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Climate Change and Population Pressures in West Africa

The effects of climate change have been cited as the main cause of the problems of northern Nigeria, currently impacted by the conflict with Boko Haram. Fasona and Omojola found that, “there seems to be a very connection between climate change and the pattern of communal clashes in the country.”[1] In particular they note the conflict between Fulani herders and farmers in the savannah. The Sahel region recorded a deficit of rainfall over a 60-year period (1940-2000). They also note that degradation of the land has forced many into the cities, forced urbanization. Odjugo also concluded that rising temperatures, as well as deceased rainfall, had also played a part in the reduction of arable land in the north of Nigeria, by 1 to 10 km a year. He also noted that Lake Chad had significantly reduced in area and that in 2010 it was only 5.7% of its size in 1960.[2] Reuters reported on the clashes between Muslim Fulani tribes and Christian farmers in August 2016, according to the report there had been a series of clashes in the first part of 2016 which have killed over 350 people, mainly Christian farmers. In April 2016 the Fulanis attacked the village of Nimbo in Biafra State, Joseph Obeta, a priest, said, “The Fulanis  .. came in the town and shot at any man they saw and killed him.”[3]


The UN has estimated that on current trends Nigeria’s population will increase from 182 million in 2015 to 752 million in 2100, four times as many. Given the current conflict over land and the pressures on Lagos, a city that already had 21 million inhabitants by 2012, many threatened by rising sea level. The European Union is concerned about the number of illegal immigrants from Nigeria, in 2015 over 22,000 arrived in Italy and it is opening talks with Nigeria in order to attempt to stem the flow. An EU diplomat was quoted as saying, that with the population growth trend, not just in Nigeria but across west Africa, “these pressures for migration are going to be huge”.[4]

Population pressure is not only an issue in Nigeria, but an issue that affects the whole of West Africa. The UN projections for population growth in West African (medium) are for an increase from 353 million in 2015 to 1.55 billion in 2100, an increase of x4.4 in 85 years. Given the lack of effective governance in much of the region, wide-spread corruption, failure to develop local industries, impending decline of fossil fuel extraction, and the climate change pressures on agriculture it is difficult, if not impossible to envisage how the region can accommodate an additional 1.2 billion people. Certainly Europe will not welcome migration of poor Africans on any major scale. The outlook can only be described as grim. It is easy to talk of meeting the UN Millennium goals for development, but in practice West Africa represents an extreme humanitarian challenge.

[1]  Fasona, Mayowa J., and A. S. Omojola. “Climate change, human security and communal clashes in Nigeria.” In Human Security and Climate Change Conference. 2005.

[2] Odjugo, Peter Akpodiogaga-A. Ovuyovwiroye. “General overview of climate change impacts in Nigeria.” Journal of Human Ecology 29, no. 1 (2010): 47-55.

[3] Laessing, Ulf – “Nigeria riven by new battles over scare fertile land”, Reuters 11 August 2016

[4] Fick, Maggie – “Nigeria and EU to start migrant return talks”, The Financial Times, 27 April 2016

About Andrew Palmer (275 Articles)
Book by Andrew Palmer explores today's fundamental & systemic problems of the world. Proposes a framework for understanding the forces that are driving change.

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