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How Climate Change Fuels Urban Violence

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As urban areas expand and climate change accelerates, understanding the interplay between these two phenomena becomes increasingly urgent. More than half of the global population resided in cities in 2022, and this figure is projected to rise to nearly 70% by 2050. Cities, while being epicenters of economic activity and innovation, are also significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and are particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change. This vulnerability can lead to social instability, including the potential for increased urban violence.

Urban Vulnerability to Climate Change

Research indicates that cities face significant impacts from climate change, such as higher average temperatures, heatwaves, altered rainfall patterns leading to flooding, sea-level rise, and water scarcity. These effects can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and lead to heightened risks of urban violence.

Flooding and Urban Violence

Flooding is a prime example of climate change’s impact on urban areas. Approximately 25% of the global population lives in high-risk flood zones, predominantly in developing countries. Flooding can severely affect cities by compromising water and sanitation systems, increasing public health risks, and damaging property. The urban poor, often residing in informal settlements in flood-prone areas, are disproportionately impacted.

For instance, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, about 8% of the city is below sea level, putting at least 143,000 people at risk of coastal flooding. Informal settlements in these areas are expanding due to rapid population growth, exacerbating the risk.

Sea-Level Rise and Infrastructure Damage

By 2050, an estimated 800 million people will live in cities affected by at least half a meter of sea-level rise. Coastal flooding can destroy property, damage critical infrastructure, and contaminate freshwater resources, further straining urban communities and potentially leading to violence.

Governance Failures and Urban Violence

Poor urban governance and infrastructure can increase vulnerability to climate change effects. In 2023, Storm Daniel hit Libya, causing a dam failure and extensive flooding in Derna, leading to thousands of deaths and displacements. High poverty rates and neglected infrastructure exacerbated the disaster. In the aftermath, grievances against the city government erupted into violence, highlighting the link between governance failures and urban violence.

Inadequate Crisis Response

Authorities often provide insufficient help during crises and post-crisis recovery, increasing grievances among affected populations. For example, during the 2006 flooding in Accra, Ghana, informal communities received no concrete assistance despite lodging complaints, forcing residents to fend for themselves. Such neglect can fuel unrest and violent protests, as well as violent suppression by state or private actors.

Government Responses Aggravating Grievances

In some cases, official responses to climate impacts worsen the situation for affected communities. Recent flooding in Nairobi, Kenya, displaced over 380,000 people. The government’s eviction of low-income residents from riparian zones, under the pretext of protecting lives, led to further grievances. Many families have not received the promised financial compensation, fueling resentment and potential violence.

Pathways from Climate Change to Urban Violence

There are solid grounds for believing that climate change impacts could increase the risk of violence in cities. When authorities fail to protect and support communities, especially marginalized ones, this can lead to anger and resentment. Research on urban violence suggests that such grievances can lead to direct or indirect violence.

Need for More Research

Despite the growing evidence, academic research on the link between climate change and urban violence remains limited. Most studies focus on the impacts of urban flooding on unrest, indicating that flood-related violence occurs in marginalized areas. However, it remains unclear how grievances predictably lead to violence. More research is needed to understand the specific circumstances and grievance mechanisms that lead to urban violence, including the potential impacts of climate mitigation or adaptation measures perceived as unjust.

Urbanization

In conclusion, as urbanization continues to rise alongside the impacts of climate change, addressing the vulnerabilities of urban communities becomes paramount. The intersection of climate change and urban violence is a complex issue that requires comprehensive understanding and proactive measures. By strengthening governance, improving infrastructure, and ensuring equitable support for all urban residents, cities can mitigate the risks of violence and foster resilient communities. Future research must delve deeper into the specific mechanisms linking climate change to urban violence, providing a foundation for effective policy interventions and sustainable urban development.

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