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The California drought has been making headlines since 2014. Restaurants are no longer offering complimentary water without customers asking. City officials are posting signs on highways asking citizens to be more mindful, and even wineries have seen a slump in sales as their vineyards struggle to stay firm during what appears to be a never-ending dry spell. No matter where you look, people in the Golden State are appearing quite thirsty…

But if Californians think they have it hard, they should shift their eyes to the Middle East. The drought that the eastern Mediterranean Levant (a region that includes countries such as Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey) has been ongoing since 1998, and is presently considered the worst since 1100 C.E. An 18-year drought… Suddenly, inhabitants of the west coast are thinking one less bath isn’t such a terrible fate.

From NASA: "Variations in total water storage from normal, in millimeters, in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, as measured by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, from January 2003 through December 2009. Reds represent drier conditions, while blues represent wetter conditions. The majority of the water lost was due to reductions in groundwater caused by human activities. By periodically measuring gravity regionally, GRACE tells scientists how much water storage changes over time." (Image Credit: NASA / UC Irvine / NCAR)

From NASA: “Variations in total water storage from normal, in millimeters, in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, as measured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, from January 2003 through December 2009. Reds represent drier conditions, while blues represent wetter conditions. The majority of the water lost was due to reductions in groundwater caused by human activities. By periodically measuring gravity regionally, GRACE tells scientists how much water storage changes over time.” (Image Credit: NASA / UC Irvine / NCAR)

The problems inflicted by drought can be astronomical, and range from ecological to economical to even social. Aside from causing widespread thirst, excessive drought conditions can also lead to famine, as lacking water hurts crops and related resource production. Disease can run rampant in drought-stricken areas, and wildfires become an equally common hazard.

NASA scientists have been studying tree rings in the Middle East, which are indicators of how many wet or dry years a civilization has faced. Thin rings indicate dry periods, while thick ones suggest a wet year. It has been concluded that between 1998 and 2012, the Middle East faced drier years than it has at any other point in the last millennium, and through a drought that, according to scientists, was more than likely brought on by human error.

Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Colombia University in New York, has mentioned that while regional weather patterns have varied heavily over the last 1,000 years, the past two decades are among the most damaging, and hover outside what is generally considered “normal” or even natural in any sense.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the drought is not reserved to simply one area, so the Mediterranean basin as a whole will likely face the drought at one point or another (if it isn’t already). University of Arizona climate scientist Kevin Anchukaitis explains:

“It’s not necessarily possible to rely on finding better climate conditions in one region than another, so you have the potential for large-scale disruption of food systems as well as potential conflict over water resources.”

Azaz, Syria, after aerial bombardment by the Syrian government. (Photo via YouTube screencap.)

Azaz, Syria, after aerial bombardment by the Syrian government. (Photo via YouTube screencap.)

The drought has become so drastic, that many believe it is the responsible party behind Syria’s present civil war. Faced with warming climate and lagging water supplies, farmers had no choice but to abandon their crops and flee to neighboring areas, hoping to start over. Such action is alleged to have fueled tension between peoples who were not willing to share their already limited lands and resources. Thus far, the war has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

A recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that water shortages in areas such as Turkey, Iraq and Syria are responsible for livestock deaths, grocery price hikes, and a higher rate of disease among children. Nearly two million farmers and residents eventually fled to Syria’s already heavily-populated cities. The country had recently experienced an influx of immigrants due to the war in Iraq. Combine this with high unemployment rates and corrupt government officials, and Syria’s people are now being thrust into a tunnel of darkness and violence.

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