Climate Change

“A Village in Syria” is one example of a community suffering from severe Climate Change


More than a third of the world’s largest aquifers are “in distress”. These are the geological formations that hold or conduct water, and supply wells or springs.  Human activities are draining aquifers faster than nature can replenish them, according to NASA satellite observations.  The problem is most serious in regions where rainfall and snowmelt can’t replace water extracted for agriculture and other human purposes. The Financial Times (2015)


The impact of climate change will also have a major impact on humanitarian disasters and the response of both first-order impacts, such as agricultural production and the second order impacts, the tendency for political systems to become more repressive. Maxwell in Barrett (2010)

Olive production fell to 450,000 tonnes in 2014, about 50% of production before the conflict, reflecting poor rainfall and the impact of the conflict “Picking up the Pieces” (2015)

In Syria, severe droughts from 2006 to 2011 led to total crop failure and massive livestock mortality. By 2009 farmers and herders were heading for the city. The dysfunctional regime did little to quell the social and economic pressures resulting from these extraordinary climate stresses. Food insecurity was clearly a primary trigger for the instability that followed. Protests were often about access to food, the ensuing violence worsened food insecurity: a vicious cycle.

Weak rainfall has continued to suppress cereal production in important agricultural regions. Instability has disrupted famers’ access to fertilizer and seeds, magnifying the problem.  From Lybbert & Morgan’s “Case Study: Syria” in Barrett (2010)

 Map: World Food Programme July 2009. The village is north of Hasakah (red/green zone)   a website based on the 2014 Global Hunger Index. 

We have a house but no food!

A family from the village in Iraq-Kurdistan 2014

Conflicts jeopardise food supply

Refugees are even more likely to suffer from food insecurity, malnutrition and diseases. Ongoing violence, the huge number of internally displaced persons and increasing numbers of refugees from Syria have exacerbated the situation in Iraq too. Families from A Village in Syria can illustrate difficulties with food in Iraq. When they were in Iraq for 5 months in 2014, they told us “We have a house but no food” In 2014 Syria was classed as Moderate with a Hunger level of 5.0 to 9.9 Iraq as Serious 10.00 to 19.9

If a child is wasted this may be related to acute inadequate food intake or infectious diseases. If a child is stunted and wasted, this may be due to severe food insecurity or health problems over a longer period. Malnutrition is a factor in infections, such as leshmaniasis . Seventy five of the children in the camp developed leshmaniasis in 2014; a disease similar to leprosy, the vectors are sand flies. Treatment is very difficult and expensive. The scars can be scars for life. Better to buy soap for them, which we did in 2014. We are urging them to buy more soap now.  

One in four of the world’s children is stunted



Gardens offer great potential for improving household food and nutrition security on small, intensively used plots of land. Products are primarily intended for family consumption. The pathways for improving nutrition through home gardens include:

  1. Direct access to a diversity of nutritionally-rich foods
  2. Increased purchasing power from savings and income generated from the sale of garden products
  3. Secured food provision during lean seasonal periods (FAO, 2010a).

Any surplus is shared with other villages, not sold.


When the village had three engineers (who are now in Turkey, looking for work) we began to look at the feasibility for aquaponics. People in the area love to eat fish, the technology of aquaponics seems possible. We checked with the village, building a dam to create a fish pond is not feasible.  Any surplus fish could be sold although Importing and maintaining the equipment would be a challenge. We are looking at this again, not least because it would involve the men and create livelihoods them.


Ten years ago the village was self-sufficient in wheat and grew a variety of vegetables, both for the table and for crop rotation. The land was owned and worked by a several farmers, helping each other out with ploughing and harvesting. Wheat was taken to mills to be ground into flour, and stored in grain silos.

Grain silos are now casualties of the civil war: some have been converted or ‘canibalized’ for use as improvised oil refineries (Chatham House Report “Picking up the Pieces” 2015 by David Butter).  The village no longer takes grain for milling. It’s too dangerous to transport the grain. Grain is now milled in the village, by hand, “Artisan bread” in the UK, food for survival in the village.  

On-going difficulties with wheat production include the difficulty and cost of buying seed wheat; the difficulty and cost of buying fertilizers and the expense and difficulty of buying diesel for tractors. The village has a carefully maintained old combine harvester. Labour is not a problem, even with fewer men in the village, only seven at present. The men help each other and share the harvest. As noted elsewhere, there is a scarcity of water. In the drought years 2006-2011 (see World Food Programme Map above) the village suffered badly. However, the land is privately owned and there are no outstanding loans.


The only criticism we heard about the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) was in 2014 was when they felled a tree for firewood, when the temperature fell  to -17c. The village has some beautiful trees, carefully protected. We sent some money for new trees.     


Traditionally, the village has kept sheep (not cows). Each household kept one or more sheep, milking them, making yogurt and sometimes killing them for meat. Remarkably, four sheep have survived  8,500 IDPs camping on their grazing lands. The price of sheep has come down from 350 euro in 2014 120e (£86) in July 2015. This dramatic fall in price may reflect less buying power in Syria, but mainly the problem of animal diseases to Syria’s neighbours. Veterinary services in Syria have collapsed. On the other hand, this is a good time for the village to build up their stock. (Chatham House, Picking up the Pieces, 2015)

Sheep are hardy, live out most of the time but are treated to any household scraps and are kept as part of the household, along with hens and other poultry. 


A variety of hens, turkeys and pigeons are kept. Pigeons are prized for their eggs and meat. All the poultry glean in the fields and eat household scraps. Poultry are part of the landscape, needing little upkeep.  They are part of an ancient way of life, which treats trees, animals and birds with respect.

Melons  grown in a “secret garden” well away from the camp, then brought to the village on a donkey cart.  Village children and camp children enjoyed the task of transporting the melons. Within weeks Mosul had fallen and the children were separated. That was May 2014.  Amazing  that melons grow in semi-desert!

Please remember that the photos are mostly taken from google, not in the village. We have chosen them to illustrate points, and provide attractive pages rather than to reflect the difficult conditions. There is colour: butterflies are plentiful and colourful. Hoopoes are colourful too, but rare. Solomon was crossing the desert,  in scorching heat. Hoopoes came to his aid, and flew in a dense mass over his head, to form a shelter. “How can I reward you?” he asked. The birds asked for  a crown of gold, like his. The request was granted, each Hoopoe wore a gold crown. Soon  the golden crowns became heavy and wearisome, and attracted thieves . The few survivors  begged him to rescind his fatal gift. He substituted a crest of feathers. But the Hoopoe never forgets its former grandeur, and is always bowing and bending.

The story of Solomon & the hoopoes is from ‘the book’ – it should have resonance with Jews, Muslims and Christians. And conservationists!


Before the conflict started, the government maintained Scientific Research Stations, corralled in guarded complexes. If they did any work on disease-resistant or drought-resistance strains of wheat, their findings were not shared:  another government plan with no positive outcome for local farmers.