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Is climate change helping Al Qaeda find new recruits in the Sahel?


In this 2012 file photo, Aldaoula Banounassane, 20, cooks at the refugee camp in Yassan. She and her family arrived at the refugee camp after a three-day walk. The Sahel,  which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, been hit hard by a drought, high food prices and conflict. (AFP photo)

We’ve heard, for years, about the impact of climate change: rising sea levels, eroding coastlines, warmer temperatures, more extreme weather events.

We’ve also heard about how it triggers conflict.

Now, experts say climate change is also potentially “helping” Al Qaeda get new recruits.

A report in globalpost.com says it is a thing and it is happening.

In Africa’s Sahel region, an area where water scarcity has long forced people to move and triggered conflict, Al Qaeda is turning “helplessness and despair into anger and action,” says Drew Sloan of Opower, an energy efficiency company.

“If you give someone who feels small a gun, they stop feeling small,” he says in the interview. “If you give them a direction to point that gun, they stop feeling helpless.”  

The Sahel region is the belt between the Sahara desert and Africa’s resplendent rainforests. The Sahara is the world’s hottest desert and covers most of North Africa. It is now quietly moving south into Sahel, devouring land as it moves, triggering mass migrations and thousands of deaths.

A couple of years ago, The Guardian wrote an insightful piece on the instable Sahel region. Basically it said that an offshoot of Al Qaeda is “working to turn the whole of Africa’s Sahel region into a new Somalia” and that terrorist bases there pose a growing threat to security.

It was talking about Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and how the terrorist group has bases in many places in that strip called Sahel.

AQIM, said the story, was exploiting the instability — partially exacerbated by climate change — of the Sahel, spreading its influence “south from Algeria and raising the prospect of transcontinental link-ups with Boko Haram militant Islamists in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia.”  

In Mali’s bloody conflict last year, environmental factors played a role, experts have argued.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh


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