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)
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.
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.
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:
Any surplus is shared with other villages, not sold.
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.
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.