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New Report: How Climate and Conflict Are Fragmenting Rural Syria

Reuters/Rodi Said

After more than a decade of war, one might be forgiven for assuming that Syrians had seen almost every form of suffering imaginable. But that’s not what it looks like in rural parts of the country, where miserly rains, new twists in the conflict, and a grimmer macroeconomic outlook turned 2021 into arguably the worst year of the war yet – as highlighted in a new report by the Center for Climate and Security’s Peter Schwartzstein, and PAX’s Wim Zwijnenburg

Climate-induced drought struck communities that had already exhausted many of their coping mechanisms. Additional falls in the value of the Syrian pound made imports of food, fodder, and agricultural inputs less affordable than ever. All this at a time of intensified hostilities due to increased Turkish military interventions and renewed Islamic State terror attacks, among other sources of violence, fueled unprecedented economic and security challenges across the northeast and other corners of the country.

In humanitarian terms, the fallout from these crises has been predictably bleak. Hunger, thirst, and health crises have proliferated. School attendance has reached new lows. With agriculture and pastoralism more important to the Syrian economy than any point since the early 1990s due to wartime industrial collapse, particularly in the traditionally agrarian northeast, almost no one, countryside dweller or not, has been spared the consequences of a year in which herd sizes fell by at least half in places, if not considerably more, and crop yields plummeted.

In a country already riven with multiple overlapping conflicts, this drought-centric chaos threatens to spill into additional instability of the kind that battered Syrians can ill-afford. Rural livestock rustling and other forms of crime are surging, which is contributing to mounting distrust among villagers and deteriorating social cohesion. Tensions between farmers and pastoralists are on the rise. There’s just not enough usable land or pasture to go around, and with more arms and fewer coherent conflict resolution tools in circulation, greater potential for that mismatch to translate into violence. Most immediately, the increasing failure of the ‘self-administration,’ which governs most of the northeast, to meet popular needs is contributing to a crisis of legitimacy that threatens to unsettle one of the few areas of relative calm within Syria.

As Russia expands its war on Ukraine, the situation in one of Moscow’s other zones of intervention provides a grim illustration of the environmental destruction and food insecurity these conflicts generally inflict.

To read more about this brewing, under-reported danger, please visit here to download the full report. The report is based on fieldwork conducted in northeast Syria in 2021, along with previous on-the-ground research and an array of remote sensing and humanitarian data.

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