How Climate, Not Conflict, Drove Many Syrian Refugees To Lebanon

How Climate, Not Conflict, Drove Many Syrian Refugees To Lebanon Refugees in the city of Qab Illyas in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley dig their own water wells. Hussein A. Amery, CC BY-ND

People who fled Syria in recent years are often viewed as war refugees because of the violence that has engulfed much of the country since 2011.

But those from the northern and northeastern parts of Syria may more accurately be viewed as climate refugees, fleeing not a worsening conflict but an increasingly severe drought.

I have been studying various aspects of water and food security in the Middle East for a long time. Now I have begun a new project studying the social and economic conditions needed to repatriate rural refugees to the farming communities in Syria.

My recent interviews with Syrian refugees who now live in Lebanon reveal that climate is a major obstacle for many people when they consider returning to their homeland.

In Syria, most farming relies on rain, not irrigation, which makes it vulnerable to climate change. Many refugees from the Raqqa region tell a similar story: As one told me, “The land has been giving less and less.”

The reason, they told me, is that it rains far less than it used to when they were young farmers, and rainfall is less predictable.

Increasing drought

Historically, northern Syria has been a productive agricultural area, making up part of the fabled Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, where humans first began farming around 9,000 B.C. An estimated 75 percent of Syria’s wheat production is in northern and northeastern parts of the country: Al Haksa, Ar-Raqqa, Aleppo and Dayr Az Zawr provinces.

In general, precipitation is highest in the coastal areas in the west of the country and along the Turkish border to the north. Usually, there is enough rain to support rain-fed farming and pastureland for sheep and goat herders. Rainfall decreases farther east and south in the country.

In the last few centuries, the country’s drought cycle has become more frequent, from having a drought once every 55 years, to every 27 years, to every 13. Now, droughts happen every seven or eight years.

The poorest peasants of the Raqqa region are hit the hardest because they do not have many assets to sell in times of drought – nor any surplus grains to save for the next planting season.

How Climate, Not Conflict, Drove Many Syrian Refugees To Lebanon Syrian refugee children play on a hill above their refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

People start to move

There is not a direct, immediate relationship between changing climate and the drive to migrate. The climate can change slowly, and people don’t usually respond instantly when circumstances shift. Thousands of Syrians have been leaving northern and northeastern parts of the country over the past 20 years or so.

As the severe drought of 2006 to 2011 hit, the number of emigrants rose. A 2011 study found that Syrian households had lost 19.5% of their income as a result of droughts and other environmental factors – and that rain-dependent farmers were hit harder than farmers who relied on irrigation.

The vast majority of Syrians who left northern and northeastern Syria are farmers and unskilled workers. Many of them were drawn, on a permanent or seasonal basis, to the Bekaa Valley, a large agricultural area in eastern Lebanon. The valley enjoys a moderate Mediterranean climate.

How Climate, Not Conflict, Drove Many Syrian Refugees To Lebanon This car, pictured with the author at right, is a mobile store that travels to different refugee camps to do business. Hussein A. Amery, CC BY-ND

A rise in refugees

In 2011, before the Syrian civil war broke out, up to one million Syrians were believed to be working in Lebanon.

When the violence started, those established settlers drew in relatives and neighbors. Official numbers say there are close to a million Syrian refugees also in Lebanon now, in addition to the million workers there before the war. The Lebanese government and U.N. officials believe the actual number is closer to one and a half million refugees. That means Syrians make up over one-quarter of Lebanon’s population.

In my recent interviews with Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, I learned why they had left their homes and what it might take for them to be ready to go back. The refugees I spoke with came from farming backgrounds. Many were from the city of Raqqa and nearby villages.

A few, especially those from southwestern Syria, spoke of bumper crops and routine farming challenges like varying harvests and the costs of seeds, fertilizer and livestock fodder. However, farmers who came from northern and northeast areas such as Raqqa and nearby towns and villages were almost unanimous in describing how hard farming had become over the last 20 years.

The refugees attributed this to government agriculture policies that changed in the face of drought. The Syrian government reduced the amount of land that could be planted with cotton and sugar beets, water-intensive crops that earn farmers a lot of income. The government tried to boost farmers’ income by selling drought-resistant cotton seeds and sprinkler systems, which conserve water and boost yields.

However, refugees told me, farmers were already financially squeezed from lower yields due to the drought. Most were small-scale farmers, or didn’t own the land they worked, so they could not earn enough to purchase the technology.

How Climate, Not Conflict, Drove Many Syrian Refugees To Lebanon These Syrian refugees are leaving Lebanon to return to their homes. The vast majority are staying behind in Lebanon. AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

Heading home?

Many refugees told me that even if their home region became physically safe to return to, they would not go back. They feared they would be unable to eke out a living from the increasingly arid land.

If they did return, they would also be faced with needing to repair war-damaged wells and irrigation canals and restore services from veterinary experts and farmers’ suppliers, who were driven away by war. Almost all of this infrastructure remains unrepaired.

Together, the drought and the war’s destruction mean it’s unlikely that many of these refugees will leave Lebanon anytime soon – if at all. The Syrian civil war may end one day, but the land’s problems will remain.

About The Author

Hussein A. Amery, Professor of International Studies, Colorado School of Mines

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.