Researchers claim that climate change was most likely the cause of the extreme drought that affected Syria between 2006 and 2009, which itself had an influence on the uprisings which began in 2011. The study states that the drought was the worst Syria has seen in modern times, and was part of a century-long trend towards warmer and drier conditions in the area, writes Henry Fountain for the Economic Times.
Drought in Syria due to changing weather patterns
Two factors are to blame for the drought: weaker winds that bring moisture from the Mediterranean and more evaporation caused by higher temperatures. Study lead author Colin P Kelley said he and his colleagues found that although the area is usually subject to periodic dry periods, “a drought this severe was two to three times more likely” as the region became increasingly arid.
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Kelley claims that there is no natural explanation for the trend, which has been noticed over the past 100 years. “The paper makes a strong case for the first link in their causal chain,” said meteorologist Martin P Hoerling, who previously studied the links between climate change and aridity in the area, “namely the human interference with the climate so as to increase drought likelihood in Syria.”
Subject to debate
Social scientists and other commentators have previously drawn links between drought and the Syrian conflict, and this latest paper claims that it “had a catalytic effect.”
Social stresses were increased as the extreme dryness and poor agricultural and water policies led to crop failures and the migration of up to 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas, and some studies claim that this was a factor in the uprising. Other factors such as the arrival of 1.5 million Iraqi refugees are also held responsible.
The links between climate change and conflict are the subject of debate in the academic community, and some have criticized the study.
“The evidence for the claim that this drought contributed to the outbreak of civil war in Syria is very speculative and not backed up by robust scientific evidence,” wrote Thomas Bernauer, a professor of political science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
The study adds weight to the argument that there is a link between the two phenomena, but it is a long way from settling the debate.