Natural disasters may restrict available economic resources, which are critical for the society. For example decrease in agricultural production as a result of drought in a given country would not only limit access to food but would also result in extreme imbalance in income distribution. In such cases, the social balance of a nation may even be disrupted by inevitable consequences such as black market activity, smuggling and looting s. In the most extreme cases, such as the current Syrican conflict, all of this might event result in undesirable events like political, even military interventions.
Recently “National Academy of Sciences” (NAS) has published a report titled: “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought”. The publication is based on a survey of the relationship between climate change and the Syrian conflict. According to the report, during the periods of 1988-1993, 1998-2000 and 2005-2010, millions of farmers have migrated to urban regions due to the drought. This not only caused numbers of farmers reduction, but also led to an increase in the number of unemployed peasants in the cities. The social movement followed and resulted in the conflict of 2011 as the poor had more and more challenges accessing food due to continuous decline in agricultural production. The end result is 11 million internally displaced Syrians, 3.9 million of which are outside the country borders (Turkey-1.9 million, Lebanon-1.2 million, Jordan-0.6 million, etc.). Before the crisis, Syria had a healthy middle-income population. Currently half of the country’s population is living below the hunger threshold.
The NAS report is not the only publication drawing attention to the role of climate change on the Syrian conflict. A paper from Pacific Institute” (Oakland, California) titled “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria” reports the following: “The devastating civil war that began in Syria in March 2011 is the result of complex interrelated factors. The focus of the conflict is regime change, but the triggers include a broad set of religious and sociopolitical factors, the erosion of the economic health of the country, a wave of political reform sweeping over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Levant region and challenges associated with climate variability and change and the availability and use of freshwater”.
At first sight, we may assume that the Syrian Civil War started as a political uprising in the context of the violent protests for democracy, during the Arab Spring. Causes for discontent included a poor economic environment, political corruption, and human rights violations. However as the above mentioned NAS study concludes the anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change was a major contributing factor in setting the stage for civil unrest.
Historically Syria sits in a geographic belt that is relatively moist and fertile, as “Fertile Crescent” describes. However during the 2005-2010 periods, country was hit by multiyear drought. The above NAS graph shows the annual temperatures and long-term climate trends in Syria. As the red line indicates, how the annual temperature increased from 14.5 C0 in 1900 to 15.5 C0 in 2000.
NAS’s report notes that a 2013 analysis of 60 different studies concludes that climate change was linked to conflict over a large span of time periods and geography. The report also predicts a not-so-bright future for Syria from a climate standpoint.
Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan may also face an even more tenuous security situation in the coming decades. Actually Syrian’s agricultural production in 2014 was lover than 30% last two years.
The coauthor of the report, Dr. Kelley, a researcher at the University of California, indicates that the mismanagement of water sources was a cause of the recent droughts. Other contributing factors were not following aquifer (ground water) and not controlling the changes of plant patterns (from regular plants to more water needing cotton). A number of other administrations, like Saudi Arabia, took measures to improve water management to plan for the dangers of water shortage. In 2013 the Saudi Arabia government announced that starting from 2016; wheat production will not be allowed in the country .
The authors do not argue that global warming and drought are the only root causes for the Syrian crisis. However, they believe global warming is a critical contributing factor, in fact, probably the number one contributing factor to the situation.
Global warming is indeed a critical factor to consider especially in regions where climate projections are alarming. Countries in these regions should prioritize irrigation infrastructure investments. Improving new heat and drought tolerant varieties could be one of the most effective solutions in minimizing the negative effects of global warming.
Nazimi Acikgoz
Note: This analysis is a summary from a Turkish report (

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