Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2016


Christiana Z. Peppard, Ph.D.


Prior to the Syrian uprising that began in March 2011, the country experienced an acute, multiyear drought, likely induced by climate change, which wrecked havoc on the agricultural sector, destroying the livelihoods of nearly a quarter of the population. Challenges associated with water use and availability played a direct role in exacerbating drought-like conditions and in deteriorating Syrian economic conditions. Urbanization from internally displaced farmers, coupled with rising food prices and a depressed economy, ripened conditions for social unrest and mobilization. The historical economic and agriculture policies in effect since Hafez al-Assad’s reign, current President Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor, kept at bay all harbored backlash against the authoritarian nature of the Syrian government. Traditional policies such as providing subsidies for “strategic” crops in pursuit of food self-sufficiency fabricated a myth of prosperity, while obscuring the reality of soil degradation and water scarcity in rural areas. Because Bashar al-Assad’s regime was unable to cope with mass migration and social unrest, the government decimated an initially peaceful uprising, thereby setting off a chain of events that resulted in a civil war and the intrusion of the Islamic State. This paper assesses the intricate connections between water and conflict in Syria and discusses how an environmental phenomenon destabilized national security, ultimately involving global powers in a proxy war and refugee crisis.