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U.S. Should Address Water Shortages That Contributed To Syrian Conflict

“The agreement forged by Russia and the United States over the weekend on Syria’s chemical weapons is good news for diplomacy … But the short-term focus on chemical weapons use risks undermining some much-needed long-term thinking on the issue,” Michael Shank, director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and Emily Wirzba, program assistant for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at FCNL, write in an opinion piece on CNN’s “Global Public Square” blog. “[T]he Obama administration should belatedly be willing to address a surprising source of the current tensions — water shortages,” they state, adding, “Indeed, the sad fact is that the United States could have helped prevent tensions in Syria from escalating into civil breakdown if it had worked with the international community to tackle a growing problem with this most basic of resources.”

When Syria’s agriculture minister stated in a 2008 cable that “the economic and social fallout from the drought was beyond the country’s capacity to cope with” and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Damascus directly appealed to the U.S., “the U.S. government appears to have balked at the appeal for greater assistance,” the authors write. “As a result of lackluster U.S. leadership, the global response was weak,” Shank and Wirzba state, noting continuing water scarcity issues in Syria and Yemen. “If the [U.S.] wants to do something constructive to address potential flashpoints in the Middle East it would do well to address the root causes of tensions. And it will find ensuring that local populations have access to adequate resources far more effective — and less costly — than firing off more missiles,” they conclude (9/17).