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The geography of conflict - The impact of conflict on geography

The impact of conflict on geography

This lesson gives examples of how conflict has affected geography.

Key questions

  • How might conflict affect Geography?
  • How did the WWI and the Treaty of Versailles affect the geography of Europe?
  • What other conflicts have had an impact on political boundaries?

Key concepts

  • Interdependence
  • Place
  • Space
  • Scale
  • Human processes

There are many ways in which conflict can have an influence on Geography.

Conflict mainly impacts on human aspects of Geography although the impacts on the environment can also be identified.

The effects of conflict on population in terms of structure and migration are clear with young men in particular being caught up in conflict directly and many conflicts triggering mass migrations of all sectors of the population. The impacts on health and tend to be more long term with hospital services being disrupted and/or becoming overburdened. Whilst the level of development of a country is a result of many factors - health, education, wealth - it can also be impeded by conflict as services break down. The impact of conflict on development is covered in depth in lesson four, during which the impact of conflict on the development of Afghanistan is investigated.

There are many impacts on the environment which occur during conflict, and many of these are due to the mass migrations which are a direct result. For example, large refugee camps can become established which generate vast quantities of waste, water courses can become contaminated and disease is easily spread. In addition, the setting alight of oil rigs during the conflict in Iraq has led to air pollution which has had both a local and a more widespread effect on air quality. During the Vietnam War, the US used a powerful herbicide and defoliant which they codenamed ‘Agent Orange' to strip the foliage from forested areas, meaning that opposition soldiers were unable to hide there. The use of the chemical exposed many people to harmful dioxins, which can cause cancer and genetic defects.

Although the links between conflict and weather and climate are not obvious there are reports that the jet stream was put to deadly use by the Japanese in the Second World War as they used the fastest wind on earth to distribute bombs efficiently. It has also been suggested that the Lynmouth floods of 1952 may have been partially a result of cloud seeding experiments by the RAF. The theory is that rain can be artificially created and then used to disrupt surveillance operations during conflict.

Further information about the RAF's cloud seeding experiments in the context of the Lynmouth flood can be found on the BBC News website and also on the BBC site is a summary of the DVD Wild weather which explains the Japanese use of the jet stream in conflict.

One of the most important impacts of conflict on Geography is the altering of political boundaries to create new countries or regions which usually occurs after the conflict has ended and which frequently leads to further conflict as the decisions are disputed.

WWI and the Treaty of Versailles created new countries by changing the political boundaries of Europe.

The Treaty of Versailles is one such example, where political boundaries in Europe were redrawn as a result of the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles was the peace settlement signed after World War I and was put together by the ‘Big Three' leaders on the allied side (David Lloyd George (UK), Clemenceau (France) and Woodrow Wilson (USA)). They held Germany responsible for World War I and its consequences and the treaty imposed a number of territorial, military and financial restrictions on the country. The treaty was signed on June 28th 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, 20km south-west of Paris. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles a number of political boundaries were redrawn and it is estimated that Germany lost 13.5% of its 1914 territory - home to some 7 million people. It is argued that the controversial redistribution of territory incensed the German Nazis and contributed to the outbreak of World War II some 20 years later.

For further information about the Treaty of Versailles visit the History Learning Site or the First World War website.




How does conflict affect geography?

Take a look at the how does conflict affect geography PowerPoint presentation. It breaks geography down into six components.

How do you think conflict might impact on each of them?

Discuss your ideas as a class.



What was the Treaty of Versailles?

You may have studied the Treaty of Versailles in History. On a post-it note, write down anything that you already know about the Treaty. Share your knowledge with the rest of the class.

Similarities and differences

Study the similarities and differences maps of Europe before and after the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles. Annotate the maps to show the similarities and differences between them. You could use two different coloured pens - one for similarities and one for differences.

How did the borders of Europe change after the First World War?

Why did Anna fall asleep in Germany and wake up in Poland?

Study the cards. You are going to use them to solve the mystery: Why did Anna fall asleep in Germany and wake up in Poland?

First, divide the cards up into two piles: a pile of cards that you think are relevant to the question, and a pile of those that you do not think help you to answer it.

Use the cards to solve the mystery.

You now have some questions to answer using your findings: choose from hard or harder (use the writing frames).



How much have you learnt this lesson about the impact of conflict on geography? Test yourself with the true or false quiz.

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