One of the precipitating causes of the war in Syria (no pun intended) was the increasing scarcity of water in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin as a result of climate change and the deliberate policies of weaponization of water supplies by Turkey and its neighbour states. Drought has had a firm grip on the region since 1998 and the recent dry spell is likely the driest period on record in 900 years and almost certainly the worst drought in 500 years.
The drought during 2005 caused 75 percent of Syria’s farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011, according to the United Nations. The collapse in crop yields forced as many as 1.5 million Syrians to migrate to urban centres, like Homs and Damascus. [i]
The projections for the region show a continued drying trend throughout the coming century as climate change contributes to a shift in circulation patterns. That means what’s happening there now could just be the start of more prolonged, more severe drought. In a region already wracked by water scarcity and conflict, more drying could ratchet up tension even further. [ii]
It was the continuing crisis over water which provided the backdrop to the Syrian Crisis. By 2011, drought-related crop failure in Syria had pushed up to 1.5 million displaced farmers to abandon their land; those displaced farmers became a wellspring of recruits for the Free Syrian Army and for such groups as the Islamic State (also called ISIS or Daesh) and al Qaeda. Testimonies gathered by reporters and activists in conflict zones suggested that the lack of government help during the drought was a central motivating factor in the anti-government rebellion in Syria. Moreover, a 2011 study shows that today’s rebel strongholds of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa were among the areas hardest hit by crop failure.