A main driver or an intermediate variable? Climate change, water and security in the Middle East

Eran Feitelson, Amit Tubi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The nexus between climate change and violent conflict is at the center of intensifying political and academic debate. Yet research on the extent and strength of this relationship remains inconclusive and much of the literature is largely empirical, lacking a sufficient theoretical underpinning. This study advances a conceptual framework linking climate change induced droughts and conflict, in potentially iterative relations. The framework is applied to two case studies displaying different responses to an extreme drought tentatively linked with climate change. To this end, we analyze the effect of the 2007–10 drought that afflicted the Middle East on the Euphrates and the lower Jordan River basins. While in the Euphrates basin the 2007–10 drought was followed by the outbreak of large-scale violent conflict in Syria which spilled over to Iraq, conflicts did not occur in the more water stressed Jordan River basin despite the tensions between the riparian countries. Using multiple sources the main factors that affected the responses to the drought in the two basins are identified and analyzed comparatively. The results show that the behavior of upper riparian countries and states' institutional and economic structures constitute critical factors affecting the likelihood of conflict. Most importantly, conflicts evolved only when fundamental factors, particularly adaptive capacity, have been compromised. Thus, from a theoretical perspective, we find that climate change is an intermediate variable, and should be analyzed as such, rather than as a major driver of conflict.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)39-48
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - 1 May 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Climate change
  • Conflict
  • Drought
  • Euphrates River
  • Jordan River
  • Middle East


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