We fear more war, we fear more drought – Syrian Arab Republic

Climate and conflict hit the agrarian poor in Syria

The summer of 2021 has seen record levels of rainfall and a sharp drop in water flow in the Euphrates and other rivers in northeast Syria. In a new report titled “We Fear More War, We Fear More Drought,” PAX conducted dozens of interviews with herders, farmers and local authorities, combining them with satellite analysis and humanitarian data. The findings clearly underscore the risks of fragmentation among poorer communities as access to water becomes more difficult and crop failure creates more socio-economic problems. While many reports have addressed the impact of this situation on farming communities, little attention is paid to the thousands of herders wandering the Syrian pastures. Often the poorest of the poor, herders are hard hit by the lack of rain, which has impacted vegetation growth and access to water for their flocks of sheep.

The report aims to highlight the impact of the climate-conflict nexus at a more granular level among diverse rural communities in northeast Syria. Based on numerous interviews and broader data on climate and socio-economic development, the report describes how increased pressure on natural resources is impacting livelihoods, which could exacerbate social and political tensions growing within a society exhausted by conflict and poverty.

After a decade of war that has already had a destructive impact on agricultural infrastructure and displaced farming and herding communities, this record drought is turning Syria into a new climate hotspot. Rain-fed agriculture and irrigated agriculture suffer from the lack of rainfall. The drop in water inflow from Turkey has led to lower water levels in Lake Assad, subsequently affecting the Euphrates, the main regional lifeline. This meant less water for irrigation, hydroelectricity and the personal use of the millions of people who depended on it.

In many areas visited by PAX, there was no vegetation growth in the spring and summer of 2021, meaning the hundreds of thousands of sheep, cows, goats and camels are running out of pasture to feed themselves. and have access to water sources. Pastoralist communities in Syria are increasingly grappling with the impact of climate change with falling livestock prices and erratic weather patterns impacting livestock prices, pushing them to the brink of poverty.

As a shepherd near Ras Al Ayn told PAX: “If there is no rain, there is no future. He lost 150 of his 400 sheep in 2021 and had to flee with his family from a former pasture recently after a bombardment by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA). He now spends most of his money on cattle feed to keep his sheep alive, as the local communities won’t let him use their land to graze his sheep.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the de facto authorities in this part of the country, lacks funding, capacity and expertise to deal with these devastating climate and environmental challenges. Farmers and herders have bemoaned the higher prices of water tankers on which they increasingly depend, and there are worrying signs of growing tensions between the water supplier and their rural customers. In a desperate attempt to find a better life, respondents often expressed their desire to migrate as they see no future for themselves in Syria’s shattered countryside.

The lack of rain and water in the rivers also worsens the health and environmental situation. In addition to this, dams were built in the Khabur River in the spring of 2021, and the water flow to Hasakeh from the Alouk water station faced dozens of deliberate interruptions from the SNA, which prevented more than 600 people from having access to water for longer periods. At the same time, the toxic oil industry continues to pollute local streams and rivers by dumping contaminated sewage, further impacting surface and ground water sources. Despite the political will to change the situation, local authorities lack the equipment and financial resources to repair poorly maintained oil infrastructure.

This brief overview of the situation in the region aims both to highlight the current struggle among the most vulnerable groups and to warn that a solution must be found quickly to avoid a return to instability and violence. The unstable political situation in northeast Syria is hampering a long-term sustainable solution to the many climate and security challenges facing this part of the country. Without a solution to the region’s status and security guarantees, international donors will not engage in rehabilitation efforts and sustainable investments in necessary infrastructure and socio-economic development. Addressing these contentious issues is essential for the international community if it is to prevent further socio-economic degradation caused by conflict and climatic woes, which only create fertile ground for extremism.

Download the full report We fear more war, we fear more drought: how climate and conflict are fragmenting rural Syria here.

Images are available upon request.

Previous PAX reports on Syria can be found here:

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