Civil Unrest: Economic Spiral and Climate Change

Civil Unrest: Economic Spiral and Climate ChangeEconomic strife and environmental scarcities are two factors that, when experienced in conjunction by a country, can lead to civil unrest and even conflict. In essence environmental scarcities means the decline in the availability and useability of crucial natural resources. This is particularly true in the Global South, and especially in South Asia. The reason for this is that natural resources are often abundant but poorly managed; and these regions are climate vulnerable, meaning a lowered ability or capacity to deal with the onset of threats from climate change. Pakistan, especially, is ranked as having one of the highest risk factors to climate change. Unfortunately, that leads to a multitude of threats ranging from impacts om the economy and development to civil conflict, which, if exacerbated by existing and worsening economic strife, holds the potential to turn into armed civil conflict.

The state of political instability and a downward economic spiral is a publicly known reality in Pakistan in current times and does not require elaboration. However, it is important to know what economic strife is and how it can seep into societal issues which increase conflict probability. Economic strife refers to a situation where a country is experiencing dire economic difficulties, such as record high inflation, high unemployment rates, low wages, and a weak currency, all of which is happening at an increasing rate in Pakistan. These may impact the population’s willingness to adopt complacency and given the resultant lack of basic living ability, there is little left to stay quiet for and everything to gain by taking action for survival. To say it more plainly, swathes of people have gone from barely making it to being unable to survive. This leaves them with very little option to cope and a dark side of human nature with many options to take action for survival.

The combination of economic strife and environmental scarcities they can lead to social and political unrest, particularly in developing countries that rely heavily on natural resources for their economies. This is because when natural resources become scarce, competition for these resources increases and is exacerbated by a deteriorating ability to afford or access those resources to begin with, leading to conflict between different groups in society. This works on a psychological level as well leading to dissatisfaction with the government and calls for change, especially if there are pre-existing reasons for that call.

Climate change is a global phenomenon that has the potential to exacerbate environmental scarcities and increase civil conflict. According to research conducted by the United Nations, climate change is already leading to more frequent and severe natural disasters, such as floods, droughts, and wildfires. These disasters can have significant economic and social impacts.

As temperatures rise, glaciers and snowpacks melt, leading to reduced water availability in regions that depend on these resources; or unprecedented rains due to climate change factors cause drastic floods, which Pakistan witnessed in 2022. This can lead to competition and conflict over water resources, as well as the resources linked to them.

In addition, climate change can exacerbate food insecurity by reducing agricultural productivity. Changes in precipitation patterns and temperatures can lead to reduced crop yields as well, which is made worse in Pakistan due to vulnerability towards food insecurity. This can lead to increased competition for food resources too, and these conditions then intersect with economic strife as well as worsen it. Plainly, the result is a population that either must fight for its survival, which holds a high likelihood of being in the form of civil conflict, or perish in miser complacency. This is especially true due to the conjunction of political, social, and economic instability.

The impact of climate change on natural resources can also lead to conflict between different groups in society. In many developing countries, natural resources are a key source of income and employment, particularly for marginalized groups such as indigenous communities. As natural resources become scarcer, competition between different groups for access to these resources can increase, leading to social and political unrest.

Pakistan has abundant natural resources. However, their poor management has led to a situation where these resources are not being utilized to their full potential and the mismanagement of climate change and its related threats is further deteriorating those resources. Pakistan faces a severe environmental crisis, with declining water resources and the population is expected to grow to 300 million by 2050, putting even more pressure on the already scarce resources.

The country has experienced armed conflict along its western border with Afghanistan, where extremist groups have been operating for years. While there are politically motivated dimensions, the conflict in these areas is largely fueled by economic difficulties and environmental scarcities, including declining agricultural productivity and water resources. Such conditions leave the local populations with little avenues for a livelihood and any source of employment and promises in relation toa cause aid recruitment.

To prevent such conflicts, it is important for governments to manage natural resources properly, address economic difficulties, and invest in sustainable development. By doing so, we can reduce the risk of civil conflict that can turn into armed conflict and would only add another threat to an already burgeoning list.

All things considered in conjunction; climate change has the potential to exacerbate environmental scarcities which, along with a worsening economic strife, increases the likelihood of civil conflict. More importantly, there is a threshold after which it ceases to be a likelihood and becomes a reality. To prevent such conflicts, it is important for governments to take action to mitigate the impacts of climate change through adaption-based policies as well as constrain the economic strife.


About Faraz Haider 15 Articles
Studying a MS Strategic Studies at Air University and a Swinburne University graduate of International Relations and Economics. Interest areas: Human and Regional Security (South, Central & West Asia). He tweets at @f_aider

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