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February 06, 2015


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I think the paper makes a lot of sense. Extreme weather events do not typically move a society that much--the whole point of civilization is laid down with the Joseph and Pharaoh meme. Low levels of social organizations and move and fight for better land.

WRT Syria, it seems to me that the process is pretty similar to Russia 1890s-1920s only more compressed. Drought hurts, of course, but globalization hurt a lot more, in reducing the value of subsistence labor. Syria has had agricultural problems for a while because of poor structural maintenance of abilities/infrastructure such that farmers far away from the cities had increasingly poor access to water, fertilizer, and diesel. The kids kept moving to the cities and doing what they had to just to keep going (and having every coin sucked up by royal grant monopolists). Assad, in trying to rationalize the country's fiscal situation, cut subsidies for fuel, and that was, more or less, the immediate trigger for violence.

Broadly, I think the usual recipe for severe civil unrest holds true. Raise a bunch of people from poverty, give them lots of access to each other in terms of media and telecom, and then impoverish their expectations. A large deficit between group self-image and reality, and particularly expectations of a future diminished reality that belie what their egos say.

I linked to a O’Loughlin et al ("Effects of temperature and precipitation variability on the risk of violence in sub-Saharan Africa, 1980–2012")[1] from PNAS in Dec.

Its interesting the paper you link to doesn't cite it.


I concur with shah8's assessment regarding the need for a more nuanced understanding of the role that drought may have played. Clearly, it cannot be removed from the broader context of the shifting economic situation in Syria (and the concurrent re-alignment of political elites).

In the below paper, Azmeh argues that the confluence of diminishing economic opportunity and a tightening of the 'inner circle' cut out large swathes of the traditional economy (and its respective power brokers) from the 'new' Syrian economy - a fact that served as a major contribution to the initial unrest/protest movement. This was heightened, though certainly not dependent upon, the 2006-2010 drought.


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