On 9 September, the United Nations announced that at least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean, seeking refuge in Europe this year and next. In its announcement, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, called for more cohesive asylum policies in order to deal with the growing numbers.
In a newly released document, the refugee agency reported that “in 2015, UNHCR anticipates that approximately 400,000 new arrivals will seek international protection in Europe via the Mediterranean. In 2016, this number could reach 450,000 or more.” It noted that many of the refugees are Syrians, who have been driven to make the dangerous voyage by intensified fighting there, coupled with worsening conditions for refugees in surrounding countries, which has been due to funding shortfalls in aid programmes. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler has noted that the prediction for this year is already close to being fulfilled as 366,000 have already made the voyage. He disclosed that the total will depend on whether migrants stop attempting the journey as the weather becomes colder and the seas more dangerous. Currently however the numbers do not appear to have slowed down, and are not likely to given Germany’s announcement that it will ease the rules for Syrians seeking refuge who first reach the European Union (EU) through other countries. The UNHCR has reported that a single-day record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on 7 September, while 30,000 are on Greek Islands, most of them on Lesbos.
Germany has told its European partners that they must take in more refugees as it handles record numbers of asylum seekers. Other countries, including the US and wealthy Gulf States must also take on their responsibilities. Last week, the White House announced that it was considering steps to ease the crisis.
On Monday 7 September, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that two British Islamic State (IS) fighters were killed by an RAF drone strike in Syria in an “act of self-defense.”
Speaking to MP’s Prime Minister Cameron disclosed that Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan, 21, was targeted in Raqa on 21 August and died alongside Ruhul Amin, another fighter who was from Aberdeen. The British Prime Minister disclosed that Khan had been plotting “barbaric” attacks at UK public events. Despite MP’s previously ruling out UK military action in Syria, Cameron indicated that the strike was lawful and necessary.
On Monday, the Prime Minister reported that Khan was killed in a precision strike by a remotely piloted aircraft, “after meticulous planning,” while he was travelling in a vehicle, adding that the legality of the strike had been approved by the attorney general. In his statement to the Commons, Cameron disclosed “my first duty as Prime Minister is to keep the British people safe… There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him. This government does not for one moment take these decisions lightly…But I am not prepared to stand here in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on our streets and have to explain to the House why I did not take the chance to prevent it when I could have done.” Shortly after his comments, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman urged the government to publish the legal advice, stating, “why didn’t the Attorney general authorize this special action rather than merely ‘confirming there was a legal basis for it’?”
While two years ago, MP’s rejected possible UK military action in Syria, in September 2014, they approved British participation in air strikes against IS targets in Iraq only. However, officials indicated at the time that the UK would “act immediately (in Syria) and explain to Parliament afterwards” if there was “a critical British national interest at stake.”
Exactly a year ago, the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group launched its sweeping offensive that resulted in the jihadist group overrunning large areas of territory in Syria and in Iraq and which has led to the death of thousands and displaced millions of people.
With 12 months of bloody conflict, it is likely that the situation will continue before the IS gains can be reversed. Speaking at the end of the G-7 summit in Germany on 8 June, United States President Barack Obama disclosed that when it comes to IS, “we don’t yet have a complete strategy” adding that the reason why there isn’t a complete strategy so far is that “it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place. The details of that are not yet worked out.” He did note that the Pentagon is currently busy drawing up plans in consultation with the Iraqis, and that once a plan can be signed off on, the details will be made public. This comment is similar to one he made back in August, when he stated, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/IS). Since his comments, the US and a coalition of allies have launched more than 4,000 airstrikes in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, however they have been unable to prevent key cities from falling to the jihadists. Furthermore, six months after the US began training Iraqi troops to fight IS militants, Iraq’s forces are often unable to match the jihadists. The US has trained around 7,000 Iraqi soldiers in a series of six-week training camps however none of those 7,000 were deployed in unsuccessful effort to defend Ramadi. President Obama has indicated that the US is “going to have to improve” training for Iraqi forces, leaving open the possibility of deploying additional American military trainers. Currently there are around 3,000 American troops deployed in Iraq.
Some Key events in the Conflict:
9: IS-led offensive begins in Iraq’s second largest city Mosul.
10: Mosul falls while the surrounding province of Nineveh follows as multiple Iraqi security forces divisions collapse. Then-premier Nuri al-Maliki, announces that the Iraqi government will arm citizens who volunteer to fight.
11: Tikrit, a major city located north of the capital Baghdad falls to IS.
13: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, calls on Iraqis to take up arms against the militant group.
IS claims to have executed 1,700 mainly Shiite recruits, releasing photos of the killings.
29: IS declares a cross-border Islamic “caliphate” in Iraq and neighboring Syria, which is headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
2: IS launches a renewed northern offensive, which drives Iraqi Kurdish forces back and which targets minority groups with mass killings, rape and enslavement.
Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority are besieged on Mount Sinjar. This draws international concern and prompts calls for intervention.
8: The United States begins air strikes in Iraq. An international coalition follows suit.
17: Maliki steps aside and is replaced by Haider al-Abadi
19: IS says it has beheaded US journalist James Foley, releasing a graphic video of the killing which results in international condemnation.
Similar shocking beheadings take the lives of journalists Steven Sotloff, Kenji Goto; aid workers David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassing, and Goto’s friend Haruna Yukawa.
22: Shiite militiamen gun down seventy people in what is an apparent revenge attack at a Sunni mosque in Diyala province.
23: The Anti-IS air campaign expands to neighbouring Syria.
25: Abadi declares first significant government victory in the Jurf al-Sakhr area, which is located near Baghdad.
29: IS executes dozens of Albu Nimr tribesmen. More mass killings follow.
14: Iraq forces recapture the strategic town of Baiji however it is later lost again to IS militants.
25: Witnesses and Sunni leaders accuse Shiite militiamen of executing over seventy residents in Diyala province.
26: Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaida announces that Diyala has been “liberated” from IS.
3: IS video shows Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh being burned alive in a cage after he was captured in Syria in December.
26: IS releases video of militants destroying ancient artefacts in a museum in Mosul.
2: Iraq launches massive operation to retake Tikrit from IS>
5: Iraq indicates that IS has begun “bulldozing” the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud. IS later releases a video of militants smashing artefacts before blowing up the site.
31: Abadi announces that Tikrit has been retaken. However the victory is marred by pro-government forces who burned and looted dozens of houses and shops.
5: IS releases video of militants destroying artefacts at the ancient city of Hatra, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
17: IS seizes Anbar capital Ramadi, which along with the capture of Palmyra in a Syria a few days later, signal its most significant
Islamic State now controls over 50% of Syria, after its capture of the ancient city of Palmyra. The group took control of Palmyra on Wednesday after a week-long siege. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad collapsed away after at least 100 Syrian regime troops were killed overnight in fighting against ISIS. The terrorist group also reportedly began to massacre members of the Shaitat tribe, who had previously rebelled against ISIS in Deir Ezzor. At that time, ISIS killed 800 of their members. ISIS has imposed a curfew in the city and has conducted weeps to find remaining members of Assad’s forces. The capture of Palmyra brings Islamic State closer to the government controlled strongholds of Homs and Damascus. ISIS control of the ancient city also severs supply lines to Deir Ezzor.
ISIS also now has control of the Arak and al-Hail gas fields near Palmyra. These fields power most of the Syrian regime’s strongholds in the west. Control of these fields has given ISIS control over a large portion of the country’s electricity supply.
ISIS now controls over 95,000 square kilometres in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group controls majority of Raqqa province, which is the group’s de-facto “capital”, and also controls most of Deir Ezzor. ISIS has also taken parts of Hassakeh and the Aleppo countryside, as well as parts of the Homs countryside and the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus. The group also controls most of the Syrian Desert. The areas it holds are mostly sparsely inhabited.
Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once a Silk Road hub a cultural centres of the ancient world. It is home to beautiful ruins of antiquity, including the Temple of Bel, built in the first century. ISIS considers the preservation of historical ruins a form of idolatry. UN and Syrian officials fear that ISIS plans to destroy the ruins, as it did in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and in Iraq’s Mosul Museum. In the absence of opposition, the group can enter and destroy the historic city’s ancient ruins. ISIS has used the destruction of heritage sites as a form of profit; selling looted remnants of destroyed ruins on the black market. The group also uses the destruction of these sites as propaganda.
The cohesion and strength of Syrian troops has been called to question amid the fall of Palmyra. Forces fell away from the city rapidly, surprising many observers, considering the importance of Palmyra and its proximity to supply routes. Syria’s main cities, including Damascus, are located in the west, near the border with Lebanon or on the Mediterranean coastline. These cities have been the priority for the Syrian military. It appears the troops are focusing their attention on protecting areas to the west, rather than fighting for areas currently occupied by the terrorist group.
11 March – New research conducted at Columbia University suggests that climate change was a critical factor in the 2011 Syrian uprising. The research also warns that global warming is likely to unleash more wars in the coming decades.
Three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, however only 2.5% of that water is potable freshwater, and nearly 70% of that is trapped in glaciers. Every living thing that requires freshwater for survival relies on 0.37% of the total global water supply. In many places, water consumption has begun to exceed local water recharge. The World Bank estimates that 2.8 billion people live in areas afflicted by high water stress, and they expect this figure to rise through 2050, when the human population crosses 9 billion. The UN estimates that at current rates, as many as 700 million people may become “water refugees”, forced to migrate due to water scarcity by 2025.
The Syria conflict, which has killed over 200,000 and displaced millions, is the first war that scientists have explicitly linked to climate change. The 2011 conflict was preceded by a record drought that ravaged Syria between 2006 and 2010. The drought caused an exodus of farmers and herders into cities that were already strained form poverty and a growing number of refugees from Iraq. The research, found in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the timing of the uprising is unlikely to be a coincidence. The study combined climate, social and economic data relating to the “Fertile Crescent”, a crucial agricultural and herding area which spans parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq. The region has warmed by between 1 and 1.2C since 1900, and rainfall in the wet season has diminished by an average of 10%.
In Syria, the ruling al-Assad regime encouraged the development of water-intensive export crops such as cotton. Water scarcity was then worsened by the illegal drilling of irrigation wells that dramatically depleted groundwater which would have otherwise provided valuable reserves, the report said. The drought’s effects were immediate. Agriculture production, a quarter of Syria’s economy, plummeted by a third. Livestock decreased significantly and the price of cereal doubled. As many as 1.5 million people fled from the country to the city.Further, these impacts were coupled with rapid population growth, from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million today amongst the rising population, nutrition-related diseases among children increased dramatically. Lead author of the report, Colin Kelley, says, “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with pre-existing acute vulnerability.”
Demand for basic commodities such as wheat and copper is expected to rise over the next two decades. Chatham House think-tank has warned that relatively small shocks to supply risk can cause sudden price rises and trigger “overreactions or even militarised responses.”
The report also sites that Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq are among those most at risk from drought because of the intensity of the drying and the history of conflict in the region. Beyond the Middle East, drought can be found in other regions where conflict have emerged, including Afghanistan and East African countries such as Somalia and Sudan, and parts of Central America – especially Mexico, which is afflicted by crime, is politically unstable, short of water and reliant on agriculture.
Yemen: the first country to run out of water?
On the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, which has been beset with conflict and instability for years, is likely to become the first country in the world to run out of water. Experts believe that Sana’a, the nation’s internationally recognised capital (although the president has recently moved his operations to Aden), will run dry by 2025, causing extreme water scarcity for its 2 million residents and leading to a potential exodus. The majority of Yemen’s water resources are used to grow khat. Khat is a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant, but accounts for 40% of the nation’s water supply. Within the nation, between 70-80% of rural conflict stems from water-related disputes.
Water as a weapon
Water has become both a weapon and a military objective during. During Libya’s civil war in 2011, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces shut-off two-thirds of Tripoli’s water supplies, leaving almost half the country short of water. In Syria, rebels have targeted the water system in their fight against the Assad regime. In 2012, terrorist insurgents in Afghanistan poisoned a well near a girls’ school in Afghanistan in order to punish those receiving an education. Similarly during the conflict in Darfur, number of wells were poisoned as part of a campaign to intimidate local residents.
A report on Global Water Security, published in 2012 by the United Sates Director of National Intelligence, states that that the demand for water would lead to an increased risk of conflict in the future. The Pacific Institute, which tracks water-related conflicts, has reported an increase in the number of violent confrontations that have recently occurred over water.
Nearly 1.2 billion people in the Middle East and Africa live in regions where water is a physical scarcity. However the some argue that hostilities may not just emerge over water itself, but water shortages will become a catalyst for other critical issues. The lack of water is likely to worsen problems by driving up the prices of food, impacting economies and costs of living, and forcing migration. This could lead to armed conflict to secure valuable water resources. In this regard, experts believe that conflict over water scarcity may take the form of local intra-state battles rather than nation-on-nation battles. The key take-away: battles of these types are becoming increasingly likely. Poor governments may lack the funding or infrastructure to support growing water needs, and wealthy countries have sometimes been lax with protecting their water supply, leading to contamination. The global market is so interwoven that water shortages can affect exports of commodities around the world. For example, the United Kingdom imports as much as 40% of its food. It is therefore incumbent upon international governments to address water scarcity before water related conflict becomes the norm.