There is another way of looking at the conflict in Syria, which has returned powerfully on the pages of all the newspapers around the world, after the Daesh attack that killed over one hundred people. Some American scientists from the University of Santa Barbara in California argue that the clash was exacerbated by three years of the worst droughts ever recorded in the region from 2006 to 2009. The phenomenon follows a steady line of decrease in the average rainfall indications recorded since 1931 and the consequent drying of the soil. The drought would hit the agriculture, which is often backward and highly dependent on rainfall, of the different regions of the Fertile Crescent, especially in Syria. Thus, migration flow from countryside to city increased, which involved up to one million and a half people during those years. All those elements contributed to incrementing the already existent tensions, primarily because of the Syrian government’s inadequate answer to the resulting famine.
Besides, in 2015 and in 2016, drought and famine threatened and still strongly threaten sub-Saharan Africa. Lorenzo Colantoni’s analysis for Radio Bullets: “There are two case that worry us the most – he says -. The first one is the Southern and Eastern Africa: on December 22, Lesotho declared a state of emergency due to the drought; on February 5, Zimbabwe did the same, followed by Swaziland on February 18, the entire Southern Africa Development Community (from Congo to South Africa) on March 15, and by Malawi on April 12. Even South Africa, often considered to be the African barn, whose agriculture is the most advanced in that region, has strongly suffered the consequences of the drought; the same is true for Mozambique. The cause of it all was one of the strongest El Niños ever, a climatic phenomenon that is recurring in itself”.
Climate change increases the intensity and frequency of the climatic events, hence, danger. The appearance of such a phenomenon, which might repeat with the same impact every year – perhaps starting sooner than expected -, is worrying. It has already caused crisis in both weaker (Malawi) and stronger (South Africa) agricultural systems: in February, 40% of Zimbabwe’s regions reached a critical level in terms of food supplies, by May or even September, it might happen to over two-thirds of the country.
The latest case is Ethiopia, but the situation is even more complicated there. A combination of factors, among which there is also El Niño, might cause the worst drought of the last fifty years in the Tigray and Afar regions. It might be even more serious than the one behind the famine of 1983-1985, which caused more than 400,000 deaths. 14 million are still at risk, but it is difficult to understand the reason why, considering that it is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa (10.3% of GDP growth in 2014). Many people argue that this is the demonstration of what Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen claimed in Development as Freedom: “Famines happen under authoritarian regimes, not in democracies, because the former are less accountable for the people they rule”.
You might wonder what climate change has to do with it. They are related to the extent that climate change exasperates the weaknesses of these systems. At least four famines were registered in Ethiopia in the twentieth century, whereas the climate of the XXI century might double or triple those numbers. In countries with a strong growth, but also with strong inequalities, such as Ethiopia and Mozambique, the impact might be devastating. A slap in the face of those who relegate every warning concerning the conditions of the Third World countries as catastrophism. Certainly, the West does not have the tools to change climate (although we might discuss at length the so-called greenhouse effect), nor can we ascribe everything to its policies, but it might have helped to create the conditions for a different resource management and the consequent social growth, at least in Africa. It did not do so and now the situation has become really complicated.
If war does not kill, exasperation does it, also on the other side of the world: in Marathwada, a province of central-western Indian state of Maharashtra, nearly 400 farmers committed suicide. After four years of drought, crops are scanty and farmers are desperate, with no resources and suffocated by debt. Many of them end up killing themselves (as reported by the Indian newspaper The Indian Express). In the first four months of 2015, 278 farmers had committed suicide. In the same period this year, the death toll reached 370, which has kept growing, reaching 392 on May 7. Blue gold might become the most valuable asset for which to fight in the next few decades; everywhere around the world.