Climate change intensifies the Middle East’s cycle of conflict
By Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Centre on Adaptation; and Jamal Saghir, affiliated scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut
Climate change does not directly spark conflict, but it does help to light the fuse by exacerbating stresses on natural resources. When peace finally returns to places such as Syria and Yemen, one of the most important questions we will face is how reconstruction can address climate challenges that heighten the risk of conflict.
In addition to many other longstanding social and political problems, the civil war in Syria was partly fuelled by a prolonged drought that devastated agricultural land, ravaging crop yields and doubling food prices. It is telling that the violence erupted after 1.5 million disenfranchised people migrated to already over-populated cities to find work.
With temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) rising faster than the global average, this is a pattern that is set to repeat itself elsewhere. The population of this region, already the world’s most water-deprived and dependent on food imports, is projected to double by 2050, putting resources under enormous pressure. Climate change could trigger a further decline in food and water provision of 20-40 per cent, with increased droughts and heatwaves likely.
Climate also contributes to the rise of terrorism. In Iraq and Syria, organisations such as ISIS capitalised on the damage wrought by climate change, recruiting impoverished farmers whose lives and incomes had been wrecked. In Nigeria, the emergence of Boko Haram can be linked to environmental crises in the country’s north.