In Khan Sheikhoun (Rural Idleb), Mohamed Abed-Alkareem Mubarek planted his land (20 dunums) with barley and pistachio Shrubs. He had been waiting impatiently for the harvest day when he could collect the crops, sell them, and get the money he was in need to cover the trip costs back home for his parents, who were in the northern areas of Syria. But a wildfire had burned the whole land and dashed his dreams.
“I had high hopes of getting a lucrative harvest, but heat waves fueled a fire that consumed everything. I cannot bring my parents back home anymore,” said Mohamed indicating that the tragic incident forced him to work for other landowners in order to meet his basic needs.
Blistering heat waves have smashed temperature records around the globe, fueling wildfires, and scorching crops, and causing catastrophic impacts on people, especially the most vulnerable families who have suffered crises for long years and are unable to handle new shocks.
Nevertheless, the climate changes effects on farmers, in Syria, are not limited to wildfires. They affect the rainfall rates and temperatures, which highly increase in summer and fall, and extremely decrease in winter. In Lattakia, farmers suffer a huge loss in agricultural crops.
Firas Sarem, a farmer from Sonouber village, Rural Lattakia, explained how climate change impacted the farming process: “The temperatures are dramatically increasing in summer, where whiteflies can multiply into the kind of swarm and hit citrus crops, not to mention that controlling the whitefly is difficult, as they rapidly develop resistance to chemical pesticides. Moreover, the lack of September rainfalls has affected the yield of olive trees.”
Firas lost winter crops of zucchini and eggplant due to the sharp decrease in temperatures and the formation of ice, which is unusual in coastal areas.
In mountain areas in Rural Lattakia, the cropland has burnt due to heatwaves and winds. In addition, the heavy storms, which hit at unusual times, have destroyed the trees.
The decline in cultivation and in production of agricultural land presents a threat to food security.
The farmer Ayoub Ayoub from Rastan, Rural Homs, clarified how that wheat cultivation has been greatly affected as a result of climate change. He said that the one rainfed dunum of wheat used to produce 400 to 600 kg, but it has declined to 200-250 kg Today. Wheat is the main ingredient in bread production, which is a staple item for Syrian families.
Farmers abandoned the cultivation of sugar beet, due to drought and lack of rain, which affected the quantity and quality of production.
Abo-Ayoub, a father of 7 children, depends on farming to provide for his family. However, the thin giving of the land has affected the family’s food and clothing and every aspect of life. “Poor rainfalls caused a drop in a large variety of cultivated forms such as coriander, kalonji, anise, and cumin that are used in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Even cotton plantation has deteriorated due to the successive poor rains and changes in precipitation.”
Ayoub (52 y) noted that the drought had an impact on the groundwater. In his village, people used to dig boreholes at depth of (15 M) and reach the groundwater needed to irrigate 15 dunum of crops, while today they need to dig deeper (70 M) in order to reach less quantity of irrigation water.
The decrease in groundwater was a big problem for Abo-Ali (65 y), a framer from Rural Raqqa, where lack of water pushed him to lease his farmland, instead of farming it. He said: “My land is 6 dunum land, and it was the only source of income, but during the crisis, we haven’t had an access to the water station. I drilled a well to ensure irrigation water, but to no avail, as the increased temperatures led to a decrease in its water level and an increase in its salinity, and it became unsuitable for irrigating vegetables, and thus production quantities declined.” Two years ago, when Abo-Ali planted the land with wheat, the total cultivation was only 550 Kg. “I couldn’t pay the farming costs of diesel, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and other tools. So, I had to lease it, in return for a small fee, to someone who can draw water from a deeper nearby borehole,” added Abo-Ali.
Along with farming, drought has affected the pastoral areas and livestock breeders that some of them were forced to sell their livestock or go into debt to pay for the fodder.
Furthermore, climate change is already impacting health in a myriad of ways, including by leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, dust storms, and floods; and that in turn places huge pressure on the health care services. For the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the date of 16/6/2022 is unforgettable when an intensive dust storm (100 Km/h) hit the city of Deir Ezzour, northeast Syria. They received a lot of emergency calls and had to transport many medical cases in one car to Al-Assad Hospital, which was the only medical facility that has the capacity to receive cases of suffocation that totaled 66 cases. They had also to treat many other cases at home.
The effects of climate change are threatening food and water supplies, livelihoods, health, and economical security in every place around our planet, but people who are already facing crises and living in vulnerable situations are hit hardest, due to their limited capacity for adaptation.
According to data collected by the Red Crescent volunteers during their home visits in Sweida to monitor the coping strategies of families, the residents in drought-affected villages have been forced to adopt negative coping mechanisms, such as rural-to-urban migration, selling assets like lands, using seeds allocated for planting in household consumption, reducing the amounts and numbers of daily meals, and sending children into the labor market.
In Arrajah, a village in Sweida (eastern rural) that is experiencing deficient rainfalls, the villagers buy water from tankers as their only available source of water.
Saber Harb (62 y), a resident of the village, had to sell his livestock (6 cows and 50 sheep) and share his land production with tractors owners, as ways to cope with a changing climate that impacted his agricultural production, but he said his attempts to mitigate losses and secure a decent income to provide for his family were to no avail. As a result, his four male children were forced to travel abroad in search of livelihood, and he had to leave for the city with his wife and daughter, a decision he described as “changed my life for the worse, I had to go far from my land, and live apart from the community that I’m accustomed to, but I had no other choice”.
While many villages were affected by drought and farmers were forced to abandon their lands, floods and torrential floods covered many lands in the southeastern and northern countryside of Raqqa, as a result of heavy rains, and not only that but also caused death among civilians. In Al-Akirshi village, one km from the Euphrates River in the southern countryside of Raqqa, the people are still telling the story of Ibrahim, who lost his wife and daughter in a flood that swept them into a valley close to their house.
One of Ibrahim’s neighbors said that the man and his family had fled the crisis situation in their hometown and sought safety in Al-Akirshi village. Then the flood hit his place, where he managed only to pull his son to higher ground. He returned soon to save his wife and daughter, but he didn’t find them. They were found dead at the bottom of the valley.
According to the “When It Rains Dust” report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 200 million people every year could need international humanitarian aid by 2050, a doubling compared to 2018 partly due to climate change. It mentioned also that 1/3 of the world’s cropland has been abandoned in the past 40 years because of erosion. Each year, an additional 20 million hectares of agricultural land either becomes too degraded for crop production or is lost to urban sprawl.