With weather conditions changing around the world, Iraq and Syria are seeing unprecedented drought. Crops are not growing and people and animals cannot access potable water. A report composed by 13 aid groups operating in the middle east warned that the situation is critical. Lack of water in rivers is leading to hydroelectric dams being stopped, which affects branches of infrastructure like hospitals and manufacturing. “The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” said Carsten Hansen, regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council. “With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced and many more still fleeing for their lives in Syria, the unfolding water crisis will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement.”

Over five million people in Syria have been affected by the lack of rain as the level of the Euphrates River fell 286 cubic meters per second in the first 6 months of 2020. About 70% of water is used for irrigation. Because of the new weather extremes, land formerly used for agriculture has become desert, with has forced the country to import staple foods, doubling food prices. Desperation has caused people to be easily targeted by terrorist groups.

Seven million people in Iraq are also suffering from drought. Iraqi people rely on both the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers. In Nineveh governorate, one of the five poorest in the country, people are paying up to $80 each month for bottled water – but that price is far out of reach for many in the poverty-stricken region. Water scarcity has given rise to violent disputes across the country, and there is no evidence that the drought will end anytime soon. According to the Middle East Institute, “Many of ISIS’s recruits came from agricultural areas in the country’s west, north and heartland. ISIS tapped into grievances within environmentally damaged Sunni Arab villages, which were ripe for recruitment.”

In the words of Gerry Garvey, the Danish Refugee Council’s Middle East Regional Director, ““It is likely to increase conflict. There is no time to waste. We must find sustainable solutions that would guarantee water and food today and for future generations.”

By: Ellie Cabell