Did Climate Change Create The Syrian Refugee Crisis?

Most of the nightmare scenarios attributed to global climate change have failed to materialize just yet, but recent studies have found that climate change may be to blame for the Syrian refugee crisis.

When Syrian refugees leave their homes for neighboring countries like Turkey and Lebanon, and press on even further to destinations in the European Union and elsewhere, they are fleeing the violence and uncertainty of civil war, not climate change. But that civil war, fought between the government and multiple belligerent forces, may have been sparked by events that were, in turn, caused by climate change.

Between the years of 2006 and 2011, Syria was hit by a series of devastating droughts. Time reports that the extended period of drought resulted in rural populations moving into urban areas as failed crops led to an increase in poverty.

The extended drought was, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the worst that Syria has seen in modern times. And according to The New York Times, scientists blame climate change.

Martin Hoerling, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The New York Times that the study lined up with his own work in demonstrating a long drying trend in the region caused by climate change.

"The paper makes a strong case for the first link in their causal chain," Dr. Hoerling told The New York Times, "namely the human interference with the climate so as to increase drought likelihood in Syria."

According to Francesco Femia, from the Center for Climate and Security, the droughts resulted in millions of displaced Syrians. They were displaced within their own country, but the seeds of unrest were sewn at that time.

"That drought, in addition to its mismanagement by the Assad regime, contributed to the displacement of two million in Syria," Femia told Time. "That internal displacement may have contributed to the social unrest that precipitated the civil war, which generated the refugee flows into Europe."

The drought, whether or not it was caused by climate change, wasn't the only source of unrest. The New York Times reports that other issues, including 1.5 million refugees entering the country from Iraq, also factored into creating the situation that eventually resulted in civil war.

When Syria erupted in civil war in 2011, refugees began to stream into neighboring countries, and the process continues to this day. This year, in the month of July alone, more than 100,000 refugees, most of them Syrian, crossed into countries of the European Union.

Furthermore, Time reports that, this past weekend, over 10,000 refugees entered Western Europe through Hungary alone.

Experts warn that the situation could grow worse in the future, and that warning signs point to northern Africa and the Sahel region as a source of future migrants and refugees.

Others aren't so sure that the Syrian drought, whether or not it was caused by climate change, can really be blamed for the civil war. Thomas Bernauer, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, expressed his doubts to The New York Times.

"The evidence for the claim that this drought contributed to the outbreak of civil war in Syria is very speculative and not backed up by robust scientific evidence."
Do you think the relationship between the drought and the war was causal or correlative? And if it was a causal factor, do you believe climate change really caused the Syrian refugee crisis?

[Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images News]