News / Middle East

Drought Called a Factor in Syria’s Uprising

Adilla Finchaan, 50, and her husband, Ashore Mohammed, 60 walk their dried-up farmland in Iraq in this 2009 photograph. The Tigris-Euphrates region suffered consecutive years of drought.
Adilla Finchaan, 50, and her husband, Ashore Mohammed, 60 walk their dried-up farmland in Iraq in this 2009 photograph. The Tigris-Euphrates region suffered consecutive years of drought.
David Arnold
Two-and-a-half years ago, a group of children in the Syrian city of Dara’a triggered one of the bloodiest conflicts in the 21st century when they painted some anti-government graffiti on a school wall in the ancient farming community.
 
The children were quickly detained and tortured, leading to widespread protests in the city that were met with harsh repression.  The government’s brutal response led to a nationwide revolt that has now stagnated into a bloody stalemate with no end in sight. 
 
Dara’a is a mostly agricultural community in a region that has suffered an unrelenting drought since 2001. Some experts say it’s no accident that Syria’s civil war began there. 
 
In 2009, the United Nations and other international agencies found that more than 800,000 Syrian farmers and herdsmen had been forced off their lands because of drought, with many crowding into cities like Dara’a.  Additionally, thousands of illegal wells were drilled, drastically lowering the nation’s ground water supply.
 
The effects of drought and water-mismanagement in the region were highlighted recently by the publication of U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration satellite photographs of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. 
 
Faced with drought, Syrians crowding these farm towns started drilling deeper for fresh water in the aquifer beneath them. Experts estimated that 60 percent of the aquifer has been lost due to illegal drilling, and a total of 177 million-acre feet of water disappeared, the second-largest aquifer loss in the world.
 
Satellite images reveal depth of drought
 
“I actually don’t think the aquifer will recover,” said Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist and leader of a study of seven years of NASA satellite data that show the Tigris-Euphrates region second only to India in the speed of its groundwater loss.
 
“The Middle East is the dry part of the world and now that climate change is expressing itself very clearly, one of the things that we will see is that the dry parts of the world will get drier,” Famiglietti said.
 
“Think of it as a persistent prolonged drought.”
 
Because of climate change, the Tigris-Euphrates basin and the underground reservoirs of fresh water that once nurtured this fragile desert climate may not be able to sustain future populations in Syria.
 
It all started in Dara’a
 
The Syrian uprising was unlike political uprisings in Egypt, Yemen and other Middle East states, all of which started in the major cities. Dara’a was a regional agricultural hub with a pre-war population of 90,000.
 
“Dara’a is the capital of an agricultural province, one of the most significant agricultural areas,” said Syria scholar Ayel Zisser of the Tel Aviv University.
 
Their protests spread from Dara’s at Syria’s southern border to communities north of Aleppo and across the vast al-Jazira plain that stretches from the banks of the Euphrates to the banks of the Tigris. The pattern of the protests followed the rural path of the drought.
 
“Even until today it’s been a peasant revolt isolated to the rural areas,” Zisser said.
                     
Assad’s economic reforms focused on global trade that benefitted the urban middle classes, thereby worsening the plight of Syria’s farmers, according to Zisser.
 
The reforms were implemented “at the expense of the population in the rural areas, where they abolished agricultural subsidies,” Zisser said. “The regime turned its back to the rural population and the result was the revolt.”
 
Like other Middle Eastern countries, Syria’s population has increased dramatically in recent years.   
 
“This is the first time in history that in less than 30 years, the Middle East doubled its population. It was between 1950 and 1980,” said Arnon Soffer, a demographer and the head of research at the University of Haifa and Israel’s National Defense College. 
 
“If that’s not tragic enough, from 1980 to 2010 – another 30 years – this crazy area doubled itself again,” Soffer added. 
 
Even before climate change threatened less rainfall in the region, water was a hot-button issue.
 
In 1973, Iraq rushed troops to Syria’s eastern border as upstream, Syria began filling its Tagba Dam with Euphrates water to create Lake Assad.
 
The real water power in basin is Turkey.
 
Syria and Iraq depend on the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris, which flow from southern Turkey, for most of their agricultural irrigation. Farmers on both sides of the border also rely on traditional irrigation techniques that waste water resources.
 
“Turks use most of the water of the Euphrates,” said Bogochan Benli, a water expert who worked in the Aleppo labs of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas during the years of the drought. Aleppo and many northern Syrian communities traditionally also depended on the Euphrates for their drinking water, he said.
 
In Turkey, Benli said since the 1970’s the Southeastern Anatolia project has created employment for a poor and arid region of Turkey. It’s the main income-generator for the region and their water policy “will never change.” The project is an ambitious development of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants to irrigate and provide electrical power in nine Turkish provinces.
 
The centerpiece is the massive Ataturk Dam and hydroelectric power plant that opened in 1990. According Arnon Soffer of Haifa University a few months before the dam was completed, then-Turkish president Turgut Ozal told Syria’s president, Hafez al-Assad, “Now you can wash yourself for the next two months, but I will close the Ataturk Dam and I will dry the Euphrates River.”
 
He said Ozal’s abrupt pronouncement to Hafez Assad was devastating to Syria. “The Euphrates became a wadi, a dry valley,” said Soffer. Assad Dam closed for a month. “The dam was empty and there was no electricity. Even up to today, I could not imagine how they could recover.”
 
Though Turkey and its downstream neighbors have discussed sharing their waters, Turkey has not signed away any rights.
 
With little or no regional cooperation on water issues, experts fear that the turmoil now wrecking Syria could be a prelude to other conflicts in the region.

You May Like

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: sam sourian from: Ohio
August 25, 2013 12:12 PM
The Drought made the yearly income of The poor Syrian peasant $140 inviting hungry innocent children to protest in exercise of their minimal human right to free speech.At the same time The Assad Family fortune reached $140 Billions (with a B) .The Revolution for justice and Freedom was inevitable when the nails of children pulled during torture . Economics may have charged the gun ,but torture pulled the trigger .Please Do not blame the Drought .Put the Crime in its true context:Tyranny.


by: le van from: vietnam
August 22, 2013 11:42 AM
why does Russia support brutal president -Assad, support Iran? this is unacceptable .The US and Nato should lead the world. i think


by: John from: USA
August 21, 2013 9:25 PM
First the weather starts to change. Then food supplies suffer due to floods and drought. Then the divide between rich and poor grows...then you have civil unrest.

I suggest reading Lester Browns book "Plan B 4.0". Gives great in depth analysis of this.

http://clmtr.lt/cb/wvc0bJd


by: Farid Ghadry from: Potomac. MD
August 21, 2013 7:17 AM
Ridiculous claim. One year of drought does not trump forty years of oppression and economic deprivation.

In Response

by: John M from: Maryland
August 21, 2013 9:29 PM
So as people's livelihoods cannot support them and those in power use that as a way to clamp down on rights and power, people just relax and take it easy? When people feel cornered and stressed, they act out.

This type of thing has been happening throughout history and will continue.


by: Makakoa from: Arizona
August 20, 2013 3:44 PM
The peoples of nations from the beginning of civilization (pre-documented) have risen up against those in charge over social and economical (resources) issues. This story sheds no new light in the reasons behind the uprising, except to identify Turkey as the Country in control of the Water. The end of this issue is in the hands of the Turks, eventually they will be involved in a conflict over this issue with the Countries affected by there actions. I does not take a Scholar to see this. Wars are started by two people who have a disagreement which escalates until War is the only way to settle the argument. Us on the outside should have no part in the struggle, but only offer solutions of resolution to the parties involved.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid