Environment

Drought added to other stressors, evolved into open conflict in Syria: Study

Drought added to other stressors, evolved into open conflict in Syria: Study

Drought added to other stressors, evolved into open conflict in Syria: Study

More than two hundred thousand people have lost their lives thus far in Syrian uprising. More than two million people have been displaced from their houses and cities have started looking like ghost town.

No, it is not because of famine or drought. It is due to the rebellion of an oppressed population that has been tormented by Bashar al-Asad and his father who have ruled for decades with an iron hand.

But a latest study suggest that the armed struggle was caused in the first place by a record drought in one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

To be true, this part of the world is known as the cradle of civilization. The oldest languages took shape here and men and women slowly developed new methods of farming across the Euphrates plains besides in the proximity of Damascus and Aleppo.

india-climate-changeResearchers claim that behind the unprecedented rebellion, a record drought, stoked by ongoing manmade climate change may be the main reason. Researchers say the drought, the worst ever recorded in the region, destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. The conflict has since evolved into a complex multinational war that has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced millions. The study was published in the leading journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While talking about the recent study Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says, “We’re not saying the drought caused the war…We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.” A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars. Some researchers project that manmade global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so. And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water. The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

Scientists involved in the research claim that the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago. The region has always seen natural weather swings. But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10 percent reduction in wet-season precipitation. They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability.

If it is true, it must be the weirdest consequence of global warming. Global warming has had two effects, they say. First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season. Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch. The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable recordkeeping began. The researchers concluded that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

There are many reason for this conclusion. The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including sheer population growth-from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years. Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton. Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said coauthor Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs who did the economic and social components of the research.

While detailing the reasons authors claim “Rapid demographic change encourages instability…Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.” Solomon Hsiang, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley who studies climate and conflict, said the study is “the first scientific paper to make the case that human-caused climate change is already altering the risk of large-scale social unrest and violence.” Hsiang said this is not the first time the region has faced the issue: research by other scientists has suggested that the Akkadian Empire, spanning much of the Fertile Crescent about 4,200 years ago, likely collapsed during a multi-year drought.

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