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A Yemeni girl drinks water directly from a pipe amid the ongoing conflict.

Environmental Issues, Primarily Climate Change, Wreak Havoc On War-torn Mideast Nations

Amid the fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the impact of global warming is magnified

As the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen rage on, the human toll rightfully continues to receive much of the attention. However, the conflicts in the Middle East have negatively impacted other living organisms, as well as the environment in general, which, in turn, has made the lives of those under fire even more difficult.

According to a United Nations-sponsored report compiled by the human rights group PAX, “climate change is thought to be responsible for an increasing frequency of droughts in Iraq during the last decade.” It added that, “together with increased damming and upstream water use by neighboring countries, the frequent droughts and increasing urbanization have led to chronic shortages of water.”

Miquel Gonzalez-Meler, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago contended to The Media Line that droughts, in particular, have made already unbearable situations that much more difficult. “The drought has affected many low income crops and created a poor distribution of resources. It has also affected aquifers and contaminated groundwater,” he said.

The war-time mismanagement of vital resources such as water can lead to death in extreme cases, while affecting the yield of crops like barley, wheat and sorghum, which are anyways hard to come by conflict zones.

Gonzalez-Meler highlighted the effects of an ongoing drought in the Zagros Mountains, spanning Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. While the range has been a source of water years—when the snow caps melt water flows down to the valleys below—climate change has caused the snow to recede and, in turn, less water is available to those who need it most.

“Changes in the precipitation means that there is no snow reservoir to increase the flow of the rivers and valleys of the region,” he continued, “which have been the sources and sites of great inventions in human history as well as the location of the demise of great empires like the Babylonians and the Sumerians.”

Adam Rose, Research Professor at the University of Southern California, warns that the current period of global warming is one of the most severe ever and is exacerbating the political and humanitarian situations in the Middle East.

“There have been researchers that have found that drought has been getting more severe and causing more stress [on the environment]. Accordingly, people have become impoverished and it is probably a reason for the outward migration in addition to the conflicts themselves.”

Rose added that the problem is likely to get worse, especially as regards water, which he believes could eventually become valuable than oil. “Political issues and ethnic tensions still dominate the region but water is pretty important. One issue that may come into play is the future redrawing of borders [based on the presence of resources] should the conflicts wind down.”

Already, Ethiopia and Egypt are engaged in a major dispute over a dam the former is building which could impact the flow of the Nile’s water, upon which much of Egypt’s rural population depends. “There are also issues relating to access to water in the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee and many other rivers and aquifers. Water is a scarce resource,” Rose concluded.

(Nate Nkumbu is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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