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In Niger, rising temperatures mean barren fields — but fertile ground for terrorism

In the African Sahel, located between the Sahara Desert and the equator, the climate has long been inhospitable. But now rising temperatures have caused prolonged drought and unpredictable weather patterns, exacerbating food shortages, prompting migration and contributing to instability in countries already beset by crisis. Special correspondent Mike Cerre reports from Niger.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, again, staying on the African continent, we examine the impact of climate change in the region between the Sahara Desert and the equator. Rising temperatures have caused drought and hunger, prompting migration and contributing to instability.

    Special correspondent Mike Cerre reports from Niger.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Climate has always made life challenging here in Africa's Sahel region, between the Sahara Desert and the equator.

    While the industrialized world debates the future impact of a 1.5-to-2-degree Celsius temperature increase, most of Africa's Sahel countries have already passed through this climate change threshold. Many scientists believe it to be a tipping point for traditional life here.

  • Gernot Laganda:

    The Sahel has always been the battleground between men and the desert. So, people living in the Sahel have always lived in very precarious environments.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Gernot Laganda leads the World Food Program's climate risk reduction team. He knows how immediate climate risks are here.

  • Gernot Laganda:

    The weather patterns that people have been accustomed to over generations are becoming much more unpredictable.

  • Mike Cerre:

    More frequent and prolonged droughts and flash flooding from untimely and often extreme rainfall makes farming harder for these countries that depend mostly on agriculture.

    This sub-Sahara region from Somalia, Sudan in the east to Nigeria and Mali in West Africa, is home to the majority of the world's most severe hunger crises.

  • Gernot Laganda:

    For the WFP, climate change is a humanitarian issue. We are regularly called to respond to extreme food emergencies, food crises, that can be triggered by conflict, as much as climate-related disasters.

  • Mike Cerre:

    There is growing evidence of food insecurity becoming a major contributor to instability and armed conflicts here and in other places around the world.

  • Joshua Busby:

    Climate changes can undermine economic development. And low economic development is a well-associated risk factor for conflict.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Josh Busby, a research professor at the University of Texas, develops country risk assessment rankings for USAID And other international organizations. Based on recent climate, economic, political and stability conditions, several Sahel countries are in the top 10 of the world's least stable countries.

  • Joshua Busby:

    Because they're fragile governments that, when they're exposed to climate hazards and are subject to other kinds of security problems at the same time, they're ill-equipped to be able to handle those problems simultaneously.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Changing climate conditions are also contributing to the perfect storm of growing terrorist threats in Mali, Niger and Chad, where the American military has forward-deployed more troops and trainers than anywhere else in Africa.

  • Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser:

    The climate and environment challenges on the continent really do start to contribute to security challenges.

  • Mike Cerre:

    General Thomas Waldhauser, head of American military forces in Africa, and other senior military officials believe the increasing food security and migration problems are making it easier for terrorist groups to attract displaced young men.

  • Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser:

    Some of the groups in the Northern Mali-Niger area there, they leverage these challenges to recruit, because they really are after influence. And they want to maintain their livelihood.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Spikes in precipitation, both too much and too little, which are commonly associated with changing climate conditions, can be directly correlated with spikes in migration. Combine that with the Sahel's dependence on agriculture and its chronic problems with poverty, population growth and lack of any real infrastructure for dealing with these issues, more people who depend on the land to live have no other choice than to leave.

    Thierno Diallo and his family had always been farmers, until the changing climate forced him to leave. Like other young men unable to support themselves or their families, he was willing to risk the treacherous desert crossing to North Africa, and across the Mediterranean in search of work, now that agriculture was no longer an option.

  • Ely Keita:

    Dying in the ocean is not something that I fear. They are not fearful of that, because they have that in their mind that: I'm already dead. Why would I fear death anymore?

  • Mike Cerre:

    Ely Keita, the country director in Niger for CARE International, has seen communities abandoned and armed conflicts erupt between farmers and herders all competing for scarcer usable land.

    An estimated 300,000 people throughout out the Sahel have been displaced. Thierno Diallo made it as far north as Algeria, before being sent back to Niger, along with these other young men, now stranded in this International Organization for Migration facility in Agadez, Niger, waiting to be repatriated by their respective countries.

    The U.N. organization is also teaching Thierno and other migrants more resilient farming practices to make it possible for them to return to farming in their home countries.

  • Man:

    People need to adopt new techniques for farming. They need to adopt new ways of living their lives, so that they can adapt to the reality of climate change.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Unable to change the climate or generate enough aid for dealing with growing humanitarian crises, major humanitarian groups like the World Food Program and CARE are working with local farmers to make their fields and crops more drought- and flood-resistant.

    They are developing new seed stocks for shorter and more erratic growing seasons.

  • Ely Keita:

    For them to be able to get the seeds and farming inputs that they need, CARE has organized them, especially the women, into village saving and loan association groups, where they save at a certain time of the year and start lending to each other from that savings for small, small loans that they pay back.

  • Gernot Laganda:

    I think one of the most effective solutions to help local communities adapt to climate change is to help organize small holder farmers into groups that have access to finance, that have access to technology, that have access to know-how.

  • Joshua Busby:

    The future climate hazards may be well outside the experience that they have that they have seen before. And so the kinds of humanitarian emergencies that are familiar to us might be even greater than what we have seen in the past.

  • Ely Keita:

    There are some people who are already living the impact of climate change. It's not something 50 years down the road. It's here with us.

  • Mike Cerre:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," Mike Cerre in Africa's Sahel region.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we continue our reporting on climate change tomorrow with our series Warnings From Antarctica. It will explore the impact of tourism on the continent at the end of the Earth.

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