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Contemporary wars are concentrated in dryland environments (think Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and many others), yet little is known about their long-term environmental and social impacts. Drylands are the arid and semi-arid ecosystems of the planet – places with little rainfall or vegetation, and fragile soil systems. Every disturbance made by a tank or shell disrupts a delicate balance of life in ways that can last for not just decades, but generations.
People living in drylands have developed strategies for building resilience to periods of resource scarcity: nomadic, pastoral and agricultural societies have survived and even flourished within dryland environments for thousands of years. However, war can directly and indirectly push societies and the environment beyond the natural limits of their resilience. This is occurring in Somalia, with serious consequences for people and the environment.
The War Impacts on Dryland Environments and Social-Ecological Resilience in Somalia (WIDER-SOMA) project at the University of Bristol is exploring these impacts at multiple scales – molecular (DNA analysis); regional (mapping drought and desertification); community (working with the Bristol Somali diaspora to record memories and reflections on the drylands); and international (engaging with our partners at Royal United Services Institute, London and the Peace Institute, Oslo, to consider how these impacts affect geopolitics). The project aims to accumulate data and perspectives that can aid the development of resilience in the face of new challenges and contribute to conversations about the environmental impacts of conflict. Through this exhibition, we invite you to join those conversations.
Photography: Susan Shulman is an award-winning photo-journalist who has worked in major conflict zones around the world. Her work on Somalia exhibited here features the AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) peacekeeping forces, and people living in refugee camps as a result of conflict in the region.
Assorted text: WIDER-SOMA has worked with Bristol’s Somali Resource Centre and the Somali community to understand the effects of conflict on inhabitants of drylands, and diaspora communities. Excerpts of interviews with community members remind us of traditions of resilience, and the scale of new challenges facing those living in the drylands.
WIDER-SOMA project: the exhibition also features recent research by members of the project.
Project lead: Katerina Michaelides (Geography, Bristol)
Exhibition curator: Marianna Dudley (History, Bristol)
Nick Drake (Geography, King’s College London)
Sean Fox (Geography, Bristol)
Robert Francis (Geography, King’s College London)
Catherine Haenlein (Royal United Services Institute)
Eric Herring (Politics, Bristol)
Michael Rainsborough (War Studies, King’s College London)
Patricia Sanchez-Baracaldo (Geography, Bristol)
Paul Breeze (Geography, King’s College London)
Nathan Christmas (Geography, Bristol)
Andreas Forø Tollefsen (Peace Research Institute Oslo)
WIDER-SOMA is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund. The art commission is funded by the University of Bristol’s Cabot Innovation Fund.