Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences | Geography Department | Biogeography | News | Drought in Syria caused crop failure but not agricultural collapse before the 2011 conflict

Drought in Syria caused crop failure but not agricultural collapse before the 2011 conflict

Lina Eklund (Lund University), Ole Magnus Theisen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Matthias Baumann (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Andreas Forø Tollefsen (Peace Research Institute Oslo), Tobias Kuemmerle (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) and Jonas Østergaard Nielsen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


Syrian agriculture was affected by drought in 2008 and 2009, but recovered before the conflict started in 2011. Claims of an agricultural collapse that led to large scale land abandonment in Syria before 2011 need to be re-examined.



Droughts are often suspected to increase the risk of violent conflict through agricultural production shocks, and existing studies often explore these links through meteorological proxies. In Syria, an alleged agricultural collapse caused by drought is assumed to have contributed to increased migration and the conflict outbreak in 2011. Here we use satellite derived cropland and climate data to study land use dynamics in relation to drought and conflict in Syria. We show that claims of an agricultural collapse cannot be substantiated as croplands saw a fast recovery after the 2007–2009 drought. Our study highlights the importance of considering land-use dynamics for understanding linkages between meteorological droughts, agricultural impacts, migration and conflict. Furthermore, our results suggest that the influential drought-migration-conflict narrative for Syria needs to be reexamined, with implications for wider discussions of how climate change might alter conflict risk.

Link to the manuscript: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-022-00405-w


Citation: Eklund, L., Theisen, O.M., Baumann, M. et al. Societal drought vulnerability and the Syrian climate-conflict nexus are better explained by agriculture than meteorology. Commun Earth Environ 3, 85 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-022-00405-w