Katsuaki Terasawa, Yabelo District, Oromia National Regional State, Ethiopia, 2017.

Relationship-building Key to Reducing Conflict over Water and Grazing in Ethiopia

New research describes mutually reinforcing climate adaptation and peace-building initiatives
By Erin Martin

Motivated by more frequent droughts that have eroded their livelihoods and intensified food insecurity, competing groups of pastoralists in one area of Ethiopia are abandoning violence and working together to calm conflicts and adapt to changing conditions. 

In southern Oromia State in Ethiopia, competition for water and grazing for livestock in recent decades has led to frequent violence, with individual incidents leaving as many 50 people dead and 1,500 displaced. But in several districts of Borana, where a USAID-funded pilot project began work in 2014, community members are reporting a decline in conflict and increase in the use of local peace committees to manage the incidents that do occur.

This is among the key findings of a new report assessing the experience of the Peace Centers for Climate and Social Resilience (PCCSR) project. Implemented by the College of Law of Haramaya University, the project works with pastoralists and community leaders in Borana, tackling both community vulnerabilities to climate change and conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution.

At the January Adaptation Community Meeting, Jeffrey Stark, lead researcher for the report, explained that PCCSR’s most fundamental achievement is “success in catalyzing a shift in community members’ attitudes, helping them see the violence not as ethnic clashes but as criminal acts attributable to specific individuals.” Now, when tensions or conflict arise, pastoralists report incidents to the local peace committees, rather than resorting to retribution through physical violence or cattle theft.

Mr. Stark also attributes the project’s success to a structured, time-intensive and sequential approach that united various groups in a series of activities integrating conflict resolution and climate adaptation. Characterized by one participant as the competing groups “being yoked together,” specific activities included:

  • Community dialogues to identify both grievances and priorities 
  • Training on climate change and conflict resolution for community members, government officials and PCCSR staff
  • Systematic knowledge-sharing from zone to district and neighborhood levels 
  • Mobilization of women and youth structures to sustain the dialogue and knowledge sharing process
  • Reinvigoration of local peace committees
  • Collaborative adaptation activities such as construction of ponds and soil bunds to capture rainwater and bush thinning to promote rejuvenation of livestock rangelands.

A key motivator for collaboration, according to Mr. Stark, is the desperation of communities overwhelmed by the quickening pace of droughts in recent years. In a focus group discussion in El Waye district of Borana, one participant said that after no spring rain this year, and with the dry season approaching, “we have a great fear in our heads.”

In tandem with this fear is another stark outcome of the situation: many younger people in the area are rejecting pastoralism as a livelihood. These so-called pastoralist “dropouts” typically have limited education and skills, making it difficult to find stable, alternative income opportunities. Education and skills development is needed both for their economic empowerment as well as a hedge against additional further climate-driven conflict.

The assessment, which included meetings, interviews and focus group discussions with more than 100 people in Borana Zone, was led by USAID’s Adaptation, Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project and is available for download on Climatelinks.org.  

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Conflict and Governance, Disaster Risk Management

Erin Martin

Erin Martin has worked in international development for more than 20 years and has consulted on a dozen USAID projects including SERVIR, FEWS NET and ATLAS. 

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