Scientists have continued to warn us that climate change will end the world as we know it. We can see the smog in the sky, winters growing a little colder, and summers a tad hotter, but nothing seems to be significantly affecting our day-to-day life. However, a study that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences begins to change this perspective. The study establishes a link between climate change and the civil war in Syria by analyzing the drought, which devastated the region from 2006 to 2011.
The drought is the worst that has ever been recorded in the region and is estimated to have displaced over 1.5 million farmers. These farmers, who were forced to abandon their dry, barren land, migrated to urban centers, which were already overwhelmed with population growth from the arrival of Iraqi refugees. As a result, former farmers faced massive unemployment in overcrowded cities and rising food prices due to lack of supply. This environment reignited decades-old social and ethnic tensions, which ultimately erupted into the ongoing civil war.
It is clear that the drought is not the sole cause of the civil war in Syria. For example: California, which currently faces a devastating drought, has not become a warzone. However, in nations like Syria — where weak administrative policies are combined with a history of social and political dichotomies — it is entirely possible that an extreme drought caused by climate change could play a major role in inciting a conflict, as the study suggests.
I think it is important to take the analysis of water’s role in Syria’s civil war a step further. Given the discriminatory history of the Assad regime, I believe that it is prudent to question whether inequitable water policies implemented by the government during the drought could have contributed to fueling the conflict. The pattern of Assad’s policies, which tend to favor the Shia minority he is a member of over the nation’s Sunni majority, suggest that he provided more support Shias after the drought. If this is true, it could be possible to say that climate change — while it is certain to cause extreme weather events like the drought in Syria — does not have to be the cause of conflict if governments are cautious to implement smart and equitable resource policies in response.
It is very important that we begin seeking the answer to questions like this one, which attempt to find ways to prevent conflict in a world afflicted by climate change. Too many lives have already been lost in Syria. We must do everything possible to ensure more are not lost elsewhere for the same reason.
Lauren Gros is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. The Modern Lens appears every other Thursday on thehoya.com.