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Monday, May 20, 2013

Syrian Diagnosis: Too Many People and Too Little Water

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times is in Syria right now and his column yesterday laid out a more nuanced view of what's going on there than I had previously seen. The population of Syria has been doubling about every 20 years since the end of World War II, as death rates have dropped faster than fertility rates, as I have discussed before. This geometric increase has taken a serious toll on the country's resources, especially agriculture. This was exacerbated in 2000 when Assad took over the country from his father.
...he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.
Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized.
Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution.
 As Friedman notes, this relatively simple prescription for revolution is not, unfortunately, associated with an equally simple prescription for fixing the problem:
THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.
And he didn't even mention the Russians... 

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