DAMASCUS — A severe drought threatening the environment and vitality of the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent presents a more serious danger than cross-border tensions between Iraq and Syria.
Thousands of Syrian farmers, herders, and their families have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in camps as the result of a drought that has damaged crops and caused regional conflicts over water resources.
Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey are no strangers to the harsh impact of drought. Each has experienced periods of drought of varying severity over the centuries. Researchers, however, say that the combination of climate change, growing demand for water resources and the global economic crisis threatens to make this drought the worst in the region's history.
The number of Syrians affected by the drought is estimated at nearly 1.3 million, and researchers say that it is the most serious drought in four years. At least 800,000 Syrians have lost their livelihoods altogether.
While Syrian officials were not openly enthusiastic about regional security talks with Iraq in Turkey, Syria used the opportunity to press for an agreement with the Turkish government and UN agencies to allow a larger amount of water to flow through the Euphrates River. A series of dams built over the last 20 years has enabled Turkey to control water from the Euphrates River, which has for centuries been the agricultural lifeline to the rest of the region.
Talks held in Ankara, Turkey in early September by the environment ministers of Syria, Turkey and Iraq ended in a stalemate when Turkey asserted that it was unable to provide the two Arab countries with more water.
Syrian Minister of Irrigation Nader al-Bunni declared that the flow of the Euphrates River from Turkey was approximately 400 cubic-metres per second over the past 11 months, significantly less than the 500 cubic-metres per second that Turkish officials claim they are allowing through.