How has climate change played a big role in the War in Syria

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The devastating civil war in Syria is attributed to a variety of complex interrelated factors ranging from religious and social political factors to climate change. As was the case in Darfur in 2007 where an ecological crisis arising from the changing climate was attributed to the conflict, recent studies find compelling evidence on the link between the Syrian civil war and the drought that has lasted for more than five years.

Persistent drought in Syria has been noted to impact negatively on the economy especially among the rural dwellers who rely on agriculture. With the government, unable to mitigate these negative impacts, many able-bodied citizens are argued to have migrated into the cities while a larger proportion of the population was subjected to abject poverty. While not all researchers allude to this theory, there is a growing consensus on the ability of climate change to aggravate human conflict and terrorism.

From 2006, Syria suffered its worst drought that led to the erosion of the economic health. With the drought affecting the Fertile Crescent within the Middle East region, this brought challenges on the availability and usage of fresh water in the country. Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences notes that water and climatic conditions are therefore directly related to the deterioration of the country’s economic conditions. Most significantly, the rising food prices led to draining of the people resources as a higher percentage of the individual’s income was spent on food consumption.

According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, global warming across the world has contributed to the social unrest in Syria as well as other countries such as sub-Saharan Africa. With the drought destroying agriculture, over 1.5 million people are estimate to have migrated into the cities. The influx of people in the cities on the other hand led to an increase in social stress in areas already struggling with refugees from other countries such as Iraq. The high cost of living due to the rising cost of food thus resulted into a full-blown violence amid little response from the government in arresting the situation.

The theory of conflict and climate change within this area has had a long history acerbated by water conflicts. This theory is supported by incidents of conflicts across the world where shortage of natural water has led to violence. It is worth noting that, conflicts are rarely attributed to a single cause but rather multiple interrelated factors. As such drier and hotter climate therefore becomes one among the many triggers of violence.

According to Rotman, recent research studies have found a correlation between warmer temperatures and an increase in risk of violent conflict across the world. For example, Rotman argues that temperature rise across sub-Saharan Africa have contributed to the civil wars within the past 30 years. In particular, the rising food prices in Egypt in 2001 played a key factor in fueling a revolution.

The ability of climate change to contribute to a conflict has been noted to be an ongoing practice. In a study by Von et al, way beyond 2006, economists attributed large scale changes in conflict, migration and regional disruption to higher temperatures. In a research by Solomon Hsiang, instances of civil war doubled around the tropics at a time when El Nino rains produced higher temperatures. This study became the first to make a correlation between global climate change and conflict. The authors argue that a rise in temperature above the normal range leads to a 20-30% increase in civil conflict.

The conflict and climate change theory thus explains the result of rising conflict in Syria where temperatures began to rise in 2007 and in particular within the northern parts. In area that mainly relies on agriculture, the persistent drought thus impacted negatively on the residents as well as the cities that relied on the Northern parts for food. Vikram notes that immigration into the cities especially among the rural people created a conflict due to scarcity of resources. For example, the increased population within the cities is noted to have increased crime rates, overcrowding, inadequate housing as well as exerting pressure on the already strained government services. Compounded by lack of response by the government, Von et al notes that civil unrests began fueling a large scale civil war within the country.

Climate change within the region therefore increased the severity of the drought and subsequent crop failure that prompted people to migrate to the urban areas. With the world continuing to experience increases in greenhouse gas emissions, normal patterns of wind that contribute to rainfall within the middle east will keep on being disrupted. As a result, such areas that have entirely relied on agriculture will continue experiencing low rainfall as aridity increases. Researchers therefore note that, efforts on solving conflicts in such areas should put more emphasis on tackling the negative impacts of global warming.

In the future, global warming will be a significant strategic threat to world peace due to the negative impacts on nations’ economies. This is in particular due to the instability in the nature in providing food and water security as well as the disruption of economic activities. Mass migrations on the other hand will lead to deterioration of the existing resources in areas where these people migrate to. Conflict over basic resources such as water and food will therefore create an avenue for the expansion of extremist ideologies as well as conditions that foster terrorism.

Whereas some researchers are not convinced that climate change is directly related to wars, there however exist a consensus on the ability of climate change to exacerbate the main causes of wars. This is noted by the impacts of climate change in increasing inequality within the society, poverty, as well as poor governance, which are attributed to be the leading causes of civil wars in many countries. Rotman argues that climate change is likely to contribute to more instability in the future where such changes presents severe challenges that are beyond the response of the existing political systems.


While it is difficult to untangle climate change from other factors that have led to the civil war in Syria, the resultant drought has provided a better understanding of how climate change contribute to economic and social impacts that trigger social unrests. In particular, rising temperatures affects labor productivity as well as agriculture. The extent of unabated climate change in the future will lead to reduced global economic output especially in regions that rely on agriculture. As a result, civil unrests will likely arise as people fight over resources such as food and water. This therefore calls for the need to conflate politics with science in developing strategies that mitigate the impacts of global warming.

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  1. “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, AGRIS, 2015, no. 11.  EBSCOhost (accessed March 8, 2017).
  2. Rotman, ‘Hot and Violent’, MIT Technology Review119, no. 1, 2016, p 70-74. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 8, 2017).
  3. Vikram, ‘A major contributor to the Syrian conflict? Climate change’, PBS Newshour, 17 March 2016,
  4. U. Nina, M. Croicu, H. Fjelde, and H. Buhaug, ‘Civil conflict sensitivity to growing-season drought’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States Of America 113, 2016,no. 44: 12391. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File,    EBSCOhost (accessed March 8, 2017).
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