Saturday, March 26, 2016

Ten Civilizations or Nations that Collapsed from Drought

Drought is the great enemy of human civilization.  Drought deprives us of the two things necessary to sustain life--food and water.  When the rains stop and the soil dries up, cities die and civilizations collapse, as people abandon lands no longer able to supply them with the food and water they need to live.  While the fall of a great empire is usually due to a complex set of causes, drought has often been identified as the primary culprit or a significant contributing factor in a surprising number of such collapses.  Drought experts Justin Sheffield and Eric Wood of Princeton, in their 2011 book, Drought, identify more than ten civilizations, cultures and nations that probably collapsed, in part, because of drought. As we mark World Water Day on March 22, we should not grow overconfident that our current global civilization is immune from our old nemesis--particularly in light of the fact that a hotter climate due to global warming will make droughts more intense and impacts more severe. So, presented here is a "top ten" list of drought's great power over some of the mightiest civilizations in world history--presented chronologically.

Collapse #1. The Akkadian Empire in Syria, 2334 BC - 2193 BC.
Kurdish Syrian girls among destroyed buildings in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane on March 22, 2015 (Image credit: Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Collapse #10. Modern Syria.
Syria's devastating civil war that began in March 2011 has killed over 300,000 people, displaced at least 7.6 million, and created an additional 4.2 million refugees.  While the causes of the war are complex, a key contributing factor was the nation's devastating drought that began in 1998. The drought brought Syria's most severe set of crop failures in recorded history, which forced millions of people to migrate from rural areas into cities, where conflict erupted.  This drought was almost certainly Syria's worst in the past 500 years (98% chance), and likely the worst for at least the past 900 years (89% chance), according to a 2016 tree ring study by Cook et al., Spatiotemporal drought variability in the Mediterranean over the last 900 years. Human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases were "a key attributable factor" in the drying up of wintertime precipitation in the Mediterranean region, including Syria, in recent decades, as discussed in a NOAA press release that accompanied a 2011 paper by Hoerling et al., On the Increased Frequency of Mediterranean Drought.  A 2016 paper by drought expert Colin Kelley showed that the influence of human greenhouse gas emissions had made recent drought in the region 2 - 3 times more likely.  Wunderground's climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood, has his take on the current drought in Syria in his March 21 post, Ineffective Resolution: Middle East and Climate Change.

Read more at Ten Civilizations or Nations that Collapsed from Drought

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