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Published on November 16th, 2023

Reflections on the Intersections of Climate Change and Conflict Prevention 

child enjoying clean water

In a nod to the upcoming COP28, where DT Global staff from our US, Pacific, and Australia office have been invited to be part of the Government of Fiji’s COP28 delegation, I’m pleased to share some positive trends DT Global is witnessing at the intersection of climate change and conflict prevention. I recently had the honor of participating in an event hosted by British Expertise International to share case studies from DT Global’s experience. Hopefully reflections from that discussion can be helpful to your own work at this intersection.

Intersections: Better late than never

Knowledge matters. It’s encouraging to see COP28 dedicate a full day to "Relief, Recovery, and Peace." Lessons learned across different fragile contexts are essential to preventing future conflicts over growing resource scarcity. We’re honored to be part of these intersectional discussions.

Resources also matter. COP28’s attention to this is an important step. But it is all the more necessary to implement evidence-informed approaches. It is in communities where sustainability is hardest to achieve that it is most critical.

Building an evidence base

After four years of record flooding in South Sudan, we’ve seen that sometimes it’s not that there isn’t enough water; it’s that it’s too much and at the wrong time. The stress this puts on communities already struggling with basic sustenance can quickly evolve into violence over resources. Within this context, USAID’s Shejeh Salam program, implemented by DT Global, supports civil society organizations to advocate for peaceful resolutions to conflicts that flare up between communities, including water access. Working with local partners, DT Global recently organized approximately 100 youth in two locations to help repair and expand two dikes. While the goal of the activities was to help prevent future flooding, these activities intentionally took place in communities where Shejeh Salam has already conducted several rounds of community peace forums. These incremental layers of communication and trust provide a stronger foundation from which to respond to future flashpoints.

Concurrently, five years of record drought in Somalia has devastated livelihoods. Further exacerbating this is the increasing trend for al Shabaab to use natural resource scarcity to instigate violence. Violent extremist groups are adept at taking advantage of situations where the government can’t, or is unwilling, to step in to address disasters. They use food, water, and access to energy as leverage to ensure themselves a safe haven. Within this context, DT Global is implementing the USAID Transition Initiatives for Stabilization Saddex (TIS3) program. As a stabilization program, TIS3 assists communities by providing shared community resources and support to conflict mediation mechanisms. For example, TIS3 is currently rehabilitating a community-owned borehole in Somalia’s Middle Shabelle Region. It is the only functional source of water for a large, marginalized community who lived under the brutality of al Shabaab for 12 years, and whose water access was destroyed by al Shabaab in recent clearance operations.

Thinking through a nexus

Incorporating climate change resilience into our work requires us to think differently. We’ve witnessed that shocks to communities can open opportunities to include those often left out of the conversation and set a new expectation for inclusion. In South Sudan, for example, the desire of youth to be tangibly involved in determining community priorities created an opportunity to be part of dike rehabilitation, which in turn increased their influence in community problem-solving.

Moreover, intersectional approaches require genuine responsiveness to local priorities. In Somalia, for example, TIS3’s initial community outreach was from the lens of “what security support do you need?”. But the responses made clear that security was inherently linked to water, for drinking and for livelihoods. TIS3 engagements are now framed through this intersectional perspective.

Doing hard things is rewarding

The communities experiencing the harsh realities of climate change are also the communities best equipped to understand what resiliencies are needed to mitigate these challenges. A consistent theme that emerges from DT Global’s learning events with our programs is that sustainability requires genuinely listening to the communities who have put their trust in us to help them. It is only then that nuanced layers of challenges reveal themselves. And it is only through intersectional responses to these challenges that we will truly make a lasting impact.