This month will see the civil war in Syria reach
an inauspicious fourth birthday. Since the uprising in 2011,
220,000 people have been killed and almost
half the Syrian population have fled their homes.
Evidence suggests the conflict was triggered by
a complex mix of
social, political, economic and
environmental factors. But new research
finds that human-caused climate change could also have had an
The study, published in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests a
severe drought that began in 2006 was a catalyst for the conflict,
and that climate change has made such droughts in the region more
than twice as likely.
On 15th March 2011, Syrian security
fire on pro-democracy protesters in the southern
city of Dara'a, killing several people. The unrest that followed
spread throughout the country over the ensuing months, and
February 2012, Syria had descended into
study published last year found that a
multi-year drought contributed to food shortages, urban migration,
and unemployment in the run up to the conflict.
Now the new study says the drought had a
catalytic effect on the unrest in Syria, and human-caused climate
change has made the chances of such a severe drought between two
and three times more likely.
Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University
and co-author on the new study, explains:
"We're not saying
drought caused the war. We're saying that added to all the other
stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open
conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely
by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region."
Syria sits in a band of relatively moist and productive land in
the Middle East, known as the Fertile Crescent. But between 2006
and 2010, the region was hit by the worst multiyear drought
Syria gets almost all of its rain during its
six-month winter, from November to April. In 2007-08, winter
rainfall across Syria
fell by a third, with some areas receiving
no rain at all. The winter was the driest in the observed record,
the researchers say.
The decreasing rainfall (shown in the top graph
below) combined with rising temperatures (second graph) resulted in
a decline in soil moisture (third graph), the researchers say. This
had dramatic consequences for Syrian agriculture.