A Climate for Conflict

by Nichole Sobecki / VII

Somalia has never been a forgiving place. A land of extreme temperatures and little rain, the country has faced cyclical droughts and periodic famines throughout the past century. But decades of civil war, coupled with the effects of climate change, have set the country on a path to environmental disaster. Home to a bloody Islamist insurgency that is arguably the world’s first climate war, Somalia is grappling with rapid desertification, increasingly erratic rainfall, and the destruction of coastal waters by foreign fishing fleets.

"With this weather pattern, Somalia or Somalis will not survive.
Maybe the land, a piece of desert called Somalia, will exist on the map of the world, but Somalis cannot survive."

Fatima Jibrell, a Somali-American environmental activist

The People

This work tells the stories of people struggling to cope with a changing​ environment: the camel herder who went to war with neighbors over pasture and water, the elder struggling to adapt as his community’s land erodes around them, the fishermen lured by piracy when they could no longer make a​ ​living at sea.

The Land

As one of the places hardest hit on the planet by climate change, Somalia is the canary in the coalmine for the rest of us. In a generation parts of the country have gone from being semi-arid to desert, fueling conflict and pushing communities to the brink.

The Archive

In the 1970s and 80s an intrepid team of scientists – working with American funding and Soviet maps at the height of the Cold War – carried out the most comprehensive land survey of Somalia ever completed. Under the auspices of the National Range Agency in Mogadishu, at the time the most well-funded Somali government agency, they crisscrossed the country by Land Rover and bush plane photographing and studying the environment at more than a thousand sites.

In 2016 I returned to many of those sites and rephotographed them to understand how Somalia's environment is being reshaped.


The Film

This 15-minute vérité documentary , co-directed with Laura Heaton, brings to life the relationship between climate change and conflict through moving personal stories. Narrated by three Somali environmental experts, the film features five characters whose plights each shed light on a distinct aspect of their changing environment.

This project was supported by The GroundTruth Project.

Nichole Sobecki

Nichole Sobecki is an American photographer and filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya. She aims to create photographs and films that demand consideration for the lives of those represented – their joys, challenges, and ultimately their humanity.

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