About The Author
Liam Fox was born and raised in East Kilbride. He trained to be a surgeon at the University of Glasgow, before going on to serve as an army doctor and then as a GP in Buckinghamshire. He has been the Conservative MP for North Somerset since 1992, living locally in Tickenham.
He joined the Opposition Front bench in 1997 and was appointed to a number of positions in the Shadow Cabinet. He was also Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party from 2003 until 2005. He was a member of David Cameron's first Cabinet after the 2010 General Election, serving as Secretary of State for Defence from May 2010 until his resignation in October 2011, following an investigation into his advisor Adam Werrity.
His first book is Rising Tides: Facing the Challenges of a New Era, in which he examines the implications of rapidly evolving global politics. He looks at what political leaders around the world think are the greatest threats to global stability and draws on his own experience to illuminate world events, past and present. The book includes his conversations of a variety of pressing global challeges with international figures such as Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Malcolm Rifkind and Donald Rumsfeld, exploring the of recent political decisions.
In this exclusive extract from Rising Tides, he identifies an unprecedently severe drought, 800,000 job losses and the arrival of around two million refugees, most from Iraq and Palestine as major factors in why Syria defied the opinions of experts in being drawn into the the Arab Spring.
Syria: Where Water and Politics Mix
Syria is where, some 12,000 years ago, many believe mankind first experimented with agriculture and cattle herding. Between 1900 and 2005 there were six significant droughts in Syria, but five of these lasted for only one season, allowing farming communities to use secondary water resources and to benefit from government support. The most recent drought, the seventh and by far the most devastating, lasted from 2006 to 2010, and it is estimated that more than 1.5 million people were displaced as a consequence. Whole communities of farmers left their homes and took themselves, their families and their few possessions from the north-east of the country, previously
the most agriculturally productive region, to the urban centres of the south, already overcrowded and with creaking infrastructures. How much did this contribute to the political crisis that is now overwhelming the country?
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been published continuously since 1945, when it was founded by former Manhattan Project physicists after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shahrzad Mohtadi is the bulletin's 2011 Leonard M. Rieser Fellow for Research. In August 2012 he produced a paper looking at the interaction between agricultural and water management and social unrest. Looking back on it now, it shows tremendous understanding and foresight. In his paper Mohtadi sets out how the current Syrian president's father guaranteed the Syrian people food security and economic stability, and underpinned his promises with subsidies to bring down the price of food, fuel and water (the wider implications of such policies will be dealt with later). At the same time, ill-thought-out projects like growing cotton - a water-intensive crop - meant that more water than ever was being consumed by agriculture at a time when water management was barely considered at all.
Many analysts, right up to a few days prior to the first protests, predicted that Syria under Bashar al-Assad would remain immune to the Arab Spring. However, with hindsight, we can see that the seeds of unrest were in fact present, and one of the causes was shortage of water. The regime had criminally combined mismanagement and neglect of Syria's natural resources resulting in desertification. One factor was the licensing system for new wells. The majority of irrigation in Syria uses groundwater as its source, since the amount of water available from rivers is insufficient. In 2005 the government began licensing the digging of agricultural wells, but its policy of keeping the Kurds in the north-east of the country economically underdeveloped resulted in licences being denied there. Unsurprisingly, the result was that more than half of the country's wells were illegally dug, and hence unregulated, leading to rapidly depleted groundwater reserves.
In 2009 it was reported that over 800,000 Syrians had lost their livelihoods as a result of the droughts, and in a UN report published a year later it was stated that 'up to 80 per cent of those severely affected live mostly on a diet of bread and sugared tea, which is not enough to cover daily calorific and protein needs for a healthy life'. The results were all too predictable, with hungry and thirsty people establishing temporary settlements on the edges of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Daraa. This worsened an already bad situation created by the arrival of nearly 2,000,000 refugees from outside the country, mainly Iraq and Palestine. In 2008 the American embassy in Damascus sent a message to the State Department quoting the Syria representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Abdulla bin Yehia. What he termed a 'perfect storm', the confluence of drought conditions with other economic and social pressures, bin Yehia believed, could undermine stability in Syria. I'm sure it is little comfort to him to realize how accurate his predictions were. To exactly what extent drought and migration were instrumental in tipping Syria into protest and then civil war is difficult to say, but the conflict is a warning to all governments, of whatever nature, of how humans can react when the taps are turned off .
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