This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Drought and the Syrian Crisis

If you've read the 12th edition of my text, or read my blog post from nearly two years ago, you'll be familiar with the argument that one of the likely causes of the current crisis in Syria was a major drought that sent a lot of farmers to cities looking for work. They were rebuffed and the rest, as they say, is history. A paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes even further, to suggest that the drought was likely caused by human-induced climate change. The New York Times covered the story.
The drought was the worst in the country in modern times, and in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists laid the blame for it on a century-long trend toward warmer and drier conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean, rather than on natural climate variability.
The researchers said this trend matched computer simulations of how the region responds to increases in greenhouse-gas emissions, and appeared to be due to two factors: a weakening of winds that bring moisture-laden air from the Mediterranean and hotter temperatures that cause more evaporation.
Colin P. Kelley, the lead author of the study, said he and his colleagues found that while Syria and the rest of the region known as the Fertile Crescent were normally subject to periodic dry periods, “a drought this severe was two to three times more likely” because of the increasing aridity in the region.
Some social scientists, policy makers and others have previously suggested that the drought played a role in the Syrian unrest, and the researchers addressed this as well, saying the drought “had a catalytic effect.” They cited studies that showed that the extreme dryness, combined with other factors, including misguided agricultural and water-use policies of the Syrian government, caused crop failures that led to the migration of as many as 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas. This in turn added to social stresses that eventually resulted in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
To be sure, the refugees from drought would not have had to elicit the kind of response that they did from President Assad of Syria. So, drought is not the immediate cause of the conflict. But demographic change--in this case an unwelcome influx of rural people into urban areas--is something that societies must always deal with. As it turned out, the Syrian government did not deal well with it, and the result has been a vastly larger disaster than the drought itself.

1 comment:

  1. John

    excellent point! The problem for the world is not simply "climate change" ... but rather the human response to the climate change.

    I see many arguments from the "disbelievers" of Climate Change who say that the Earth has been through many climate cycles. Well, in a way they are correct. The Earth has been hotter, and colder, in history. But we didn't go through those changes while 7.2 billion people were trying to eke out an existence on the planet's surface. And we darn sure didn't go through those changes - when we are expecting another 2.8 billion people to be added to the global population over the next 50 years or so!!!

    The Ultimate Challenge we are facing is "human nature". Will we cooperate, or kill ourselves in record numbers, over the next century? It is a critical question. I have to say, that with the demographics working against us and a tendency towards "psychological friction and aggression" .... the future looks rather serious.

    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA