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The geography of conflictThe geography of conflict - The causes of conflict

This lesson looks at the causes of conflict, using Darfur as a case study.

Key questions

  • What are some of the main causes of conflict?
  • What are the main causes of the conflict in Darfur?
  • Where are future conflicts likely to take place?

Key concepts

  • Interdependence
  • Place
  • Space
  • Scale
  • Human processes

There are a number of key causes of conflict.

There are a number of different causes of conflict; however, these can largely be classified under a limited number of headings, namely land disputes, politics, religious and cultural differences and the distribution and use of resources. Most conflicts are caused by a combination of factors and it is very difficult, in most cases, to highlight dominant and less dominant causes.

Having said this, some conflicts tend to lean towards some causes more than others. The current war in Afghanistan is predominantly a result of conflicting ideologies and that the Taliban were protecting Osama bin Laden from the US. The Arab-Israeli conflict is mostly about territory with a little water resource conflict thrown in, whilst the war in Iraq was caused partly by conflicting ideologies and partly by the vast oil resources which Saddam Hussein controlled.

It has been suggested that in the future, as the population grows closer to its nine billion projection, a Malthusian crisis will take hold and it will be the depletion of resources which will be the main cause of war. A depletion which is likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

However, David Miliband, talking in 2007, suggested that climate change was more of a threat to nature than to peace and that rising sea levels, water scarcity and the loss of agricultural land represented a risk but would not cause conflict in themselves. "More often they aggravate tensions that are already there, and act in conjunction with other sources of instability from weak governance, existing armed conflicts, and existing ethnic or religious tensions."

For further information about the impact of climate change on conflict read the BBC News article Climate focus brings security or view the BBC's Mid-East: History of conflict video clip which discusses the initial causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Resource depletion and climate change have caused the conflict in Darfur.

However, it has been suggested by others that the conflict in Darfur, Sudan is the world's first climate change war. A generation ago, both Arabs and Africans coexisted with Africans allowing Arab herders to graze their livestock on the arid land with the livestock subsequently fertilizing the soil. However, since a major drought and famine in the 1980s, conflicts between the two groups have been sparked which formed the beginnings of the current conflict. With the landscape becoming ever more arid and water more scarce, rebels accused the government of ignoring the crisis. The government responded with their own militia and the conflict escalated. Since 2003 it is estimated that 300,000 have been killed and over 2.5 million have lost their homes and have fled the fighting.

For further information about the causes of conflict in Darfur read the Causes and solutions for Darfur article on the San Diego Union-Tribune website, or The Guardian newspapers Scorched article.

Downloads

Dots

Starter

The causes of war

Read the poem about the causes of war and draw a picture to illustrate each verse.

In pairs, discuss what you have each drawn. Can you explain why you have chosen your pictures?

The poem should give you an idea of the causes of war. If you like, you can write your own poem on this topic.

Dots

Main

Conflict in Darfur

Watch this clip from the BBC News website. It explains how climate change might cause conflict.

How might climate change be responsible for the current conflict in Darfur, Sudan?

Conflict in Darfur boardgame

In groups of four, play the Conflict in Darfur boardgame.

For this game you will need to download:

  • Instruction sheet
  • Board
  • Counters and water tokens
  • Flee or fight cards

Once you have finished playing the game, answer the questions on the Darfur boardgame questions PowerPoint slide.

Dots

Plenary

Future conflicts

Using your knowledge of the causes of conflict from this lesson, write a paragraph about where in the world you think future conflicts are likely to take place. Do not forget to give reasons for your answers. If you need some ideas, think back to the BBC News clip you watched earlier in the lesson. Watch it again if you need to.

Feedback to the rest of the class by writing some of your reasons on post-it notes and sticking them on a world map to show where you think they will occur.

The class could decide on post-it colour scheme for the different causes of conflict so that pattern really stands out on your world map. 

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