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Machine Learning Tool Looks at How Africa’s Armed Conflict could Play Out between Now and 2050

The Horn of Africa is currently being battered by an intense and sustained drought to which around 20 million people are going hungry. And, given the ongoing armed conflict in the region – particularly in Somalia and Ethiopia – safely getting nutritious food to these hungry people has become even more challenging. Researchers from Utrecht University and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, together with the Peace Research Institute Oslo and Uppsala University wanted to know how armed conflict could be affected by climate change, as well as by future social and economic development. First, researchers looked at the effect of climate change on conflict, using indicators such as soil moisture and rainfall. What the model suggested was that these environmental factors weren’t actually as important as socioeconomic factors – such as education and GDP – because they usually merely light the spark of conflict risk in situations where people are already struggling. Results show that in large parts of eastern Africa, climate change is still going to increase conflict risk. To prepare for that, we need climate adaptation and peace-building programmes that take environmental change into account.