NOAA concluded in 2011 that “human-caused climate change [is now] a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.” Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010. [Click to enlarge.]
by Francesco Femia & Caitlin Werrell, in a Center for Climate & Security repost [Addendum by Joe Romm]
Syria’s current social unrest is, in the most direct sense, a reaction to a brutal and out-of-touch regime and a response to the political wave of change that began in Tunisia early last year. However, that’s not the whole story. The past few years have seen a number of significant social, economic, environmental and climatic changes in Syria that have eroded the social contract between citizen and government in the country, have strengthened the case for the opposition movement, and irreparably damaged the legitimacy of the al-Assad regime. If the international community, and future policy-makers in Syria, are to address and resolve the drivers of unrest in the country, these changes will have to be better explored and exposed.
Out of the blue?
International pundits characterized the Syrian uprising as an “out of the blue” case in the Middle East - one that they didn’t see coming. Many analysts, right up to a few days prior to the first protests, predicted that Syria under al-Assad was “immune to the Arab Spring.” However, the seeds of social unrest were right there under the surface, if one looked closely. And not only were they there, they had been reported on, but largely ignored, in a number of forms.
Water shortages, crop-failure and displacement
From 2006-2011, up to 60% of Syria’s land experienced, in the terms of one expert, “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” According to a special case study from last year’s Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR), of the most vulnerable Syrians dependent on agriculture, particularly in the northeast governorate of Hassakeh (but also in the south), “nearly 75 percent … suffered total crop failure.” Herders in the northeast lost around 85% of their livestock, affecting 1.3 million people.
The human and economic costs are enormous. In 2009, the UN and IFRC reported that over 800,000 Syrians had lost their entire livelihood as a result of the droughts. By 2011, the aforementioned GAR report estimated that the number of Syrians who were left extremely “food insecure” by the droughts sat at about one million. The number of people driven into extreme poverty is even worse, with a UN report from last year estimating two to three million people affected.
This has led to a massive exodus of farmers, herders and agriculturally-dependent rural families from the countryside to the cities. Last January, it was reported that crop failures (particularly the Halaby pepper) just in the farming villages around the city of Aleppo, had led “200,000 rural villagers to leave for the cities.” In October 2010, the New York Times highlighted a UN estimate that 50,000 families migrated from rural areas just that year, “on top of the hundreds of thousands of people who fled in earlier years.” In context of Syrian cities coping with influxes of Iraqi refugees since the U.S. invasion in 2003, this has placed additional strains and tensions on an already stressed and disenfranchised population.
Climate change, natural resource mis-management, and demographics
The reasons for the collapse of Syria’s farmland are a complex interplay of variables, including climate change, natural resource mis-management, and demographic dynamics.