Pacific Institute Insights

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

By Peter Gleick, President

June 10, 2013 


There is a long history of conflicts over water – the Pacific Institute maintains an online, searchable chronology of such conflicts going back 5,000 years. There were dozens of new examples in 2012, in countries from Latin America to Africa to Asia.  (A full update for 2012 has been posted.) Access to water and the control of water systems have been causes of conflict, weapons have been used during conflicts, and water systems have been the targets of conflict.

One especially disturbing example of a major conflict, with complicated but direct connections to water, has developed over the past two years: the unraveling of Syria and the escalation of massive civil war there. Syria’s political dissolution is, like almost all conflicts, the result of complex and inter-related factors, in this case an especially repressive and unresponsive political regime, the erosion of the economic health of the country, and a wave of political reform sweeping over the entire Middle East and North Africa region. But in a detailed assessment, Femia and Werrell noted that factors related to drought, agricultural failure, water shortages, and water mismanagement have also played an important role in nurturing Syria’s “seeds of social unrest” and contributing to violence.

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