Rabat - In a recent interview, Francesco Femia, the co-founder for the Center for Climate and Security, articulated the impact of climate change on the current crisis in Syria.
Rabat – In a recent interview, Francesco Femia, the co-founder for the Center for Climate and Security, articulated the impact of climate change on the current crisis in Syria.
The conflict in Syria built up over many years, before erupting in March 2011, when demonstrators took to the streets to protest the oppressive Assad regime and were met with violence by government security forces. Rebel groups formed and eventually reached the capital in 2012, demanding the resignation of President Assad.
This conflict has pitted the Sunni majority against the Alawites, a sect of Islam of which Assad is a member. The rise of the Islamic State has added another dimension of radicalism and terror to the conflict, which has displaced more than 4 million people according to BBC’s situation report. As of August 2015, the United Nations estimates the death toll to be 250,000.
Francesco Femia’s Center for Climate and Security is a think tank comprised of international authorities from the military and academic fields. In his interview with Bill Moyers’ John Light, he highlights that climate change is a “threat multiplier,” though not a direct cause of conflict.
Femia cites a massive drought from 2006 to 2011 as one of the biggest causes of insecurity in the region. This drought forced farmers and herders to relocate. “Nearly 75 percent of farmers in the northeast suffered total crop failure. Herders in the northeast lost around 85 percent of their livestock, which affected about 1.3 million people.”
This drought displaced millions of people, sending them to urban economic centers searching for new opportunities. These cities were already packed with Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, so the overcrowded and already economically struggling cities were pushed to the breaking point. Femia also notes that the International Food Policy Research Institute released research saying that if climate change continues, Syria’s rain dependent crops will decrease by up to 57 percent before 2050.
In the future, Femia sees the consequences of climate change complicating already unstable political situations. For instance, the rise of the Nile’s water level will compromise many Egyptian settlements in the Delta, and seawater could potentially infiltrate coastal aquifers that provide freshwater to citizens both in Egypt and other coastal countries.
Femia ended the interview calling for the United States to focus on the areas in the world most susceptible to the effects of climate change, and include them in future projections for USAID money or potential political unrest.
For example, he says of Syria before the war, “If security analysts had been incorporating environmental security variables, including climate, into their assessments of how stable Syria was, they may have been able to make a different assessment of Syria’s stability and warned policymakers.”
Photograph: Youssef Badawi/EPA