Did Climate Change Spark the War in Syria?

Could global warming have played a role in instigating the ongoing, and bloody, war that has been going on in Syria for nearly two years, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 70,000 and a million Syrians forced to flee from their homes, thousands to other countries?

“Unprecedented food price rises” were “fundamental triggers” for the Arab Spring, writes Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed in theGuardian. A 2008 global rice shortage led to a steep rise in prices, setting off food riots in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Indeed, just before the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, record high prices for dairy, meat, sugar and cereals were reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO predicts possible price increases this year due to limited grain stocks after 2012′s adverse weather (the heat wave that baked most of the U.S., ongoing droughts on Russia and Africa, floods in Pakistan). At the same time as the world’s population is growing and is predicted to keep doing so, food production around the world has been declining, with rice yields having fallen 10 to 20 percent in the past decade.

Climate Change and Social Instability

The current conflict in Syria illustrates how climate change can cause societal, civil and even political unrest, say the co-founders of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security, Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia, in an article onGrist. A recent series of essays (pdf) by the Center argues that the “Arab Spring is a textbook example of the link between climate change and social instability.”

A number of studies have shown that recent drought conditions occurring in coastal Mediterranean regions and in the Middle East are “directly related” to climate change. Droughts, floods and fluctuations in rainfall can “exacerbate other threats to national or international security” as variations in water availability affect people’s ability to grow food, with repercussions for energy production and a region’s infrastructure.

As Femia points out, prior to the start of protests in the southern agricultural region of Dera’a in 2011, Syria had been going through an “unprecedented drought.” Mismanagement of natural resources under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had already spurred a “mass exodus” of Syrians — many from agricultural areas — into urban centers. In fact, the U.N. has estimated that 800,000 Syrians saw the complete loss of their livelihoods due to the drought.

International security analysts had judged Syria to be a “generally stable country” that was actually “immune to social unrest and immune to the Arab Spring,” says Femia. The mass urban-to-rural migrations can be seen as one of a number of “stresses underneath the surface” that contributed to the current unrest in Syria. Other factors include economic issues in the cities themselves, some stemming from the arrival of refugees from Iraq after the U.S. invasion.

Did Climate Change Cause the End of an Ancient Empire?

A recentstudy of the fall of the ancient Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia (in the northeastern region of present-day Syria) more than 4,000 years ago offers a parallel to the situation in present-day Syria. Around 2200 B.C.E., archaeologists say that a drought led to people migrating to urban centers, to the government collapsing and to the eventual destruction of the powerful Akkadian empire. It’s a series of events closely recalling that of contemporary events in the region. Farmers in today’s Syria still rely heavily on rainfall for their livelihood just as their forebears in ancient Mesopotamia did.

The archaeologists base these conclusions on artifacts found in the region. While many tools dating back to before 2200 B.C.E. were made from obsidian from quarries far away in eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey), tools found after 2200 B.C.E. are only from two local sources. These findings suggest that trade had been severely disrupted after the empire collapsed, leading to an economic crisis.

Werrell and Femia emphasize that climate change is only one of many factors behind civil instability. But populations and certainly governments must be educated about this and sustainable water and energy infrastructures developed. The bloody conflict and the desperate humanitarian situation in Syria offer chilling testimony of what can happen if we overlook, or ignore, such a link.

Related Care2 Coverage

Desperate for Fuel, Syrians Chop Down National Forest

Rape of Women Used as a “Strategy” in Syrian War

The Mighty Pen: Creative Dissent in Syria


Photo from Thinkstock


Cynthia Blais
cynthia l3 years ago

A contributing factor. We should take andheed look at the drought here in USA. However there are many more factors such as greed, power, overpopulation, religious belief, lack of food: all contributing

Sarah Hill
Sarah H3 years ago

I'm not buying this one.

Food prices are going up because we are putting food into our gas tanks and the price of oil is sky rocketing because we won't drill our own!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W3 years ago

Maybe, but there are other reasons too.

Deanna R.
Deanna R3 years ago

No no no, climate change is not the cause. What a preposterous idea to pose. Yes, climate change is a problem on our planet. And the masses (the rest of us in developed nations) going along with it. There are other factors in play here, though as usual, the mainstream media will give no hints. Yes, we need to take better care of the earth, we need to change our dependence on fossil fuels to renewables, consume less (bike and walk more, hey it's good for the body and mind too), stop buying all the plastic crap and be a real stewards of this planet. Stop chopping down all the trees, they help clean our air. But climate change causing a civil war in Syria? Please! That makes no sense at all. As a few others on this post have already mentioned, stay with your heart. We do what is right when we stay connected with our hearts. We don't need fear mongering.

june t.
june t3 years ago

it is entirely possible that climate change is one of the causes.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta K3 years ago


Ron B.
Ron B3 years ago

Syria? Hey, we ain't seen nothin' yet when it comes to the ways that increasing global warming could adversely affect the human race. Try even more global warfare, water wars, mass migrations, mass starvation---and that's just with one species. I mourn the most for all of the other species that are going to suffer even more as human-caused global warming progresses.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

As some others here have said, as desertification increases, which is already occurring, there will be competition for food, grazing land and crop land. Just add that to the current causes of greed, religion, overpopulation and race and there you have it.

Ala Morales
Ala Morales3 years ago

What causes war is power, greed and control not necessary climatic change.

janice b.
jan b3 years ago

Maybe it's over-population that caused the war.