Degradation and Conflict; a Joint Threat to Ecology

A cyclic relationship exists between ecological degradation and conflict whereby degradation of resources leads to conflict, and the conflict leads to further resource degradation, according a leading report.

The Ecological Threat Report 2021 by the Institute for Economics and Peace reiterates that climate change will have an amplifying effect, causing further ecological degradation and pushing some countries through violent tipping points.


The report mentions that improving ecological resource management and socio-economic resilience would only help in breaking the cycle. Noting that future prospects are not encouraging based on current trends, the Ecological Threat Report said undernourishment and food insecurity have been steadily rising since 2015. High population growth, lack of potable water and increasing land degradation led to this situation, the report added.


The IEP also projects the number of undernourished people to rise by 343 million people by 2050, to 1.1 billion. The authors in the report identified three clusters of ecological hotspots, which are particularly susceptible to collapse. They are

  • The Sahel-Horn of Africa belt, from Mauritania to Somalia
  • The Southern African belt, from Angola to Madagascar
  • The Middle East and Central Asian belt, from Syria to Pakistan.

The report points out that eleven of the fifteen countries facing the worst ecology threats are currently in conflict, and another four are at a high risk of substantial falls in peace. They include Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Niger, Burkina Faso and Pakistan. The IEP notes that ecological addressing water availability, food security and high population growth in countries mired by conflict will improve prospects for lasting peace.


Stating that the number of people displaced by conflict has been steadily rising, the report said that 34 million people had been forcibly displaced from their home nations at the end of 2020. Of this, 23.1 million people or 68 per cent came from these 30 hotspot countries. Without a reversal of degradation of ecology, these numbers are likely to increase, the authors said.


The ETR identifies 46 countries as facing low ecology threat levels with 35 exposed to very low threats. Eighty-nine per cent of these countries have high Positive Peace scores. These countries also have low population growth. In 2021, their combined population is 1.96 billion people, and by 2050, this figure will slightly increase to 2.18 billion people. These countries are mainly located in Eastern and Western Europe, North America and South America.


The report noted that number of food-insecure people rose by 318 million people in 2020, relative to the previous year. South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South America regions saw the majority of insecure people.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of food insecurity, with 66 per cent of the population deemed food insecure. By 2050, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is projected to be 2.1 billion, a 90 per cent increase from today’s levels, said the ETR 2021.

It said that the number of food-insecure people is expected to increase by 43 per cent to 3.4 billion people by 2050, Apart from this, the number of undernourished people is projected to rise by 343 million people by 2050, a 45 per cent increase from 2020. Currently, 768 million people are undernourished in 2020. It mentioned that the global demand for food will increase by 50 per cent by 2050,. Europe has the lowest prevalence of food insecurity, with less than six per cent of its population affected.

The report points out that Somalia, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Yemen and Madagascar are the most undernourished countries

  • Threats to ecology are correlated with high levels of violence. This is due to systemic dynamics, whereby the depletion of resources and violent disputes reinforce one another, forming a vicious cycle. †
  • In 2021, 47 countries home to 3.3 billion people face high to extreme ecological threats, but many have adequate levels of resilience.
  • †IEP estimates that in 2050, 4.7 billion people will reside in countries with high and extreme ecological threats. Their populations will account for 48.7 per cent of the world’s total population.
  • †30 countries face the highest levels of ecological threat, home to 1.26 billion people. They have both low socio-economic resilience and medium, high or extremely high catastrophic ecological threats.
  • †Overall, 16 of the 20 countries with the highest ETR score are among the world’s least resilient countries, measured by the Positive Peace Index (PPI).
  • †The vulnerable countries with the lowest socio-economic resilience are clustered in three geographical regions: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA), sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — these regions are also the three least peaceful as measured by the Global Peace Index (GPI).
  • North America and Europe are the two regions with the lowest average ETR score.
  • South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and MENA are the regions with the highest average score. †
  • Eleven of the 12 African countries in conflict in 2018 experience food insecurity.
  • †Afghanistan has the highest overall score on the 2021 ETR. All 34 of Afghanistan’s administrative units are facing extremely high levels of threat.
  • From 1990 to 2020, a total of 10,320 natural disasters occurred globally. Flooding has been the most common natural disaster, accounting for 42 per cent of the total disaster count.†
  • In 2020, 177 countries and territories recorded a warmer average temperature compared to their historical average temperatures.
  • †Eleven countries are projected to double their population between 2021 and 2050. They are all in sub-Saharan Africa. The three countries with the largest projected increases in population are Niger, Angola and Somalia, where the populations will increase by 161, 128 and 113 per cent, respectively.


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