EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Unravelling the complex interplay between drought and conflict

Niko Wanders1, Jannis Hoch1, Sophie de Bruin1,2, Rens van Beek1, Halvard Buhaug3,4, and Nina von Uexkull3,5
Niko Wanders et al.
  • 1Utrecht University, Geosciences, Physical Geography, Utrecht, Netherlands (
  • 2PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, The Netherlands
  • 3Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Oslo, Norway
  • 4Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • 5Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

In the past decade, several efforts have been made to project armed conflict risk into the future. However all of these approaches neglected the impact of hydrological extremes, specifically drought, on potential conflicts. This study broadens current approaches by presenting a first-of-its-kind application of machine learning (ML) methods to project sub-national armed conflict risk over the African continent along three Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) scenarios and three Representative Concentration Pathways towards 2050 including hydrological feedbacks.

We specifically assessed the role of hydro-climatic indicators as drivers of armed conflict. Overall, their importance is limited compared to main conflict predictors but results suggest that changing climatic conditions may both increase and decrease conflict risk, depending on the location: in Northern Africa and large parts of Eastern Africa climate change increases projected conflict risk whereas for areas in the West and northern part of the Sahel shifting climatic conditions may reduce conflict risk.

With our study being at the forefront of ML applications for conflict risk projections, we identify various challenges for this arising scientific field. A major concern is the limited selection of relevant quantified indicators for the SSPs at present. Specifically, the links between drought and conflicts are mostly region specific and not necessarily well reflected in the available data. Nevertheless, ML models such as the one presented here are a viable and scalable way forward in the field of armed conflict risk projections, and can help to inform the policy-making process with respect to climate security under changing hydroclimatic conditions.

How to cite: Wanders, N., Hoch, J., de Bruin, S., van Beek, R., Buhaug, H., and von Uexkull, N.: Unravelling the complex interplay between drought and conflict, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-3438,, 2022.