicting conflict from among over 200 indicators tested. We define conflict as one that produces 10 or more deaths in any given second subnational administrative unit 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. So far it has captured 86% of future conflicts, successfully forecasting more than 9 in 10 “ongoing conflicts” and 6 in 10 “emerging conflicts”.
Quarterly analyses. We are publishing quarterly analyses to accompany our updated maps. These quarterly analyses 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.
Do you want to learn more about how the Global Early Warning Tool works or how you can use it yourself? The WPS partnership has recently launched the first two modules of an free online e-learning module. Module 2 is dedicated to the function, generation and application of the Global Tool, including a practical walk-through to explore the tools’ capabilities yourself. You can find the course here: Module 2: The Global Early Warning Tool.
 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.
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