Over 2006 to 2010 a prolonged drought, unprecedented in modern documented history, caused a farming collapse in Northeastern Syria. Winter rainfall in the otherwise green & productive ‘Fertile Crescent’ decreased by at least a third in Syria (and up to 70 percent in Iraq).
In Syria, where an estimated 90 percent of fresh water is used for agriculture harvests failed – and due to necessary food imports the price of staple foods like wheat and barley doubled.
The farming collapse led to the migration of 1 to 1.5 million people from the countryside to larger cities. This in turn helped spark the Syrian uprising (early 2011), experts claim.
But what caused the drought?
A research group led by a University of California, Santa Barbara scientist say the answer is – to some extent – structural climate change. In their PNAS publication they write the chance of a similar drought occuring has increased by 2 to 3 times compared to earlier in the 20th century.
Shown below is both how the Syrian drought and raised temperature extremes of 2006-2010 were unprecedented in recorded history – and how the local climatic trend develops (drier, warmer):
Since 1931 Syrian winter rainfall (top graph) decreased by 13 percent on average. Meanwhile summer temperatures (second graph) are on a rising trend – aggravating the water problem en further drying out agricultural soils (third graph) due to increased evaporation. For further reading about that fourth graph see our special article about population rise as a possible driving factor to Arab Spring uprising.
Middle Eastern trend fits North African climate trend
The Syrian drought also fits in the trend of decreasing cereal and other agricultural productivity in North Africa – caused by an extending Walker Cell, and northward migration of the Sahara desert. All in all we see an area (a latitude) with rapid population rise, increasingly struggling to feed itself. If climate change is unabated, these zones of desertification could become source areas for very large streams of climate migrants.
© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org