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Climate-Fuelled Drought Helped Trigger Syrian War, Rise of ISIL

A record drought in the Fertile Crescent between 2006 and 2010 was likely driven by climate change, helping to trigger the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“While we’re not saying the drought caused the war, we are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors—agricultural collapse and mass migration among them—that caused the uprising,” said UCSB post-doctoral researcher Colin Kelley.

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Kelley’s research at Columbia University determined that “the drought—the worst ever recorded in the region [2]—destroyed agriculture in northern Syria’s breadbasket, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement, and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011,” UCSB notes. “The conflict has since evolved into a complex multinational war that has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced millions.”

The region has warmed by 1 to 1.2ºC (2.1ºF) since 1900, and has lost about 10% of its precipitation during the wet season.

“One of the things we tried to show in this paper is that there were very significant trends, not only precipitation, but also in temperature and sea level pressure,” Kelley said. “The long-term precipitation trend tended to make multi-year droughts, which occur naturally in this area from time to time, much more severe, and explains why this recent drought was the most severe during the preserved record.” (h/t to Think Progress [3] for first pointing us to this story)