Be careful what you wish for ... Environmental Ruin Could Make Postwar Syria Unlivable


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One thing is certain, fighters and military managers don't give a shit about the environment.

Syrians will never get the freedom they were promised by those who provoked the uprising. Their land will never recover from the pollution of war and political duplicity.

The best the non-Assad sectors of Syria can hope for is a bunch of isolated bantustans with no relation to greater Syria and no synergy or connectivity to other bantustans.

The only people who have benefited from this war are the profiteers and shareholders of the military-industrial complex of the USA.

Environmental Ruin Could Make Postwar Syria Unlivable
Kira Walker Tuesday, March 2, 2021
After nearly a decade of conflict, the extensive damage inflicted on Syria’s environment is emerging as another devastating, if less visible, tragedy of its civil war. Polluted soil and contaminated water are exacerbating the already severe suffering of Syrian civilians, undermining their ability to meet their basic needs and jeopardizing the country’s postwar future.

While the war in Syria is far from over, the steep environmental toll will pose significant challenges to the country’s recovery when the fighting does eventually stop. Syrian and international experts are warning that the environmental impacts of war must be addressed with urgency—or the damage and ensuing humanitarian consequences will only become more dire.

“Identifying the impact of the environmental damage is important, as people don’t always realize that it continues after the cessation of armed conflict,” says Marwa Daoudy, an associate professor of international relations at Georgetown University, whose research focuses on environmental politics and security in Syria.

Virtually no aspect of Syria’s environment has been untouched by the war that began in 2011 as an uprising against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Since then, the constellation of state and nonstate actors involved in the fighting—including Assad’s forces, the opposition Free Syrian Army and its affiliates, Kurdish militias, and terrorist groups like the Islamic State—have been complicit in varying levels of environmental harm.

Attacks on oil wells, refineries and industrial facilities have contaminated the country’s soil, air and water. In the absence of effective environmental governance due to the fighting, chemicals and toxic waste are often dumped into lakes and rivers, while deforestation has accelerated. Already, the agriculture sector, a pillar of Syria’s prewar economy, has contracted by over 40 percent in real terms. The toxic legacy of the war—from munitions, unexploded ordnance and vast quantities of hazardous rubble—will reverberate long after the fighting ends, with serious implications for Syrians’ well-being and livelihoods.

One especially devastating environmental impact stems from the weaponization of water. Throughout the conflict, state and nonstate actors alike have tried to gain a military edge by targeting reservoirs and wastewater treatment plants, or by diverting or hoarding water resources. Partly as a result of these tactics, an estimated 15.5 million Syrians—over 90 percent of the population—lack access to safe water sources, according to the United Nations, heightening the risk of waterborne and infectious diseases.

Syria’s population faces myriad other acute and long-term environmental health risks, from contaminated water sources, pollution and toxic chemicals. There are other long-lasting but less tangible implications for public health, due to biodiversity loss and degraded soils, according to Wim Zwijnenburg, a project leader at PAX, a Dutch NGO.

“At war’s end, the provision of water and basic services becomes one of the most important humanitarian priorities. If you don’t address that, it’s really hard to begin the rebuilding.”
The environmental impacts of war “also can have detrimental consequences for a country’s ability to counter climate change,” says Zwijnenburg. For example, PAX estimates that 25 percent of Syria’s tree cover has disappeared during the war—and with it, crucial carbon sinks. This loss also disrupts local ecosystems while making them less diverse and resilient. As a result, local communities are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including soil erosion, drought and extreme weather patterns.

All of this has grave implications for what kind of country Syria will be when the war eventually ends. A healthy environment is critical to supporting reconstruction and recovery priorities, from basic human needs like food security to health care and economic development. Reconstructing and restoring water infrastructure will be especially vital given its critical role underpinning life.

“At war’s end, the provision of water and basic services becomes one of the most important humanitarian priorities. If you don’t address that, it’s really hard to begin the rebuilding work,” says Erika Weinthal, a professor of environmental policy at Duke University. Her research has looked at how the targeting of water, sanitation, waste and energy infrastructure is an increasingly prevalent weapon of war in the Middle East and North Africa, with long-term repercussions for conflict resolution and recovery.

There is no debate about the importance of access to clean water for social welfare and stability. But because it is a public good that does not generate revenue, “there isn’t the will to invest in restoring water systems from the international community,” Weinthal explains. Consequently, in many conflict-affected countries, there is a tendency to rely on extractive industries like oil, gas, minerals and timber because they generate revenue more easily. “Livelihood resources—water, land and the agricultural sector in particular—are not thought about in the same way, and those are the ones that are actually most important for human security,” she says.

Because the civil war has prevented any systematic field measurements of Syria’s environment, the full extent of the environmental damage remains unknown, and getting reliable data remains a major challenge. “What is needed first is improved monitoring and assessment of environmental impacts, which can help set priorities for responses to environmental damage and help understand what type of assistance is needed,” says Zwijnenburg.

Despite the high costs of that environmental damage, experts caution that it will have to compete for attention and funding with a host of other recovery priorities in Syria. In general, more awareness is needed—among Syrians as well as foreign NGOs and aid donors—of what the environmental destruction in Syria will mean for the country now and for future generations. Donors can help, Daoudy points out, through conditional funding that ensures the environment is prioritized in a way that supports human security.

Above all, it is imperative that international donors ensure that the relief and resources they provide foster the resilience of Syrian communities—not the Assad regime. Given that the roots of the conflict have much to do with an extremely unequal balance of power and resources in Syrian society, the eventual postwar recovery must address those inequalities. Otherwise, there will be no long-term peace in Syria.

“If you don’t tackle the structural issues, there is no accountability,” Daoudy says. “You just put a band-aid on a situation which is boiling and really problematic, and it will not be sustainable.”