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Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought for the civil war

2015-09-16

There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. Century-long observed trends in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level pressure, supported by climate model results, strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region…

Source: Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought

This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2015, asserted that the record-setting drought in Syria from 2007 to 2010 was due to anthropogenic global warming, that is, human-caused increases in average temperatures.  Some 15% of the population of Syria migrated from the rural areas to the cities during the drought.  The “uprising” or civil war started the very next year when peaceful demonstrators were fired upon by government troops.  Even if the war had not caused millions of refugees, the changes in Syria’s climate might have forced emigration for survival.

Now, after four years of war, the Assad government, supported by Russia and Iran, has the upper hand in Damascus but has lost control over most of the country.  He uses the areas he doesn’t control as free-fire zones and indiscriminately bombs civilian targets.  The opposition to Assad is partially composed of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well as al-Qaeda affiliated groups.  After spending half a billion dollars, the US was able to claim only fifty-four trained opposition soldiers; the rest of the “moderate” opposition is barely surviving.

Finally, there has come an offer of talks between the US and Russian military.  If these two entities have the power to somehow stop the violence against Syrian civilians and re-orient the Syrian government towards attacking ISIS, then they should get together.

It is ironic that the military powers of the two governments at the highest level in the conflict could participate in talks that could lead to some improvement, if not actual peace.

If the conflict does not stop, the flow of refugees will only get worse. The Syrian government under Hafez al-Assad is responsible for the majority of the violence against civilians.  His motivation has been to protect his Alawite  religious minority from persecution by the majority Sunni population, although the persecution has mostly been going the other way until recently.  The presence of ISIS in this area is a reflection of the attitude that the Alawites are heretics who must be wiped out among some Sunni fanatics.

There is little chance that this conflict can be completely stopped, but there is every chance that Assad can be forced by pressure from Russia to stop bombing civilian areas.  This line of policy might be the best one to reduce civilian deaths in a difficult situation.

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