11 May 2021
  • Mali
  • Climate security practice
  • climate security
  • UN

Climate Security Practice Spotlight - UN Peacekeeping in Mali

Mali is experiencing a security crisis triggered by a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country in 2012. Against a backdrop of socio-economic exclusion, limited or corrupt state presence in peripheral areas, competition over natural resources and friction between ethnic and religious groups, the conflict continues to this day. In the centre of the country, ethnic groups including Fulani herders, Bozo fishermen and Dogon agriculturalists have, in the absence of state power, formed self-defence militias. Meanwhile, armed Jihadist groups have spread from the north of the country into the centre.

A UN intervention in the form of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was established in 2013. It is composed of more than 15,000 personnel, of whom 12,000 are troops – making it the second largest UN peacekeeping organisation. Its goal is re-establish state authority in the centre and north of the country by expelling armed elements and ensure the safety of civilians and human rights.

Over the years, several divisions within MINUSMA noted that climate change was transforming the security context within which they worked. As a result, many have implemented ad hoc climate security practices in order to try and improve the security situation on the ground.

Civil Affairs Division (CAD)

The Civil Affairs Division often has discussions with Malians over the why conflict occurs and how it can be prevented. Climate change, along with population growth, regularly crops up in these discussions. CAD works on addressing these concerns. For example, they work with land commissions to manage conflict, chiefly between farmers and herders, that arises from the increasingly unpredictable seasonal changes associated with climate change. It has also worked with local communities to implement climate change mitigation projects like the planting of trees and setting up community environmental protection groups.

Office of Stabilisation and Early Recovery

The Office of Stabilisation and Early Recovery manages the financing mechanisms for Quick Impact Projects (QIPs), which are short term projects aimed at meeting the priority needs of local populations and building support for MINUSMA and the peace process. Many QIPs end up as responses to climate change. For example, engineers have worked on building a dam to prevent future flooding in Kidal. Smaller projects like drilling wells and building solar pumps help to address water shortages. One of the larger lessons learned from QIP implementation is that a focus on their long-term impact needs to be incorporated into their planning. For example, well drilling may attract many people and livestock to the area, damaging the vegetation and leaving the original occupants worse off. The Office has only recently received instructions to account for the future impact of climate change on it’s projects.

Community Violence Reduction and the Mediation Unit

Several sections engage in community violence reduction (CVR) programmes, that attempt to defuse the conflict dynamic in stressed communities. The overarching aim is to sustain peace and often they address dynamics that are related to climate change. For example, a CVR project that defused conflicts related to water access in Kidal involved an old, poorly constructed hand powered water well that was insufficient for the community’s needs. The CVR project organised the community to build a solar powered well which better served people and livestock. Importantly, the CVR also organised a committee including all stakeholders which was responsible for the management of the well. The mediation unit undertakes similar work that seeks to reduce community violence. This ranges from supporting local governance structures in conflict mediation to dispute resolution between Fulani herders and Tuareg sedentary communities.

Overall MINUSMA follows the UN’s “Greening the Blue Helmets” programme which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of UN peacekeeping missions.

Altogether these efforts show how what began as a primarily military exercise by the UN has fanned out into a much wider effort that acknowledges the critical influence that climate change is having upon the conflict in Mali. Addressing the conflict must comprise a broader effort which attacks the root causes as well as the militants themselves.


This report is based on a much larger report called “Climate Related Security Risks and Peacebuilding in Mali” by SIPRI

More Climate Security Practices: Climate Security Practices Overview

Photo Credit: United Nations Photo/ Flickr