One especially disturbing example of a major conflict, with complicated but direct connections to water, has developed over the past two years: the unraveling of Syria and the escalation of massive civil war there. Syria’s political dissolution is, like almost all conflicts, the result of complex and inter-related factors, in this case an especially repressive and unresponsive political regime, the erosion of the economic health of the country, and a wave of political reform sweeping over the entire Middle East and North Africa region. But in a detailed assessment, Femia and Werrell noted that factors related to drought, agricultural failure, water shortages, and water mismanagement have also played an important role in nurturing Syria’s “seeds of social unrest” and contributing to violence.
The article also goes on to explore the role of water infrastructure, and the targeting of that infrastructure, in the ensuing conflict between the al-Assad regime and opposing forces:
The conflict in Syria has also seen the targeting of water systems. During fighting around the city of Aleppo in the fall of 2012, the major pipeline delivering water to the city was badly damaged. In September the city of about three million people was suffering shortages of drinking water. In late November 2012, anti-Assad Syrian rebels overran government forces and captured the Tishrin hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates River after heavy clashes. The dam supplies several areas of Syria with electricity and is considered of major strategic importance to the Syrian regime. And in February 2013, anti-Assad forces captured the Tabqa/Al-Thawrah dam, which is the largest hydrodam in the country and provides much of the electricity to the city of Aleppo.
And the conflict is not only effecting water resources in Syria. As recently reported in the Washington Post, the influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan, for example, is placing great strains on that country’s water systems as well.
Gleick closes his post with a look at the worrying climate picture for Syria (and the broader Middle East and North Africa region), which is heavily informed by a groundbreaking NOAA study from 2011:
Indications for the future are not promising: the region faces challenges posed by growing populations, the lack of international agreements over shared water resources, poor water management, and the increasing risks of climate change. A research paper published in 2011 suggested that climate change was already beginning to influence long-term droughts in the region by reducing winter rainfall (see Figure 1). That study suggested that winter droughts are increasingly common and that human-caused climate change was playing a role. Martin Hoerling, one of the study authors stated “The magnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to be explained by natural variability alone.”
See Gleick’s full post for more.