A Drought’s Impact on War

13 May 2022

Human civilization began from the heart of the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, throughout history, this vital region always had one key issue: water.  

Water brings life, and the lack of water becomes death. This problem continues, as seen in the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011 with the Arab Spring and continues today.

The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 and was deeply impacted by a long-lasting drought in the region; that was possibly the worst that Syria had seen in 900 years.  While droughts are a prevalent issue in the desert region of the Middle East, droughts are getting worse due to climate change. In an interview with Vice, Dr. Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA said that the Syrian drought was “far outside of natural climate cycles,” and that “we are starting to push the [climate] system outside of what it would normally do… That really points to climate change playing a role.”  

Syria was already being tested due to a significant influx of refugees from Iraq and was now under even more pressure. And that drought, exaggerated by the effects of climate change, was devastating to Syria. During the drought, 75% of farms failed and 85% of livestock died, according to the UN. According to Francesco Femia, president of the Center for Climate Security, this collapse of the Syrian agricultural system began to displace Syrians before the shooting began.  

This tragedy is not unique, unfortunately. There are many examples of this relationship between resource depletion, worsened due to climate change, and civil unrest and violence.  

Pope Francis spoke of this when he wrote in Laudato Si’, “climate change is a global problem with grave implications,” and “there has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.” And, as he and many others have lamented, these climate refugees are not protected under international conventions, which forced them to “bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever.”  

But what can we do? We can advocate for our governments to embrace climate protection policies and recognize climate refugee status. We can support organizations, such as JRS, which help those affected by war and conflict and natural devastation. We can pray when these disasters occur, we will be prepared and moved to help.  We can support climate refugees with a donation to JRS’s global work.