October 24, 2019 / 3:29 PM / a month ago

'Chaos map' charts global deaths from water, food and fuel disruption

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As the planet warms, deadly conflicts over water, food and fuel shortages and price hikes for those essentials are expected to start increasing dramatically, including in relatively stable parts of the world like Europe, researchers warned on Thursday.

A new interactive “Chaos Map” from Britain’s Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) displays 1,300 deaths from violent social unrest and suicides linked to water, food and fuel insecurity over a 13-year period from 2005 to 2017.

Researchers said it would help predict future tensions over disruptions to key resources.

Governments worldwide have yet to put in place measures to reduce the risks of conflict, such as food stocks and agreements with neighboring countries to share supplies, they added.

Without better preparedness, more frequent climate shocks - including floods and droughts that damage harvests - could lead to large-scale violence and the collapse of global markets, they warned. 

“We are vulnerable at the moment - it’s an urgent call,” said Aled Jones, director of the ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute and co-leader of the team behind the map.   

The interactive tool shows the location of deaths and their causes year by year, based on data drawn from news reports verified by researchers, alongside commentary on some cases.

The majority occurred in Africa and Asia, with the highest fatalities in Venezuela, India, Yemen, Tunisia and Sri Lanka. 

Conflict over water - mainly tied to control of water infrastructure - caused more deaths than food and fuel instability in the period studied, said Jones.

The largest incident reported was 425 deaths from clashes in 2006 between Sri Lanka’s government and Tamil Tiger insurgents who were accused of blocking access to local water supplies, according to the researchers.     

More common were smaller events such as the 2012 death of a man in the Indian city of Howrah, when late deliveries by a water truck caused a brawl to break out in a waiting crowd.   

    But cases of fatal unrest are not limited to politically unstable places, the researchers said.

    Growing dissatisfaction with food and fuel costs has also led to violence in Europe, including the death of a demonstrator who was hit by a motorist in Paris during France’s “yellow vest” protests sparked by fuel-tax hikes last year, Jones said.

Meanwhile, access to food “is an issue in every country from the UK to North Africa to the Middle East”, he added, noting how the use of food banks has risen in Britain. 

Developing a holistic European food strategy with all states working together on food reserves, trade plans and policy responses was crucial, he said.

    That would not only protect against climate shocks but also help Europe prepare for possible influxes of migrants from more fragile countries, driven by climate disasters and conflicts, which could put pressure on food supplies, said Jones.  

After a prolonged decline, hunger is on the rise again globally - partly due to climate change, said Gernot Laganda, who heads work on climate and disaster risk reduction at the U.N. World Food Programme and was not involved in the map.

Governments need to understand the evolving nature of threats “when living in a dynamic environment where climate change increases risks” - and get ready to respond, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.   

People caught in situations that are experiencing both climate extremes and conflict are a pressing concern because of the difficulty of getting aid to them, he added. 

Reporting by Anna Scholz-Carlson; editing by Laurie Goering and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate

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