Thursday, 27 February 2014

Did Five Years of Drought Lead to Two Years of Revolution in Syria?

Syria drought/World Preservation Foundation 
There are obviously many reasons why civil war erupted in Syria, but one neglected factor has been the severe drought of 2006-2010 and water shortage, some argue. 
Over the past year, I have read a few newspapers articles making the connection between climate change and the war in Syria. In 2010, the UN warned that Syria's drought was affecting food security and had pushed 2-3 million people into “extreme poverty”.
Today, I have stumbled upon an interesting academic paper titled The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution” by Francesca de Châtel of Radboud University in the Netherlands.
 It was not the drought per se that caused the revolution, she wrote, “but rather the government’s failure to respond to the ensuing humanitarian crisis that formed one of the triggers of the uprising, feeding a discontent that had long been simmering in rural areas,” states.
Writing in Middle Eastern Studies, (published by Taylor & Francis), she says that the situation now facing Syria is “the culmination of 50 years of sustained mismanagement of water and land resources”. The “relentless drive to increase agricultural output and expand irrigated agriculture” blinded policy makers to the limits of the country’s resources; overgrazing caused rapid desertification; the cancellation of subsidies for diesel and fertiliser as part of a botched transition to a social-market economy increased rural poverty; and countless families abandoned their farms for the cities in search of work.
In short, the “ongoing failure to rationalize water use and enforce environmental and water use laws” has depleted resources and caused “growing disenfranchisement and discontent in Syria’s rural communities”.
The obvious question now is: If drought helped cause Syria’s war, will climate change bring more like it?  And the response is likely to be a resounding “yes”.  I had asked this very question to Andreas Kamm, secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council, a while ago and he had answered: There might be as many as 200 million people displaced in 2050 because of climate change, and that will create more conflict.”

Saturday, 15 February 2014

National security, conflicts threaten press freedom - 2014 Press Freedom Index

The 2014 Reporters Without Borders (RWB) World Press Freedom Index highlights the negative impact of conflicts and abusive interpretation of national security on freedom of information and its protagonists.  This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies, such as the US. 

“Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result,” says RWB report. 

Press freedom in the United States has suffered “one of the most significant declines” in the last year with the NSA surveillance scandal topping the list of wrongdoings. The US is now placed in 46th place out of 180 countries, a 13-place drop from last year. 

The United Kingdom ranks 33rd, losing three places from last year, because of “the disgraceful pressure it puton The Guardian newspaper and its detention of David Miranda, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner and assistant, for nine hours. 

“Both the US and UK authorities seem obsessed with hunting down whistleblowers instead of adopting legislation to rein in abusive surveillance practices that negate privacy, a democratic value cherished in both countries,” the report states.

The index also reflects the negative impact of armed conflicts on freedom of information and its actors. The world’s most dangerous country for journalists, Syria, is ranked 177th out of 180 countries, rubbing shoulders with the bottom three: Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, where freedom of information is non-existent.
At the top of the index is Finland (for the fourth year running), closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. 

The World Press Freedom Index is a reference tool based on seven criteria:
-the level of abuses,
-the extent of pluralism,
-media independence,
-the environment and self-censorship,
-the legislative framework,

For more information and to see the 3D map "freedom of the press worldwide", click