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PLACES TO WATCH FOR VIOLENT CONFLICT
These are selected areas where the model predicts at least 10 fatalities in the next 12 months in a given second subnational administrative unit.
- Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia experience drought continuing into fourth consecutive growing season, leading to large-scale acute food insecurity.
- South Sudan experiences a third year of flooding and acute food insecurity.
- South Africa experiences record-breaking floods and ensuing death and devastation.
- Nigeria continues to experience farmer-herder violence, contributing to widespread food insecurity.
- Iraq continues to suffer from drought and low flows in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, leading to widespread migration out of agricultural areas.
- Iran continues to struggle with drought and low storage levels in reservoirs. The situation in the Helmand River border region with Afghanistan remains fragile.
- Afghanistan continues to suffer from drought, economic turmoil and bad water management as millions face acute water and food insecurity and starvation.
- Pakistan and India suffer under unprecedented heatwave, leading to ruined crops, electricity shortages, empty reservoirs, and increased flood risks associated with accelerated glacier melt.
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.
- Morocco is suffering through its worst drought in 40 years.
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. We are also following certain issues of interest.
- Ukraine is seeing war-related threats to water supplies and water infrastructure, but also food production and food security, including beyond Ukraine.
- China’s flooding last year has led to a poor winter wheat harvest, forcing it to purchase more wheat in global markets and putting additional upward pressure on global wheat prices.
- Australia saw torrential rainfall and catastrophic flooding along its eastern coast, submerging cities and towns.
- Chile, in response to a 12-year megadrought, has developed a four-tier water rationing system for its capital city, Santiago.
- The U.S. West is witnessing a continuation of its megadrought. Reservoirs are at very low levels, the winter wheat harvest is poor, little or no water is being allocated to farmers in California, wildfire season is off to a blazing start, and communities in Arizona are being cut from their water supplies.
- Global Food Prices are at an all-time high, due to a host of reasons, including poor harvests throughout the developed and developing worlds.
- The cost of flood, drought and other weather-related disasters is leading large increases in insurance premiums for farmers and homeowners in the United States. And a new study projects that the number of Americans exposed to floods will almost double over the next 30 years.
STORIES WE ARE TRACKING
KENYA, SOMALIA, AND ETHIOPIA: DROUGHT continuing into 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. And this indeed happened. The drought has been exacerbated by climate change intensifying La Niña to produce prolonged and persistent dryness.
In mid-April 2022, the World Food Programme reported that one month into the rainy season, rains had failed to materialize, and warned that the number of people in the region facing severe hunger could increase from the current 14 million to 20 million by the end of the year. The war in Ukraine, moreover, was compounding hunger by driving food prices sharply higher. The region is heavily dependent on crops grown in Ukraine and Russia.
In Somalia, the number of people affected by the drought has increased to about 4.5 million people, up from 3.2 million in December 2021. “Many families in drought-ravaged rural areas are fleeing to major cities in search of food and water.”
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging conflict throughout most of southeastern Ethiopia and northern Somalia over the next 12 months. Ongoing conflict is predicted for much of the rest of the drought-impacted region. Extreme drought and acute food insecurity may be contributing to these predictions.
SOUTH SUDAN: three years of FLOODING
In our last quarterly analysis, we reported that South Sudan was struggling with the worst flooding it’s seen in 60 years. Unfortunately, flood waters have failed to recede in many parts of the country, as it braces for the start of yet another rainy season.
South Sudan has lost substantial harvests due to massive floods over the past three years. Recent studies by the UN have found that about 170,000 acres of land have been damaged due to floods while 800,000 farm animals have died. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme forecasts a 7% rise in hunger this year as small-scale farmers "have no way of providing for their families.”
About 7.7 million people or 63% of the population across the country are likely to face “crisis” levels of food insecurity (or worse) between April and July 2022.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been assisting vulnerable farmers in South Sudan by helping them build dykes and water channels, providing training on best agricultural practices and post-harvest handling, and promoting increased use of flood-resistant food crops such as rice.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts ongoing conflict throughout most of South Sudan over the next 12 months.
South africa: record-breaking floods
In mid-April 2022, flooding from record-breaking rainfall in the eastern port city of Durban and surrounding KwaZulu-Natal Province killed 450 people and left thousands homeless as waters swept away houses, cars, and infrastructure. The storm delivered almost a year’s worth of rain within a 48-hour timeframe.
The South African army sent in 10,000 troops to deliver aid and help with rescue and recovery efforts. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa deemed the floods a “catastrophe of enormous proportions” and attributed the disaster to climate change.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts ongoing conflict in areas around Durban over the next 12 months. These predictions are based on data obtained prior to the floods, so these floods add pressure to areas already predicted to experience violent conflict.
nigeria: violence over resources and increasing food insecurity
Farmer-herder violence has been roiling Nigeria for years, as these two communities compete for dwindling water and productive land resources. The resulting hunger crisis now looms ever-larger, even in the country’s most agriculturally productive regions.
In the northcentral state of Benue, once called “the food basket of Nigeria,” over one million farmers have been displaced due to violence. Across northern Nigeria, over 13 million people are now facing hunger. Rice production has declined significantly, pushing up its price by 60% in Benue state and elsewhere across Nigeria.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict in Benue state and across much of the rest of Nigeria over the next 12 months.
IRAQ: CONTINUED LOW FLOWS IN EUPHRATES AND TIGRIS RIVERS
Iraq continues to face drought and low flows in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. “Water reserves are far lower than what we had last year, by about 50 percent because of poor rainfall and the quantities arriving from neighbouring countries,” according to Aoun Dhiab, a senior adviser at the water resources ministry. Dhiab noted that Iraq has been experiencing continuous drought since 2020.
The Ministry of Agriculture recently cut cropping in irrigated areas to 50% less than the previous year due to surface water shortages, according to the US Department of Agriculture. That will force Iraq to boost food imports – at times were the global food market is under rapidly increasing stress.
Many Iraqi farmers are migrating to cities in search of alternative livelihoods, raising fears that cities will not be able to provide enough jobs to meet demand. There are measures that farmers could take to build resilience – from greater investment in infrastructure, to improved irrigation efficiency, to use of better wheat varieties that can cope with greater soil salinity, wind and sand storms. But not enough is being done.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict throughout most of Iraq over the next 12 months.
IRAN: DROUGHT AND CHRONIC WATER STRESS
Drought continues in parts of Iran. In Tehran, a government official warned in early April 2022 that inflows of water into Tehran area dams had decreased by 30% over the past 6 months, compared to the previous year. In Khuzestan Province, another drought hotspot, dams stood at only 15% capacity in late February. Khuzestan Province was the site of deadly protests over water scarcity last year. The managing director of the provincial water and power authority announced that cultivation of water-intensive rice paddy and corn will be banned next summer. He said farmers should consider cultivating alternative crops until the drought is over.
There have recently been negotiations between Iran and the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, in continuation of negotiations over water held by the previous government of Afghanistan and Iran. In April 2022, Taliban Minister of Water and Energy, Abdul Latif Mansur, met the deputy Iranian ambassador to Kabul. In his statement, he declared the Taliban’s commitment to sharing water of the Helmand River, over which conflicts – including violent clashes – have occurred in the last years due to the dire water situation in both countries and Iran’s high dependency on water from Afghanistan. Although this seems like a cooperative move, the overall situation remains fragile between both states.
Over the next 12 months, the WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging conflict in both the Tehran area and Khuzestan Province. Emerging and ongoing conflict is also predicted along portions of Iran’s western border with Iraq, and in large portions of the southeast, including the Afghanistan and Pakistan border regions.
AFGHANISTAN: DROUGHT AND ECONOMIC TURMOIL
Afghanistan’s economy collapsed in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover last August. The country is also enduring the “worst drought since records began.” Moreover, water infrastructure is often left unmanaged/unattended to due to a lack of capacity with experts having left the country or having been forced out of their jobs by the Taliban. As a result, Save the Children estimates that 23 million people, including 14 million children, are facing critical levels of hunger, and 5.3 million children are one step away from famine. SBS News reports of Afghan parents being forced to sell their children to prevent themselves and their other children from starving. In the long run, this failure to manage the country’s water resources, already under immense pressure, will further deteriorate people’s lives and livelihoods. The impacts this will have on social and political stability and the Taliban regime as a whole remain to be seen.
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict throughout most of Afghanistan over the next 12 months.
pakistan and india: extreme heat
Pakistan and India suffered through unprecedented heatwaves in April 2022. Northwest and central India suffered the hottest April in 122 years. Wheat and other crops wilted in the heat on both sides of the border. Cities and towns saw electric power outages for hours each day as utilities rationed power – meaning people were unable to run air conditioners or refrigerators. Pakistan’s climate minister warned that glaciers in the north of the country were melting at an unprecedented rate, raising the risk of devastating flooding downstream. She also warned that water reservoirs were drying up. “Our big dams are at dead level right now, and sources of water are scarce.”
The WPS Global Early Warning Tool predicts emerging and ongoing conflict throughout Pakistan over the next 12 months.
morocco: devastating drought
Morocco is expecting to lose 53% of its grain production as a result of exceptional drought, its agriculture minister warned parliament in mid-April 2022. The country is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years and its reservoirs have received only 11% of average annual inflows. As a result, Morocco will have to increase imports of grain despite skyrocketing global grain prices. The country has also launched a $1 billion program to support farmers experiencing steep financial losses.
Despite this grim situation, the WPS Global Early Warning Tool is not predicting conflict in Morocco over the next 12 months, perhaps due to its relatively stable political situation.
Other Regions and Issues of Interest
The war in Ukraine has negatively impacted the environment in many ways. The most glaring examples involve fighting in and around nuclear power plants, including the Chernobyl site and the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Toxic substances used in weapons and explosives or contained in infrastructure that was destroyed have also contaminated the air and soil in many parts of Ukraine.
In addition, the war has impacted water infrastructure and curtailed the availability of clean water. UNICEF data published on April 19 indicated that over 6 million people across Ukraine were struggling to access clean drinking water. A pipeline supplying freshwater from the Dnipro River to the city of Mykolaiv was damaged, forcing residents to draw water from storage tanks or wells. Dams have been destroyed, causing flooding in urban areas. Wastewater treatment plants have been damaged, causing releases of untreated sewage into rivers.“
China suffered two devastating flood events in Henan and Shanxi provinces in July and October of last year, which destroyed homes, devastated infrastructure, and caused hundreds of deaths. These disasters also delayed the planting of winter wheat. In early March 2022, China’s agriculture minister announced that the condition of the winter wheat crop could be the “worst in history.” This of course has big implications for food security in China and the rest of the world. With global food prices already at all-time highs and global wheat supply under pressure due to the war in Ukraine, the need for China to purchase additional wheat in global markets threatens to make a very bad situation even worse. China is investing large sums to bolster its future agricultural output and reevaluating what countries it imports grain from, given the global geopolitical realignments taking place.
Days of torrential rainfall produced catastrophic flash flooding in cities and townships along Australia’s east coast in early March 2022. The city of Lismore saw 700mm of rainfall in just 30 hours. The city of Brisbane saw some 739mm of rainfall in just four days – almost 75% of the annual average. While declaring a national emergency a few days later, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted that “Australia is getting hard to live in because of these disasters.” About 60,ooo people were under evacuation orders and at least 20 people lost their lives. Australia has suffered through droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and floods in recent years. Floods in eastern Australia are associated with La Niña weather conditions. Climate change is making such extreme weather events more common.
There is a very large area of warm water (the size of Australia) in the southwest Pacific Ocean known as the “Southern Blob.” This blob – which appeared four decades ago – has grown bigger and hotter with climate change. Researchers now believe the blob is causing a shift in rainfall from the west coast of South America southwards towards Antarctica, providing an explanation for the megadrought that Chile has been experiencing since 2010. This region hasn’t seen a drought of this magnitude in over 1,000 years.
The megadrought has had devastating effects on rural livelihoods across Chile, decimating crops and livestock. Reservoir levels have fallen precipitously, and many rural communities now rely on tanker trucks for their water supply. The drought has also greatly reduced flows in two rivers which supply water to the capital city of Santiago and its nearly 6 million inhabitants.
In mid-April 2022, the government announced the implementation of a four-tier alert system to ration water in Santiago. The alert system “goes from green to red and starts with public service announcements, moves on to restricting water pressure and ends with rotating water cuts of up to 24 hours for about 1.7 million customers.” Water availability in Chile has declined by an estimated 10 to 37% over the past 30 years and could drop an additional 50% in northern and central Chile by 2060.
UNITED STATES: MEGADROUGHT
In mid-April 2022, NOAA reported that, “The current multi-year drought across the West is the most extensive and intense drought in the 22-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.” As the wet season in the U.S. West ends, reservoir levels stand near record lows.
Winter wheat across the Great Plains is faring poorly, affecting both domestic supplies and exports. Wildfires are already burning at above average rates, and prospects for the wildfire season across the west are “scary.” Many California farmers are receiving little or no allocations from state and federal authorities.
|2022 Combined YTD (CALFIRE & US Forest Service)
|2021 Combined YTD (CALFIRE & US Forest Service)
|5-Year Average (same interval)
More acres have burned in California in 2022 than in the same days of the previous year or long-term average. Source: Cal Fire updated as of April 29, 2022.
And in southern California, officials are taking the “unprecedented step of declaring a water shortage emergency and ordering outdoor usage be restricted to just one day a week for about 6 million people.” Officials warn that further restrictions are possible in order to ensure availability of sufficient supply to meet basic drinking water and sanitation needs.
In Arizona, where drought in the Colorado River basin has led to cuts in the state’s water allocation, some communities will see water deliveries end.
Global food price spikes
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently announced that its Food Price Index averaged 159.3 points in March 2022, up 12.6% from the previous month, making a “giant leap” to a new record since its inception in 1990.
“More than a decade after the Arab Spring,” a recent article noted, “global food prices are soaring again. They had already reached their highest level on record earlier this year as the pandemic, poor weather and the climate crisis upended agriculture and threatened food security for millions of people. Then came Russia's war in Ukraine, making the situation much worse — while also triggering a spike in the cost of the other daily essential, fuel.” Russia and Ukraine are large exporters of grains (wheat and corn), cooking oil, and fertilizer.
As of the writing of this quarterly analysis, a heatwave is threatening India’s wheat crop. It was hoped that increased Indian wheat exports could help offset decreased exports from Ukraine and Russia.
There is worry among experts that crop failures due to droughts, flooding, and heatwaves in developing countries, in large food exporting nations (such as the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and India), and in large food importing countries (such as China) – together with decreased food exports from Ukraine and Russia – will cause food insecurity to skyrocket among the world’s poor and vulnerable, and lead to destabilization, conflict, and migration.
“Russia’s war in Ukraine has sent a shockwave through international food markets, worsening the already dire problem of global hunger by disrupting supply and inflating prices. That risks tipping the poorest, most famine-ravaged regions of the planet into political chaos and creating an unprecedented migration crisis, according to David Beasley, the World Food Programme’s executive director.”
COST OF DISASTERS
A recent analysis finds that U.S. drought- and flood-related insurance payouts have risen by 400% and 300%, respectively, between 1995 and 2020. The number of insured acres rose by less than 85% over the same time period. Insurance premiums will likely rise as a result of more climate-driven extreme weather events. In the United States, these premiums are paid by farmers but heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
A recent article notes that increasing property losses in the United States from floods, hurricanes, and wildfires are causing insurers to increase insurance premiums on homes. Some homeowners are struggling to get an insurance policy at any price.
Floods are “by far” the costliest weather disaster in the United States. Damages from floods and hurricanes in the United States in 2021 exceeded $100 billion, according to NOAA. A new study projects that the number of Americans exposed to floods will almost double over the next 30 years. The biggest driver, however, will be population growth in areas already experiencing high risk, not climate change. This sharp increase in risk is (in theory) easily preventable with the right policies and regulations in place.
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 a 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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