When the drought in Syria started in 2008, the United Nations issued an appeal for funding for food aid for the many farmers whose crops had failed and animals had either been sold or died. In August the next year, with the drought getting worse and lasting longer than any other on record, another international appeal for help was announced. By the end of 2009, it had raised just 14 percent of what was needed.
Few western governments had good relations with Syria and it was seen as a low priority in humanitarian terms. The drought received little attention. The New York Times ran a single paragraph on it in 2008 and not another word for two years. Food aid is still driven by donor concerns and media attention, not by the needs of people going hungry.
By 2010 the drought was having a massive impact on Syrian society. Migration to cities accelerated, raising tensions across the country but particularly in Daraa, Homs, Aleppo and Damascus. The government did little to help. In part the dead hand of the moribund Syrian government was unable to move fast enough but also its economic reforms focused not on the rural poor but on the emerging crony capitalism that had taken off in the early part of the decade. Decades of political tensions, economic inequality and state brutality on a massive scale would prompt protests and then civil war.
Syria’s economy has been ruined by the war with some estimates suggesting it is half the size it was before the conflict. Looking forward, any reconstruction is going to have to deal with the issue of drought and the permanent water shortages that the country will face, in part because of the policies of the past six decades and in part because of climate change. The farmer sector will likely shrink and the country will no longer be self-sufficient in many of its foods. Rural populations will decline and when refugees and IDPs do go home, they will likely head to cities rather than villages. Water and climate change were factors in the start of the civil war. Addressing them will have to be part of an eventual solution.
See our briefing “Drought in Syria” here.