Mideast's worst drought in 900 years may have contributed to Syrian war

Syrian violence caused by drought?
Syrian violence caused by drought?

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Story highlights

  • Some experts say drought contributed to Syrian civil war
  • Historic drought is at least in part due to human effect on climate, scientists say
  • Drought began in 1998

(CNN)The Holy Land is experiencing a drought of biblical proportions. It's being blamed for a brutal war and vast suffering, and if some experts are to be believed, humans bear at least some responsibility for its severity.

A new study by NASA says the drought that began in 1998 in the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean, is probably the worst in 900 years.
    Migrants break through a blockade near the Greek-Macedonian border.
    And this drought, at least in the view of other experts writing last year, helped spark the Syrian civil war -- which in turn led to an exodus of millions of people, overwhelming some European countries and placing the free movement of people throughout the European Union in doubt.
    The authors of both studies said the severity of the drought was at least partly the result of climate change caused by human activity.

    'Drought contributed to the conflict in Syria'

    "There is evidence that the 2007-2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria," according to the 2015 article, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to the urban centers. ... For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest."
    "We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict," the 2015 article said.
    The authors of the newly published NASA study examined the rings of trees to determine the historical incidence of drought in the region. Thin rings indicated dry years; thick rings developed when water was plentiful.
    The current drought is afflicting an area that includes Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey.

    'Human-caused climate change contribution'

    And the new article agrees with the earlier one in finding that the current drought is, at least in part, the result of human effects on the climate.
    Syrian refugees wait at a border crossing into Turkey.
    "If we look at recent events and we start to see anomalies that are outside this range of natural variability, then we can say with some confidence that it looks like this particular event or this series of events had some kind of human-caused climate change contribution," said Ben Cook, the lead author of the study and a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
    If these scientists are correct, a biblical quote comes to mind.
    "They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind," the book of Hosea says.
    And the end of the whirlwind may be nowhere in sight.