Fountain, H. March 2, 2015. Researchers Link Syrian Conflict to a Drought Made Worse by Climate Change. New York Times.
Drawing one of the strongest links yet between global warming and human conflict, researchers said Monday that an extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 was most likely due to climate change, and that the drought was a factor in the violent uprising that began there in 2011.
Researchers said the drought “had a catalytic effect.” They cited studies that showed that the extreme dryness, combined with other factors, including misguided agricultural and water-use policies of the Syrian government, caused crop failures that led to the migration of as many as 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas. This in turn added to social stresses that eventually resulted in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
What began as civil war has since escalated into a multifaceted conflict, with at least 200,000 deaths. The United Nations estimates that half of the country’s 22 million people have been affected, with more than six million having been internally displaced.
The drought was the worst in the country in modern times, and in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists laid the blame for it on a century-long trend toward warmer and drier conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean, rather than on natural climate variability.
The researchers said this trend matched computer simulations of how the region responds to increases in greenhouse-gas emissions, and appeared to be due to two factors: a weakening of winds that bring moisture-laden air from the Mediterranean and hotter temperatures that cause more evaporation.
Colin P. Kelley, the lead author of the study, said he and his colleagues found that while Syria and the rest of the region known as the Fertile Crescent were normally subject to periodic dry periods, “a drought this severe was two to three times more likely” because of the increasing aridity in the region.
Dr. Kelley, who did the research while at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and is now at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said there was no apparent natural cause for the warming and drying trend, which developed over the last 100 years, when humans’ effect on climate has been greatest.
The researchers said that there were many factors that contributed to the chaos, including the influx of 1.5 million refugees from Iraq, and that it was impossible to quantify the effect of any one event like a drought.
A working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote in 2014 that there was “justifiable common concern” that climate change increased the risk of armed conflict in certain circumstances.
The United States military has described climate change as a “threat multiplier” that may lead to greater instability in parts of the world.
My comment: Scientists believe that the southwest and central regions of the United States have an 85 percent chance of a mega-drought lasting 35 years or more between 2050 and 2100.
Lake Mead could dry up by 2021 (50% chance), and Lake Powell is in trouble too, along with the 8 million plus people who depend on them. While we were in Nevada in February 2015, we heard that the courts had prevented Las Vegas from claiming water elsewhere in the state.
Mass migrations are coming to your neighborhood soon….though communities in California out of potable drinking water haven’t moved because they can’t afford to.