Nomadic life ending because of climate change?

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Nomadic life ending because of climate change?

By Tom Hart

People in cities are often afraid of, and fascinated by, nomads writes Tom Hart.

Maybe there’s a good reason for the fear: nomads have been very powerful. Genghis Khan, (the 13th century emperor who united nomadic tribes and started the Mongol Empire) made sure everyone was afraid when they saw him coming.

And fascination, too: nomads brought strange things to sell and stories of life outside the cities. When people get tired of taxes, offices and buying expensive houses, they like the idea of living in a tent and hunting.

But that changes when they first get frostbite from the cold.

And this could explain why people pay so much money to have a holiday in a yurt (nomad tent).

Modern cities have tried to stop the nomadic life. This life doesn’t fit well with the idea of owning big areas of land and having an organized country.

City life has not been able to stop nomads. But climate change might. Now most countries accept the nomadic life. It is ironic that now nomads might not be able to live their life any more.

Climate change will reduce the food and water that animals need. Nomads rely on this. Climate change will also affect where the diseases are on common migration routes.

‘Droughts have been always [been] part of nomadic life. For centuries, nomads have made different plans to live with droughts by moving their animals at different times to different places. They have always shared their ideas and adapted the animals,’ says Birgit Müller from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. She has done research on the effects of climate change on nomads.

It is difficult when nomads do not plan to reduce risk, she adds. ‘A very big problem is where farms get bigger and take over land that the nomads use for their animals. Many African governments eg. Ethiopia support large agricultural areas.

The government or aid agency might think some land is public land that no-one uses. But for nomads, it is an important reserve area for difficult times like drought. If farmers develop this land for agriculture, nomads can lose an important support and no one notices this.

Climate change alone is not enough to stop nomadic groups. Müller says there are many other things that are big problems for nomads: land-use conflicts and social change. Climate change is one more stress point.

‘I think the most important way to make people stronger to face climate change is to follow the example of the nomads and use their ideas. For example, people could deal with problems like drought by moving to a different area, and by having spare areas for animals in emergency times,’ says Müller.

‘Moving animals around is the best way to use land in very dry areas. National and international development should support this,’ she says.

One possible plan is for nomads to buy insurance for bad weather. A project at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi is looking at this.

The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research is also studying models that can predict the effects of climate change and help them change regulations.

‘We use these models not to predict, but to understand the side effects. We need to do this without bad effects on the vegetation and people,’ says Müller.

There is a story that when the Mongols took Baghdad in 1258, the River Tigris became black. This was the ink from books – the Mongols burned the books after they destroyed the library. This did not stop the development of industrial civilization.

And some of the modern technology might help the nomads of today survive.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).