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Could the Syrian Conflict be a Symptom of Climate Change?

Could the Syrian Conflict be a Symptom of Climate Change?

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A lot has been said about the role of climate change in the Arab Spring; however the Syria conflict provides an in-depth look at the potential effects that climate change has had that led to the civil war. According to William Polk, the global warming induced droughts brought about tensions and wars in Syria starting back in 2006. Rainfall fell below 20 cm a year, making it difficult to irrigate and make productive use of their farms. However, according to the some, the argument that drought is a cause of the Syrian conflict is too simplistic.

While Middle Eastern countries do experience drought regularly,  the most recent drought happened in a warmer atmosphere, which allowed more water to be evaporated than normal.   An NOAA study corroborates this by reporting the drought Middle Eastern countries are experiencing is, in fact, worsened by climate change.

Furthermore, the problem has been exacerbated by poor allocation of precious resources by the government. The government continued to subsidize cotton and wheat farming which are water-intensive practices, leading to the use of ground water resources.  But soon those sources ran out and farmers were left to tap into aquifers to alleviate the stress from dwindling water supplies.

The results were dire. Farmers could no longer sustain themselves with meager crop yields and food prices soared, according an American Security Project report, “Climate Change, The Arab Spring and Food Prices.” Farmers were forced to abandon their farms and move into the dense cities. An estimated 600,000 farmers moved into heavily populated cities to compete for dwindling jobs and food.

As one can imagine, this added to an already volatile mix for Syria: the poor and hungry masses took to the streets and eventually ignited a civil war that continues on to this day. While charges of a corrupt government may have provided a pretense for rebels to unite against Al-Assad, it is clear that the climate change multiplied and accelerated the already existing threats.

According to NASA precipitation simulations, the future doesn’t look very good either. Much of the Middle East and North Africa will continue to experience severe droughts and longer dry spells.


The U.S. should begin to integrate an analysis of environmental security into its planning in order to analyze potential conflicts that arise from climate change. It may be prudent to view climate change and environmental issues as security issues on par with terrorism and proliferation and shift funds to find solutions that combat global warming and the attendant impacts.