Water Security: Drought Called a Factor in Syria’s Uprising

פורסם: 14 בספט׳ 2013, 6:33 על ידי: Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 19 בספט׳ 2013, 9:32 ]

Water resources and how they are managed impact almost all aspects of society and the economy, in particular health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry, and the functioning of ecosystems. Under present climate variability, water stress is already high, particularly in many developing countries, and climate change adds even more urgency for action. Without improved water resources management, the progress towards poverty reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development in all its economic, social and environ- mental dimensions, will be jeopardized. UN Water.Org

Posted by , September 12, 2013

Drought Called a Factor in Syria’s Uprising

Two-and-a-half years ago, a group of children in the Syrian city of Dara’a triggered one of the bloodiest conflicts in the 21st century when they painted some anti-government graffiti on a school wall in the ancient farming community.

The children were quickly detained and tortured, leading to widespread protests in the city that were met with harsh repression. The government’s brutal response led to a nationwide revolt that has now stagnated into a bloody stalemate with no end in sight. Dara’a is a mostly agricultural community in a region that has suffered an unrelenting drought since 2001.

Some experts say it’s no accident that Syria’s civil war began there. In 2009, the United Nations and other international agencies found that more than 800,000 Syrian farmers and herdsmen had been forced off their lands because of drought, with many crowding into cities like Dara’a. Additionally, thousands of illegal wells were drilled, drastically lowering the nation’s ground water supply.

The effects of drought and water-mismanagement in the region were highlighted recently by the publication of U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration satellite photographs of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Faced with drought, Syrians crowding these farm towns started drilling deeper for fresh water in the aquifer beneath them. Experts estimated that 60 percent of the aquifer has been lost due to illegal drilling, and a total of 177 million-acre feet of water disappeared, the second-largest aquifer loss in the world.

Satellite images reveal depth of drought

“I actually don’t think the aquifer will recover,” said , a hydrologist and leader of a study of seven years of NASA satellite data that show the Tigris-Euphrates region second only to India in the speed of its groundwater loss. “The Middle East is the dry part of the world and now that climate change is expressing itself very clearly, one of the things that we will see is that the dry parts of the world will get drier,” Famiglietti said. “Think of it as a persistent prolonged drought.” Because of climate change, the Tigris-Euphrates basin and the underground reservoirs of fresh water that once nurtured this fragile desert climate may not be able to sustain future populations in Syria.

It all started in Dara’a

The Syrian uprising was unlike political uprisings in Egypt, Yemen and other Middle East states, all of which started in the major cities. Dara’a was a regional agricultural hub with a pre-war population of 90,000. “Dara’a is the capital of an agricultural province, one of the most significant agricultural areas,” said Syria scholar Ayel Zisser of the Tel Aviv University. Their protests spread from Dara’s at Syria’s southern border to communities north of Aleppo and across the vast al-Jazira plain that stretches from the banks of the Euphrates to the banks of the Tigris. The pattern of the protests followed the rural path of the drought. “Even until today it’s been a peasant revolt isolated to the rural areas,” Zisser said. Assad’s economic reforms focused on global trade that benefitted the urban middle classes, thereby worsening the plight of Syria’s farmers, according to Zisser. The reforms were implemented “at the expense of the population in the rural areas, where they abolished agricultural subsidies,” Zisser said. “The regime turned its back to the rural population and the result was the revolt.” Like other Middle Eastern countries, Syria’s population has increased dramatically in recent years. “This is the first time in history that in less than 30 years, the Middle East doubled its population. It was between 1950 and 1980,” said Arnon Soffer, a demographer and the head of research at the University of Haifa and Israel’s National Defense College. “If that’s not tragic enough, from 1980 to 2010 – another 30 years – this crazy area doubled itself again,” Soffer added. Even before climate change threatened less rainfall in the region, water was a hot-button issue. In 1973, Iraq rushed troops to Syria’s eastern border as upstream, Syria began filling its Tagba Dam with Euphrates water to create Lake Assad.

The real water power in basin is Turkey.

Syria and Iraq depend on the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris, which flow from southern Turkey, for most of their agricultural irrigation. Farmers on both sides of the border also rely on traditional irrigation techniques that waste water resources. “Turks use most of the water of the Euphrates,” said Bogochan Benli, a water expert who worked in the Aleppo labs of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas during the years of the drought. Aleppo and many northern Syrian communities traditionally also depended on the Euphrates for their drinking water, he said. In Turkey, Benli said since the 1970’s the Southeastern Anatolia project has created employment for a poor and arid region of Turkey. It’s the main income-generator for the region and their water policy “will never change.” The project is an ambitious development of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants to irrigate and provide electrical power in nine Turkish provinces. The centerpiece is the massive Ataturk Dam and hydroelectric power plant that opened in 1990. According Arnon Soffer of Haifa University a few months before the dam was completed, then-Turkish president Turgut Ozal told Syria’s president, Hafez al-Assad, “Now you can wash yourself for the next two months, but I will close the Ataturk Dam and I will dry the Euphrates River.” He said Ozal’s abrupt pronouncement to Hafez Assad was devastating to Syria. “The Euphrates became a wadi, a dry valley,” said Soffer. Assad Dam closed for a month. “The dam was empty and there was no electricity. Even up to today, I could not imagine how they could recover.” Though Turkey and its downstream neighbors have discussed sharing their waters, Turkey has not signed away any rights. With little or no regional cooperation on water issues, experts fear that the turmoil now wrecking Syria could be a prelude to other conflicts in the region. More

While there is still no regional conflict in the region there is a compelling need for an international organization to start a regional conversation on trans-boundary rivers. Rivers, although they may, as in this case originate in Turkey, are a critical element of the global commons, and must be fairly shared by all riverine states. We are no longer in colonial times where for instance Egypt got the lions share of the Nile, leaving very little for Ethiopia. Syria is already in turmoil, Turkey is simmering with protests, Jordan is being blown to and froe and Israel may go off on a tangent at any time. Let us therefore address this issue immediately.

Source: watersecurity.blogspot.se

How Could A Drought Spark A Civil War?

by NPR Staff, September 08, 2013
Farmers ride in their tractor in the drought-hit region of Hasaka in northeastern Syria on June 17, 2010.

Farmers ride in their tractor in the drought-hit region of Hasaka in northeastern Syria on June 17, 2010.

Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

The background of the Syrian conflict can seem obscure to outsiders, but the spark that started it all is often traced back to the city of Dara'a, in February of 2011.

A group of young people writing Arab Spring protest slogans on a wall are arrested and beaten.

"When that news broke there was a massive demonstration on the street, and that was the first spark one can call of the Syrian uprising," Nayan Chanda tells NPR's Jacki Lyden.

But long before a single shot was fired in Syria, there was drought in Dara'a, laying the groundwork for social unrest.

Chanda, the editor-in-chief the YaleGlobal Online Magazine, argues that there are many ways to look at civil war: ethnic factions, economic divides and religions differences. But increasingly, he says that we should also look at climate change as a factor.

A Free Syrian Army fighter stands on a damaged military tank in Zabadani, near Damascus on Sunday.

A Free Syrian Army fighter stands on a damaged military tank in Zabadani, near Damascus on Sunday.

AP Photo/The Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad

How Climate Breeds Conflict

Syria faced a devastating drought between 2006 and 2010, affecting its most fertile lands. The four years of drought turned almost 60 percent of the nation into a desert. It was a huge amount of land that could not support cattle trading and herding, Chanda says, killing about 80 percent of cattle by 2009.

The water shortage and drought drove up unemployment, in agriculture. So hundreds of thousands of farmers, Chanda says, went to where they might find work: the cities. He says they were met "almost callously" by the Syrian government.

"People felt that they were being discriminated against and not being helped, perhaps because of the sect they belong to," Chanda says. "I think this dislocation and the dire condition created the ... first spark in Dara'a."

On top of that, the government began awarding the right to drill wells for water on a sectarian basis. So when the rains dried up, desperate people began digging illegal wells, which also became a political act.

Chanda is not arguing that drought or climate change caused the civil war all on its own, but he does say it is a hugely important factor when looking at conflicts in developing countries.

"This internal migration taking place is going to happen more and more as this kind of climate catastrophe takes place," Chanda says. "[And] the internal migration started building the pressure inside the country, which then sort of exploded."

Chanda is interested in making links between global events, and more and more observers are including climate change into those connections.

The Case In Mali

The region of Africa known as the Sahel is a grassy band running coast to coast along the southern edge of the Sahara. It always has faced periods of drought, but now they're coming faster and faster.

"Instead of 10 years apart, they became five years apart, and now only a couple years apart," says Robert Piper, the United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel. "And that in turn is putting enormous stresses on what is already an incredibly fragile environment and a highly vulnerable population."

Add this to weak political institutions, ethnic and religious divides, and you have a recipe for conflict.

In January 2012, ethnic Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali, which is part of the Sahel, began an uprising against the government. Militants joined their campaign, eventually declaring it an independent Islamic state.

Ultimately, a coalition of West African and French military forces intervened to beat back the tide. Control of Northern Mali was restored, and a new government was elected. While Mali is tenuously quiet, Piper says millions of people in the Sahel region are still at risk.

"This is an enormous territory [and] these are borders that are uncontrolled," he says. "So there's a tremendous amount movement of people ... and trafficking. There's clear evidence that there's a problem that stretches across the region, it's not confined to northern Mali."

During the conflict, over 300,000 people in Mali fled their homes. They were fleeing war, and Chandra of YaleGlobal would call such people "climate refugees."

"Often in people's minds, climate refugees are those who leave their homes because of rising sea water," he says.

But the term will likely come up more often, in unexpected circumstances. Experts are increasingly drawing connections between climate change and the erosion the social contract between citizen and government, between the people and the land.

Related articles:
Documentary BBC - A History of Syria (2013)
- 59 minutes