Drought: The ‘Real’ Cause of the Syrian Crisis?

Prince Charles made worldwide headlines Monday with his claim that climate change had a significant role to play in the root causes of the current Syrian crisis.

And while he is one of the first western leaders to acknowledge this, the problem of the drought that began in 2006 was already well established in the scientific community, with many linking the Syrian civil war to the lack of water and increased urbanization pressures.

A Refugee Crisis of Their Own

Syria, a country of just over 22 million people, has been faced with more than just drought, but a refugee crisis of their own.

According to the CIA world factbook, Syria has hosted over 500,000 Palestinian refugees for over a decade. Then, another 1.2 million Iraqi refugees entered into Syria, placing considerable strain on the economy and social systems.

Unemployment before the influx of Iraqi refugees was moderate, at about 8.2 percent.

Unemployment before the influx of Iraqi refugees was moderate, at about 8.2 percent — but now stands, especially after the prolonged war, at almost 50 percent.

Prior to the civil war, the economics of Syria were exceptionally sound — a current account balance ranked 48th in the world (the United States ranked 190th during the same period), solid exports, a growing economy at 4 percent (the U.S. economy only grew at 2.8 percent), and a large stock of ‘broad money’ ranked 43rd in the world, indicating a strong, stable banking system (the U.S. towers in this category, ranked 3rd in the world).

The point of this is that the Syrian economy wasn’t a powder-keg ready to explode, but even with a solid economy it could not handle the strain of their population being at almost 110 percent.

The Breeding Grounds of Civil War and Islamic Extremism

The agricultural failures drove people into the cities, which without a significantly growing industrial and service economy made matters worse because of rampant unemployment.

If history has taught any lesson, it’s that ‘idle hands are the Devil’s playground,’ especially when it comes to civil unrest. This was equally true in Syria, where factions against the Assad government gained popularity among the economically downtrodden.

In the end, the already bloody civil war turned into a war of Islamic extremism with ISIS capturing significant portions of land and strategic assets within the country.

Could We Have Prevented It?

Even taking the Iraq War out of the equation of causes, would we have been able to prevent the utter collapse of the Syrian economy if we had responded to the drought and refugee crisis?

Instead of millions possibly being spent on food and water for the Syrian people, we have spent billions dropping bombs on the resulting problems.

Syria has long been the third member of the so-called “Axis of Evil.” Despite this, they had a stable, secular government, a growing economy, and were trying to respond to humanitarian efforts within the region.

Instead of millions possibly being spent on food and water for the Syrian people, we have spent billions dropping bombs on the resulting problems.

Too often in America we question the policy of foreign aid, that helping those abroad doesn’t give us any benefit. In this case, it could have prevented the total destruction of an entire society — just by providing food and water to the region.

The politics of peace are less palatable in Congress than the politics of war, and that is where we need to change our thinking.

Right now, Ethiopia is facing a similar crisis in drought and famine, with extremists from the Horn of Africa ready to swoop in and capitalize on the social instability. We can only fight so many wars at once. Perhaps actually trying to fix the underlying causes might be the best avenue before it’s too late.

Photo Credit: AP