Skip links

Climate change contribute to Boko Haram uprising


In the last decade, as is agreed among scientific, political leaders and terrorism/military experts, climate change can likely trigger severe disruptions with ever-widening consequences for local, regional, and global security.[1] U.S. military officials, for example, refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” that takes issues such as terrorism that pose a threat to national security and exacerbates the damage they can cause since it interacts and converges with other existing risks and pressures in a given context and can increase the likelihood of fragility or violent conflicts. Droughts, famines, and weather-related disasters can claim thousands or even millions of lives and aggravate existing tensions within and among nations, fomenting diplomatic and trade disputes, destabilizing weak countries and provoking internal tribal clashes in inhomogeneous states.

In July 2015, the Pentagon released a detailed report on the security risks of global warming, concluding that “climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in several countries.” The intelligence community agrees: Former CIA Director Leon Panetta, current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and current CIA Director John O. Brennan have all weighed in on climate-related political destabilization in resource-poor countries.[2]

The Climate change became as a key factor, not to be avoided, analyzing the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Syria and the spread of Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria.

Recently, in Germany, an important report titled: “Insurgency, Terrorism and Organized Crime in a Warming Climate” was published by Berlin think tank Adelphi.[3] The report covers four case studies such as: Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region, ISIS in Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and urban violence and organized crime in Guatemala. The report shows that as the climate changes, so too the conditions within which non-state armed groups operate. 

In this article, the focus will be on Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The actual situation of Boko Haram, according to Nigerian military sources is very bad. The counter-insurgency operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force ‘Lafiya Dole'[4] crashed the group, but it is not yet eradicated, it is still alive, but no longer a threat to the Federation.

In fact, during the last year Boko Haram, lost all the territories it controlled in the past, even in Sambisa forest area. The group suffers from a high number of casualties, defection, shortage of food, fuel and ammunition and most importantly it lost its centralized structure and has split into many factions,[5] all operating in the Lake Chad area (including Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon – see chart below: from Adelphi report)[6] and the Mandara Mountains in Cameroon. Despite all this, Boko Haram remains a threat around the Lake Chad Basin region, carrying out asymmetric attacks against civilians, specifically by using female children as suicide bombers in crowded areas such as markets and bus stations, and by improvised explosive devices and ambushes on towns and villages.

The question now is how the Climate change affects Boko Haram factions and enables them to prosper and remain a threat on the local population?

The answer is very simple, since Climate change around Lake Chad contributes to resource scarcities increasing local competition for land and water, three elements are favorized  by Boko Haram’s expansion in the area: 1)  the group can operate more easily in these fragile areas where the state has little authority and suffers from of lack of legitimacy; 2) affected population is more vulnerable not only to negative climate impacts but also to recruitment by Boko Haram; 3) Boko Harm can use natural resources such as water as a weapon of war or inhibit access to natural resources.

This competition in turn often fuels social tensions and even violent conflicts. At the same time, this resource scarcity erodes the livelihoods of many people, aggravates poverty and unemployment, and leads to population displacement. Boko Haram, thrives in this fragile environment. In this context of contested authority and legitimacy, Boko Haram can operate effortlessly and engage not only in acts of violence but also in transnational organized crime. As climate change degrades yields from agriculture, cattle rearing and fisheries, many people are left unemployed, with a few economic opportunities and low levels of education. This makes them extremely vulnerable not only to negative climate impacts but also to be recruited by Boko Haram, who offer alternative livelihoods and economic incentives.

The shrinking/vanishing Lake Chad

The scheme below shows how the lake has degraded, and has lost its dimensions and by consequence, its capabilities to supply water and enable fishing. Once, the landlocked lake measured more than 25,000 square kilometers (9,700 square miles). Now it covers just over1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles). Droughts in the 1970s and 1980s caused Lake Chad to dry up almost completely thus reducing reservoirs and putting the livelihood of millions at risk. Politicians from neighboring counties warned that a dwindling Lake Chad could cause security problems – lack of water will lead to more poverty, hunger and insecurity.

On March 31, 2016, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on the Lake Chad region – home to Boko Haram – outlining their concern about the interplay of factors leading to the crisis there and calling for better collaboration amongst UN armed to deal with the situation.

The vicious cycle of increasing violence, conflict and fragility

Climate change aggravates conflicts over land and resources. In the worst case, it can foster the rise of terrorist groups – Boko Haram and its factions. Lack of security makes it much more difficult to protect the environment, especially when the federal authorities are rarely around. Some countries from the Lake area, have started drilling for groundwater around the lake to provide villagers with drinking water. Furthermore, the population must keep moving to escape Boko Haram. The circumstances don’t allow for long term planning for water protection. 2.6 million people are currently displaced in the lake area, an additional 2.2 million people – over half of them children – are feared to be trapped in areas under the control of Boko Haram and need humanitarian assistance (An estimated 475,000 children across Lake Chad will suffer from severe acute malnutrition).[7] 

What are the challenges of military response to Boko Haram in Lake chad region?

The success of the international coalition, fighting Boko Haram, which comprises of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon will depend on several factors:1) The first is financial: the operation conducted in the field is one of the few multinational operations 100 % financed by African countries. Yet three of them (Nigeria, Niger and Chad) are currently suffering from the fall in oil prices. The continuity of military pressure on Boko Haram depends on the availability of funds to pay salaries, armament procurement, etc.; 2) The second factor concerns the violence of the armed forces in the States in the region vis-à-vis population. When civilians are killed, it causes resentment, especially among young people, who will sometimes join Boko Haram to avenge their parents who have been killed by the army, or out of fear of in turn being tortured to death by soldiers. The troops are perceived to be occupation troops. Society has been ripped apart and if this brutality continues, it will fuel the conflict; 3) The third factor is access to and sharing of information as it will be a decisive factor in the fight against Boko Haram.  The lake area is where we have the greatest shortcoming: information doesn’t get through, we don’t know what Boko Haram is doing there. It must be said that the intelligence services in the region are not so efficient. In other words; accurate and real time intelligence is a must; 4) The vigilant groups are playing a double game, on the one hand they are fighting Boko Haram and on the other hand they are collaborating with them specifically on economic issues. Therefore, it is recommended to abstain, as much as possible, from creating additional standing vigilante units and focus instead on building intelligence and communication networks through which civilians can obtain state protection when needed.

[1] During the Democratic presidential debate, in 2016, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders implied that climate change “creates” terrorism, and while the administration hasn’t gone that far, leaders in the executive branch clearly believe that a world with more water shortages, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns could produce economic crises that lead to political instability and violence.


[4] For further information on the military operations see:

[5] Boko Haram-West Africa Province of ISIS operates under Abu Musab Al-Barnawi; Boko Haram original group leader Abubakar Shekau (still alive); Mamman Nur’s faction; Ansaru (Khalid al-Barnawi, arrested in April,2016 replaced by Abu Jafa’ar).

[6]The Lake Chad Basin is home to a rapidly growing population of approximately 38 million from diverse

ethnic backgrounds (70).

Click Here to view Article File