Pristina - climate wars, nenNctepka and a dinner in Macedonia

November 21, 2017

Mon 20th - 10.5kms


I recall attending the obligatory fourth form social studies class on the horrors of the Kosovo war and the effects of Slobodan Milošević’s shocking ethnic cleansing campaign in the 90’s, however aside from this 50-minute introduction, my knowledge on this region has always been rather limited. In part I put this down to a lack of media coverage following Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, naturally leading me to believe the country was now relatively stable.


However, visiting Mitrovica, a town located in northern Kosovo, it was clear that deep-rooted tensions in the region remain. This essentially boils down to Serbia not recognising Kosovo as an independent state, despite recognition by over 80% of EU member states and a decision from the International Court of Justice determining that Kosovo’s declaration was legal


We were intending to run along the Ibar river, a river that splits the town along ethnic lines, dividing its Serb-dominated north and largely Albanian-populated south. However due to a hilarious misunderstanding between myself and the team at EasyJet, I was a casual 28 hours late meeting Estee in Pristina, which meant we could only afford a brief stopover in Mitrovica.


From the banks of the Ibar you can make out the remains of a wall that had been constructed alongside the river in December last year. The wall was erected by the Serbs under the guise of protection against future landslips, however the Pristina government alleged that the wall was an attempt to draw an ethnic line across the town and should be destroyed. 


Although the wall was destroyed in February, there have been a number of additional events that have led to heightened tensions within the divided town. Earlier this year, Serbia launched a new rail service between Belgrade and northern Kosovo. Following completion of the railway, the first train was launched towards the Kosovo border, painted with the slogan "Kosovo is Serbian" in twenty languages. This was seen by Kosovo as a deliberate provocation and prompted a tirade of threatening statements from both sides, with the Serbian president declaring that he’d be willing to send an army into Kosovo if necessary.


I also appeared to have missed this piece of news. However perhaps my attention was focussed on the other breaking news stories reported on that same month, such as this NZ Herald piece titled “Suspicious item found at Auckland beach”, which consisted of three lines, simply reassuring distressed readers that “upon closer inspection, police found the item to be a towel”.  


I’m not saying that the instability in Kosovo was caused by climate change. However, scientists have coined global warming a multiplier, a contributing factor, that when combined with volatile political situations can incite violent conflict and trigger war. Currently the majority of European countries are stable enough to withstand and respond to climate-related pressures and catastrophes however this loitering instability in the Balkans may make this region the exception. I could cite a number of examples of ethnic tensions and cross-border disputes around the globe that could intensify as a result of climate change; however, for fear that this will resemble one of my tedious POLS 301 essays (which were equally as ill-referenced), I will just mention three.




Firstly let’s consider Peru. The country has little experience of effective democracy, suffers occasional outbreaks of insurgency, and has border disputes with Chile and Ecuador (it seems that Ecuador has also caught on to the latest craze sweeping a chain of disgruntled nations and is currently constructing a wall along one part of the Ecuador-Peru border). Peru relies almost exclusively on glacier melt, from disappearing glaciers, for its freshwater supplies.


There is already limited freshwater available in the region, and mining contamination is continuing to affect this supply. According to one article released on behalf of International Alert, climate change could add to the existing situation, resulting in a complete depletion of water resources in the region. This combined with the noticeable border instability could lead to “chaos, conflict and mass migration”.




Yemen is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world and appears to be on the brink of running out of water altogether. Deadly confrontations over this most basic resource are a regular occurrence in the villages of Qaradh and Al-Marzouh, which sit alongside each other on Mt Saber. They are fighting over the water located in an ancient spring, a spring that is now at only 1/3 of its full capacity, and is one of the only sources of fresh water in the area. One of the survivors of this conflict was interviewed on National Geographic’s “Years of Living Dangerously” series and said that this conflict was in no way connected to politics or to the Muslim brotherhood – it was simply about water. Many appear to be throwing the dice to discern what is more probable  – the chance of death due to insufficient water; or the chance of death due to conflict. 




Finally, no article on climate wars would be complete without reference to the worst humanitarian crisis of all time – the Syrian civil war. Before the 2011 uprising, Syria was hit by a devastating and prolonged drought that lasted until just before the revolution. The civil war likely resulted from a number of factors, including government oppression and citizens feeling disenfranchised following decades of exploitation and mismanagement of environmental resources. However, scientists claim that drought was a likely contributor and that this drought was made worse due to climate change.



[Photo by Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters]


Climate change models only predicted this drier and warmer trend for Syria when they included human greenhouse gas emissions. The trend made such a severe drought in Syria more than twice as likely, it’s reported. The Al-Assad regime’s failure to prepare or respond in any way to the arid conditions exacerbated existing tensions and contributed to civil unrest.  


This blog is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The possibility of climate change contributing to wars or creating scenarios that give nations cause for increased tensions or dispute (for example northern nations racing to lay claim to untapped natural resources under dwindling polar ice caps, or an ice-less Arctic resulting in open shipping routes and additional human activity, thus posing new security challenges for Arctic nations) is immeasurable. As far back as 2007, Dan Smith released a report on behalf of International Alert that stated that conflict triggered by climate change is not a vague threat for coming years, it is already upon us, and as temperatures continue to rise, the future presents an ever-increasing risk of further climate conflict breaking out.

[This Newborn monument was unveiled on the day that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. This year, the N and the W were pushed over and the letters "O" and "ALLS" painted on the ground in front of sculpture. When you look at it from the air, you can see the slogan "NO WALLS". ]








To Estee who took time off work to come and run with me, and then ended up spending nearly two days in Kosovo by herself - thank you, thank you ,thank you. i couldn't have picked a better companion for a run in Kosovo and a dinner in Macedonia. 







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