The newly published Old World Drought Atlas was recently used to gauge the seriousness of the Syrian Draught, the like of which has not been seen for 900 years.
They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up.
In the years following 1998 continued drought pushed Syrian farmers to uproot their families and move to the cities, setting the stage for the massive uprisings, which later led to the ferocious civil war still being waged. A few days ago the Middle East Monitor reported that as many as 175.000 people in the farming sector in Morocco had recently lost their jobs and had moved to the cities. What this might mean for the further instability in the region is unknown.
At the same time drought is not the only challenge. Another comes from the accompanying severe heat wave, which is hitting the region. As a number of climate trends continue to break records, measurements in the region have reported staggering temperatures as high as 1290 F/540 C. This is so hot that people are simply not able to leave their homes for work before 7 PM or later. How they deal with the heat in war-torn Aleppo is anybody’s guess. Right now – at time of writing – temperatures are measuring between 340 and 370 C. But we are still only in the first half of August.
Part of this new drought has definitely been brought on by the changing climate; as was the drought in the beginning of the 12th century! However, political in-fights in the Middle East are also responsible. It has been estimated that Turkey’s dam and hydropower constructions cut water flow to Iraq by 80% and to Syria by 40% in the first decade of the 21st century. While people in these war-torn zones thus go thirsty, desalination plants in Israel are trying to alleviate the problem of drought. As of now 55% of Israel’s domestic water stems from desalination. However, such solutions are both costly and vulnerable to terrorism. They are also dependant upon massive energy-input.
To gauge the seriousness of the situation a historical comparison has been undertaken, In March 2016 NASA thus published a study comparing tree-rings from 1100 – 2012. They found that the present drought ranging from 1998 stood out. It is estimated to be 50% drier than the driest period in the past 500 years, and 10 – 20% drier than the worst drought in the past 900 years. This estimate was based on a comparison of maps from a new and quite invaluable source – a series of maps constituting The Old World Drought Atlas and covering the period from AD 0 – 2000.
Like Sarah Kate Raphael and her studies of the Levant, medievalists will be able to profit working with the micro-history of specific regions and temporal settings. In the Drought Atlas they have been handed an invaluable new resource to understand the temporal as well as regional conditions for the events they are exploring.
Old World megadroughts and pluvials during the Common Era.
By Edward R. Cook et al.
In: Science Advances, 1(10). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1500561
The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the triggers of the revolution.
By Francesca de Châtel
In: Middle Eastern Studies 50 (4).
Spatiotemporal drought variability in the Mediterranean over the last 900 years
By Benjamin I. Cook, Kevin J, Anchukaitis, Ramzi Touchan, David M. Meko and Edward R. Cook.
In: Journal of Geophysical Research. Online: 04.03.3016
Climate and Political Climate. Environmental Disasters in the Medieval Levant
By Sarah Kate Raphael
Series: Brill’s Series in the History of the Environment
Syrian Drought © The Organization for World Peace