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.”

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