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The water and soil resources of the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit became targets for the post-independence Sudanese government, through its Janjaweed surrogates. Unusually severe drought, desertification and over-population on Darfur’s plains put the nomadic Arab tribes under severe stress from the early 1980s onwards. While there had always been localised skirmishes with Africans at the height of the dry season, when the Arabs moved their camel and goat herds into the Jebel Marra foothills, there has been a systematic drive since 1985 by the nomads to occupy permanently stretches of African land.
Before 1985 the skirmishes were largely spontaneous and of low intensity, settled by local negotiation. Since then the conflict has grown ever more intense.
“The nomadic scramble into the rich agricultural central heartland is the cause of the continuing conflict,” says Dr Mohamed Suliman, a Sudanese academic at the Swiss Institute for Conflict Resolution. “It is the contest of the drought-stricken for the green oasis.
“Whatever the perception of the Darfur conflict, it is one that is being fought primarily over the control of a thriving resource base in the middle of a zone of scarcity. It is a classic ecological conflict.”
After signing the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said his nation will never go to war again, except to protect its water resources.
King Hussein of Jordan identified water as the only reason that might lead him to war with the Jewish state.
Former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned bluntly that the next war in the area will be over water.
Middle Eastern nations have resorted to force over issues less serious than water.
Since the Madrid conference in 1991, Palestine-Israel negotiations and the now frozen negotiations with Syria have always stumbled over the issue of sharing water.
With the Israeli army in control prohibiting Palestinians from pumping water, and settlers using much more advanced pumping equipment, Palestinians complain of "daily theft" of as much as 80% of their underground water.
Ariel Sharon went on record saying that the Six Day War started because Syrian engineers were working on diverting part of the water flow away from Israel.
"People generally regard 5 June 1967 as the day the Six-day war began,'' he said.
"That is the official date. But, in reality, it started two-and-a-half years earlier, on the day Israel decided to act against the diversion of the Jordan.''
The present is dire: the future looks so grim it must be entirely unmanageable.
Cut it how you will, the picture that emerges from today's data and tomorrow's forecasts is so complex and appalling it can leave you feeling powerless.
The world cannot increase its supply of fresh water: all it can do is change the way it uses it.
Its population is going to go on increasing for some time before there is any prospect it will stabilise.
…Climate change will also have an effect on water - just what effect, though, nobody can really say.
Some regions will become drier, some wetter. Deserts may well spread and rivers shrink, but floods will also become more frequent.
Most of the world's water is already inaccessible, or comes in the form of storms and hurricanes to the wrong places at the wrong times.
A total of 46 nations and 2.7 billion people are now at high risk of being overwhelmed by armed conflict and war because of climate change. A further 56 countries face political destabilisation, affecting another 1.2 billion individuals.
This stark warning will be outlined by the peace group International Alert in a report, A Climate of Conflict, this week. Much of Africa, Asia and South America will suffer outbreaks of war and social disruption as climate change erodes land, raises seas, melts glaciers and increases storms, it concludes. Even Europe is at risk.
'Climate change will compound the propensity for violent conflict, which in turn will leave communities poorer and less able to cope with the consequences of climate change,' the report states.
The worst threats involve nations lacking resources and stability to deal with global warming, added the agency's secretary-general, Dan Smith. 'Holland will be affected by rising sea levels, but no one expects war or strife,' he told The Observer. 'It has the resources and political structure to act effectively. But other countries that suffer loss of land and water and be buffeted by increasingly fierce storms will have no effective government to ensure corrective measures are taken. People will form defensive groups and battles will break out.'
Consider Peru, said Smith. Its fresh water comes mostly from glacier meltwater. But by 2015 nearly all Peru's glaciers will have been removed by global warming and its 27 million people will nearly all lack fresh water. If Peru took action now, it could offset the impending crisis, he added. But the country has little experience of effective democracy, suffers occasional outbreaks of insurgency, and has border disputes with Chile and Ecuador. The result is likely to be 'chaos, conflict and mass migration'......