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Water Scarcity and Rioting: Disaggregated Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa

Almer, Christian and Laurent-Lucchetti, Jérémy and Oechslin, Manuel (2015): Water Scarcity and Rioting: Disaggregated Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa.

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It is often purported that unusually dry conditions provoke riots by intensifying the competition for water. The present paper explores this hypothesis, using data from Sub-Saharan Africa. We rely on monthly data at the cell level (0.5x0.5 degrees), an approach that is tailored to the fact that riots are short-lived and local events. Using a drought index to proxy for deviations of the actual climatic water balance from the normal one, we find that a one-standard-deviation fall in the index (signaling drier conditions) raises the likelihood of a riot in a given cell and month by 8.5 percent. We further observe that the effect of unusual dryness is substantially larger in cells that combine a low supply of blue water with significant agricultural activity, a finding that supports the relevance of the water-competition mechanism.

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