Environmental Science Project Topics

A Critical Study on Climate Change, Water Conflict, and Human Security in the Bawku Area of Ghana





Climate change has been notably predicted by authors and organizations such as Burke, Miguel, Satyanath, Dykema, and Lobell (2009), Hsiang, Meng, and Cane (2011), and the United Nations Environmental Program [UNEP] (2011) to increase conflict, particularly in communities where poverty thrives, governance is weak, and insecurity is endemic. This connection has received a lot of attention, as shown by global leaders’ comments, media coverage, and book titles like Global Warring and Climate Conflict. The issue has not escaped the United Nations’ attention, and it has appeared in a number of international fora, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the European Security Strategy, and the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. Climate change is claimed to have had and will continue to have an impact on weather-related hazards, including an increase in risk linked with severe occurrences induced by fluctuation in rainfall or temperature. The most probable consequences are drought and/or flooding.

This issue has prompted a variety of study projects over the last several decades, with varying results. Some of the early results include the fact that climate change seems to have fuelled conflict and negatively impacted the security of many civilizations. Others have revealed that, while climate change can play a role in inciting conflict, such conclusions must be drawn with caution because conflicts are often the result of a complex web of interactions in which socioeconomic and political factors often outweigh the contributions of environmental factors (Benjaminsen, Alinon, Bugaug, & Buseth, 2012).

Despite these discoveries, further in-depth study using various methods will be required to improve one’s knowledge of the Climate-Water Security-Nexus and to grasp the precise impacts that climate change will have on human security and people’s livelihoods. The findings of such research will serve as a critical prescription for policymakers at the local, national, and international levels to adopt policies that react to climate change while also addressing conflict when appropriate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCfourth )’s and fifth assessment reports (AR4 and AR5) both agree on the unambiguous severe warming of the earth’s atmosphere. These findings were reached based on observations of increasing global air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level (IPCC, 2007, 2014). According to the study, these changes in the climatic system are mainly the result of anthropogenic causes – human production and consumption habits, which, in the end, release gaseous chemicals that are harmful to biotic life. For example, the AR5 says unequivocally that “it is very probable that more than half of the observed rise in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was driven by human increases in GHG concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings combined” (IPCC, 2014, p. 48). Similarly, the 2007 study of the body of independent experts said that since the 1750s, massive human influence on the planet has increased the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) (IPCC, 2007). Hulme (2016) recently stated in his book, Should Rich Nations Help the Poor?, that he did not mince words. statement “current economic development is dependent on methods that increase CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere” (IPCC, p. 93). He highlighted that this shift is defined by “energy-intensive industry, transportation, and agriculture; deforestation; cattle raising; and an energy-sparing lifestyle and consumption pattern.” Indeed, this rise in GHG concentrations is claimed to “far surpass pre-industrial levels estimated from ice cores spanning many thousands of years” (IPCC, p. 32 & 37).


The IPCC’s fourth and fifth assessment assessments both predict increasing global mean surface temperature. For example, while the AR4 predicts that if CO2 emissions continue at their current rate, global temperatures will rise from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius in the next century, the AR5 predicts that by the end of the twenty-first century (2081–2100), global mean temperature will have risen to between 0.3°C and 1.7°C. The obvious effects of this alleged rise in global temperature include, but are not limited to, drought, desertification, floods, illnesses, and sea level rise. Brown and Crawford (2009); Hulme (2016); IPCC (2014, 2007) According to Brown and Crawford, as well as Salehyan (2008), such climate change-induced difficulties would exacerbate already-existing environmental issues, with severe environmental implications for people and wildlife. Climate change, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (2011) and Werz and Conley (2012), could cause mass migrations out of severely affected areas and (violent) conflicts because it jeopardizes some basic human needs, as well as reduce governments’ ability to provide human welfare.

The security implications of climate change were among the discussions and controversies sparked by the IPCC’s release of the AR4. Though contentious, advances have been made in this field of study, including those by Bernauer, Böhmelt, and Koubi (2012), Gleditsch (2012), and Scheffran, Brzoska, Kominek, Link, and Schilling (2013). (2012). While one group of quantitative researchers has found some empirical evidence to indicate a relationship between climate change and violent conflict, others have found no evidence or just weak evidence (Gleditsch, Nords, & Salehyan, 2007; Maxwell & Reuveny, 2000). Several of these studies rely heavily on either linear or indirect models to draw assumptions or reach findings indicating climate change as either a direct or indirect cause of conflict (Forsyth & Schomerus, 2013).

In the case of the former, environmental change is said to directly lead to conflict, as advocated by Malthusian and/or Neo-Malthusian authors. Evidences in favor of this link have been developed out of the accepted idea that certain catastrophic environmental catastrophes have, to some degree, later socio-ecological ramifications. Davis (2001), for example, established a link between El Nino occurrences and famines in the late nineteenth century that killed millions of people across the tropics, and concluded that the event caused the famine as a result of drought. Diamond (2005) verified this when he stated that numerous occurrences of catastrophic societal upheaval and connects them to some environmental change, specifically climate change, as a cause of many. The indirect model, on the other hand, contends that, while climatic change is connected with conflict, social practices or institutions, as well as social vulnerability (or adaptive capacity), function as mediating variables (Forsyth & Schomerus, 2013). As a result, the model hypothesizes that climate change, along with existing inadequate institutions presiding over already vulnerable natural resources, and consumers’ incapacity to adapt adequately work as a “threat multiplier” (Brown & Crawford, 2009; Scheffran, 2011). Blackwell (2010), for example, acknowledges that climate change is the “underlying relationship” between poverty and conflict among pastoralists in the Greater Horn of Africa. Similarly, Temestgen (2010) discovered that environmental degradation, when combined with other social, political, and economic factors, ‘significantly increases’ the likelihood of conflict in the Horn of Africa. As a result, it is not surprising that these studies conclude that minimizing the potential physical impacts of climate change would not suffice; rather, boosting local adaptive ability and strengthening institutional regulations will aid in avoiding future conflicts.

However, as has always been the case in the perspectives of Barnett and Adger, the relationship between climate change and conflict has a direct or indirect impact on any facet of human security (Kloos, Gebert, & Rosenfeld, 2013). (2007). The scientists believe that the effects of climate change are concerning because climatic changes have produced large-scale social disturbances for numerous years. Burke et al. (2009), Hsiang et al. (2011), Klare (2001), and UNEP (2011) have discovered some links between global climate and climate change factors such as greater temperatures and/or less rainfall and conflict. Thus, climate change (any change in climate over time, whether caused by natural variability or human activity) is expected to have an impact on the security of several countries through changes in the hydrological cycle and the amount, quality, and variability of water resources (National Intelligence Council, 2008). On the one hand, Gehrig and Rogers (2009) say that the most obvious root cause of water-related conflict or violence is communities’ inability to use freshwater resources for any use. Again, major hydrological phenomena such as droughts or floods have been blamed for certain violent conflicts around the world (Carius, Dabelko, & Wolf, 2004; Swatuk & Wirkus, 2009; Swedish Water House, 2005; Thomasson, 2006; Turton, 2015; Ravenborg, 2004). According to these writers, the most of these water wars occur between nations, with only a handful occurring within states (intra-states), which are frequently regarded as low-intensity domestic conflict.

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The Upper East Region of Ghana is primarily drained by the rivers White Volta (which contributes an average of 20% of the inflow to Volta Lake on an annual basis) and Red Volta, as well as their tributaries such as Atankwidi (270 km2), Anayere (200 km2), Yarig-tanga, Abuokulaga, Tamne, and Yalebele (Namara, Horowitz, Nyamadi, & Barry, 2011). Aside from these rivers, groundwater is often extracted from boreholes or protected wells for most rural settlements as well as urban regions to complement urban water supply. As a result, the region is one of the least well-drained in Ghana, as well as the driest (hydro-climatic challenged zone) in the country. According to Antwi-Agyei, Dougill, and Stringer (2013) and Owusu and Weylen (2009), the UER, which falls within the Sudan Savannah, has been experiencing frequent droughts due to the region’s high variability in rainfall and temperature, and the Food and Agricultural Organization [FAO] (2007) indexing suggests that the area’s aridity index of 0.44 is on the high side. According to available data, the region has the highest frequency (37 percent) of drought occurrences (Dovie, 2010), and Bawku and its environs are regarded the driest part of the country (Dietz, Millar, Dittoh, Obeng, & Ofori-Sarpong, 2004).

As a result, the region, particularly the Bawku Area, has seen a fall in groundwater levels where hundreds of boreholes have been sunk since the mid-1970s to provide drinkable water to communities (Frenken, 2005). In the event of climate change, it is projected that groundwater levels will drop by 5 to 22 percent by 2020, and by 30 to 40 percent by 2050. (Ghana Statistical Service [GSS], 2012). Rainfall in this biological zone will continue to reduce in the future, as projected by Minia (2008) and Stanturf et al (2011). Minia, for example, forecasts rainfall losses of -1.1 percent in 2020, -6.7 percent in 2050, and -12.8 percent in 2080. These will have an impact on the supply of water for home and agricultural uses, forcing communities to adapt in any way they can.

Aside from the aforementioned hydro-climatic stressor (increased climate unpredictability as well as extreme events) encountered in this area, the Bawku Area is also regarded as one of the country’s hotspots of violent conflict (Kendie et al., 2014; Osei-Kufuor, et al., 2016). In particular, Osei-Kufuor et al reported in their Conflict, peace, and development: A spatio-thematic analysis of violent conflicts in Northern Ghana between 2007 and 2013 that in terms of frequency of conflict between 2007 and 2012, Bawku had recorded up to 25 violent conflicts, far more than any of the hotspots in northern Ghana’s eastern corridors. Again, the region is referred to be “the most notable hotspots in northern Ghana, accounting for around 30 conflicts,” although Bawku’s total is reported to be “disproportionately larger” (Osei-Kufuor et al. 2016). For decades, the Kusaasi and Mamprusi ethnic groups have been engaged in a violent struggle in Bawku. There are some political underpinnings to the fight as well (Kendie, 2010; Kendie et al, 2014; Noagah, 2013). Aside from the conflict’s acknowledged ethnic-political basis, it is difficult to rule out the involvement of natural resources in fomenting such conflicts. As a result, these two opposed players seek to assert their authority over the area’s resources. According to Kendie et al., dominance of access to scarce resources such as water by one group or community to the exclusion of others may result in violent disputes among users of the resource. It will thus be fascinating to explore how, when, and under what conditions climate-related stress phenomena and residents’ reaction to them will cause conflict in the area.


The main objective of the study was to investigate the relationship between climate change, water conflict and human security (“Climate-Water-Security nexus”) in the Bawku Area of Ghana. The specific objectives were to:

1.      Investigate water sources used by residents in the study area.

2.      Explore residents’ adaptive and/or mitigation mechanisms towards hydro- climatic events.

3.      Evaluate how water and climate-related hazards, exacerbate or mitigate conflict.

4.      Examine the social, economic and political factors that either exacerbate or mitigate conflict.


The following questions guide this study;

1. What water sources are used by residents in the study area?

2. What adaptive and/or mitigation mechanisms are employed by residents in events of hydro-climatic hazards?

3. How do water and climate-related hazards exacerbate or mitigate conflict?

4. How do social, economic and political factors exacerbate or mitigate conflict?


It is crucial to do a study like this because, despite Ghana’s recognition that climate change constitutes a threat to her progress, no particular mention of the phenomenon’s conflict potentials was made in the country’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) document (Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology [MEST], 2012). Thus, despite the fact that social development is a primary concern of the NCCP, all of the policy’s systemic pillars, including governance and coordination; capacity building; science, technology, and innovation; finance; international cooperation; information, communication, and education; monitoring and reporting (MEST), failed to make any explicit effort to discuss potential conflict issues associated with cl. As a result, this study will provide policy guidance for policymakers and other stakeholders in future policy creation or updating of existing policies on climate change to include conflict-related issues. Recognizing this truth will help to avoid future disputes and instead ensure corporation in any section of the country where water resources are abundant.


This study will only cover climate change, water conflict and human security in the Bawku area of Ghana.


The primary limitation of this study was the language barrier in between researcher and the participants of the study, particularly those from the chosen areas.


1. CLIMATE CHANGE: A shift in the condition of the climate that may be recognized (for example, using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or variability of its characteristics and that lasts for a protracted period of time, often decades or longer.

2. WATER CONFLICT: It is any circumstance in which water becomes the casus belli of a variety of unpleasant interactions, including minor verbal disagreement and chilly interstate relations, as well as hostile military activities or declarations of war.

3 HUMAN SECURITY: It is the situation where people and communities have the capacity to manage stresses to their needs, rights, and values.



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