North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and nations in the Middle East are home to the most water-starved communities on the planet. Changes in water access can threaten human security in general and humanitarian and economic stability in particular. Climate-driven strife can compound political and social instabilities, worsening conflict where it already occurs and increasing vulnerability to it elsewhere. How have short-term changes in rainfall affected recent conflicts in this region, particularly in Syria and Egypt?
Control of the Nile’s water has been an ongoing point of tensions and diplomatic struggle in Egypt, Sudan, and nations in the Horn of Africa. On a smaller scale, terrorists and warlords could exploit their control of water sources as leverage over local communities. Access to water has been used to manipulate populations in areas including Syria, Palestine, Sudan, and the southern Arabian peninsula. Understanding the specific ways that water scarcity has affected conflict in these areas could help strategists anticipate conflict intensifiers and vulnerabilities in these increasingly critical regions. The academic and strategic communities agree that climate change will likely affect U.S. interests. Understanding these humanitarian and economic effects of water scarcity can add a tool in the strategists’ toolbox to anticipate instability.
The central hypothesis of this project is that various complex combinations of social and environmental conditions (which we identify) can create vulnerabilities to conflict when climate shocks occur. In essence, climate shocks can trigger conflict in areas with the right combination of background conditions or series of unfortunate events. We argue most of the literature does not pay enough attention to specifying the complexity of the relationships environmental conditions have with societies, their cultures, and their economic and political settings.