Writing in The Guardian, Nafeez Ahmed explicitly points to climate change as a component of the humanitarian disaster that is the Syrian civil war.
Syria’s dash for gas has been spurred by its rapidly declining oil revenues, driven by the peak of its conventional oil production in 1996. Even before the war, the country’s rate of oil production had plummeted by nearly half, from a peak of just under 610,000 barrels per day (bpd) to approximately 385,000 bpd in 2010.
Since the war, production has dropped further still, once again by about half, as the rebels have taken control of key oil producing areas.
Faced with dwindling profits from oil exports and a fiscal deficit, the government was forced to slash fuel subsidies in May 2008 – which at the time consumed 15% of GDP. The price of petrol tripled overnight, fueling pressure on food prices.
The crunch came in the context of an intensifying and increasingly regular drought cycle linked to climate change. Between 2002 and 2008, the country’s total water resources dropped by half through both overuse and waste.
Once self-sufficient in wheat, Syria has become increasingly dependent on increasingly costly grain imports, which rose by 1m tonnes in 2011-12, then rose again by nearly 30% to about 4m in 2012-13. The drought ravaged Syria’s farmlands, led to several crop failures, and drove hundreds of thousands of people from predominantly Sunni rural areas into coastal cities traditionally dominated by the Alawite minority.
The exodus inflamed sectarian tensions rooted in Assad’s longstanding favouritism of his Alawite sect – many members of which are relatives and tribal allies – over the Sunni majority.
Since 2001 in particular, Syrian politics was increasingly repressive even by regional standards, while Assad’s focus on IMF-backed market reform escalated unemployment and inequality. The new economic policies undermined the rural Sunni poor while expanding the regime-linked private sector through a web of corrupt, government-backed joint ventures that empowered the Alawite military elite and a parasitic business aristocracy.
Then from 2010 to 2011, the price of wheat doubled – fueled by a combination of extreme weather events linked to climate change, oil price spikes and intensified speculation on food commodities – impacting on Syrian wheat imports. Assad’s inability to maintain subsidies due to rapidly declining oil revenues worsened the situation.
The food price hikes triggered the protests that evolved into armed rebellion, in response to Assad’s indiscriminate violence against demonstrators. The rural town of Dara’a, hit by five prior years of drought and water scarcity with little relief from the government, was a focal point for the 2011 protests.
More at the link. The author of the article is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization.