Saturday, November 05, 2005

Words from the land of the Styx:

"Men need images. Lacking them, they invent idols. Better then to found symbolic images on realities that leads toward the source of eternal conscious, than to the mindless pit of fear."

Oracle of Amen
Destabilizing drought: A study of climatic disruptions’ influence on the Tajik civil war

Below is my research plan. I am looking for sponsors and partners. Tips and feedback also welcome to henry.wathen @

Increasing scarcity of water and arable land in large parts of the world often coincide with unrest, civil war or even inter-state conflict. This dissertation seeks to shed light on the process of drought contributing to destabilisation in modern times, as well as how drought may drastically worsen the consequences of conflicts. The endeavour is not to seek to demonstrate that drought on its own causes conflicts, but to incorporate drought and its consequences into a holistic view of the process of destabilisation by focusing on drought’s interplay with a range of other factors. These factors include: political upheavals, interprovincal (or clan) rivalry, neighboring countries’ aspirations to impose influence as well as unclear land ownership and privatisation schemes, both of which are related to economic transition. The study will focus on Tajikstan, synthesising the findings of previous research relating to the environmental and climatic aspects of the 1992-1995 civil war, and in addition, qualitative interviews will be held with people having first-hand experience of the events leading up to the conflict as well as the war itself. Finally, comparisons will be made with other conflicts and the role of drought in those.

The envisaged research will seek to test to what extent drought contributed to the Tajik civil war by making water and arable land sought after commodities, thus triggering disputes over these. Furthermore, the study will assess the degree to which the droughts and floods preceeding the Tajik civil war had generated flows of internally displaced people and the extent and nature of impact these population movements had on the situation in the young republic.

The study follows the general framework outlined by Leif Ohlsson in Livelihood Conflicts: Linking poverty and environment as causes of conflict, here modified to the Tajik circumstances. Ohlsson’s thesis that the loss of livelihoods may set the stage for armed conflict is the center piece in the case that this dissertation seeks to test. Other studies on the above mentioned theme, mainly concerning conflicts in Africa will also be consulted as references. These include the works of the anthropologist Paul Goldsmith, Ashok Swain of Uppsala University, UNEP and UNDP reports as well as the work done at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) by Nils Petter Gleditsch and Henrik Urdal inter alia.

This study will initially survey a broad array of research and accounts of the civil war in Tajikstan, highlighting indicators of ecological/climatic impact of the sort described above, even when as in the vast majority of works on the conflict, these factors are far from the center of the authors’ focus. Russian sources will be used, but cautiously, as Yeltsin’s Russia was actively involved in the conflict. The completed collection of mostly peripheral comments by past observers and researchers on drought’s destabilizing role in the run-up to the conflict and its role in worsening the war’s impact will form the base for the study.
Added to this will be qualitative interviews with the purpose of gauging the perceptions of those affected by the conflict on the impact of drought in the destabilization of Tajikstan, in order to determine if the people “on the ground” place more importance to drought in the destabilization of Tajikstan than what has been conveyed by academics, journalists and other observers.

The now substantial number of climatologists asserting that earth’s carbondioxide level, temperature and precipitation pattern are currently undergoing significant changes is cause for concern. Disruptions in the precipitation pattern often mean drought in one end of an oscillation area and floods in the other. (The best example of an oscillation area with vast impact on the world’s precipitation pattern is the Southern Pacific, where the peaks are known as el Niňo and la Niňa). If the frequency and magnitude of these occurences are increasing, societal consequences loom. Weak states can slide further down the destabilization spiral and in areas already affected by conflict, the consequences of these may be fuelled, as stated above. To this day, the link between climate and armed conflict remains an understudied topic, although this has begun to change.