Francesca lived in the Syrian capital Damascus from 2006 until 2010. During this period she carried out extensive research into different aspects of water management and use in Syria and explored the impact of long-term water mismanagement on the country’s water resources.
Articles and conference papers
- ‘Leaving the Land: The Impact of Long-term Water Mismanagement in Syria’. In: Water Scarcity, Security and Democracy: a Mediterranean Mosaic, de Châtel, F., Holst-Warhaft, G. and Steenhuis T. (eds.) GWP-Med and Cornell University.
- 'Vanishing Water Landscapes: Public Perceptions, Political Narratives, Traditional Beliefs Surrounding Water and Scarcity in the Middle East'. Colloquium. Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 4 February 2014. - 'La Syrie: une eau qui se raréfie'. Lecture and debate, L’Eau, Enjeu Géostratégique au Moyen Orient, L’Action de l’Union Européenne. Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, 17 April 2012.
Media coverage
- Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 6 April 2014

- Le Monde, 28 February 2014

- Environmental News Service, 28 February 2014

- Science Daily, 26 February 2014

Drought and Migration

Between 2006 and 2010 Syria’s north-eastern Jezira region suffered several consecutive droughts, which led to dramatic crop failure, the decimation of the livestock herd and the migration of hundreds of thousands of people to the south of the country.

The Syrian government blamed drought and climate change for the worsening humanitarian situation. But to local farmers and herders the drought was just one of many factors that forced them to abandon their land. “Agriculture is dead,” according to one farmer, following years of land and water mismanagement in the area and drastic subsidy cuts.

The government’s failure to adequately address the environmental and humanitarian crisis in Syria’s north-east fed a discontent that had long been simmering in rural areas and ultimately formed one of the triggers of the uprising that started in March 2011.

Francesca carried out extensive research into the impact of the 2006-10 drought, interviewing drought victims in the country’s north-east, those who had migrated to the south and to Lebanon, as well as government officials and ministers.

Articles and conference papers
- De Châtel, F. 2014. ‘The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution’, Middle Eastern Studies, January 2014 (online). DOI: 10.1080/00263206.2013.850076.

- 'The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution'. Water Scarcity, Risk and Democracy in the Mediterranean and Beyond Conference. Cornell University Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and GWP-Med, Athens, Greece, 12-13 April 2013.

- 'Syria: Blame It on Climate Change, Spinning the Drought'. Workshop Ressourcenkonflikte und Arabischer Frühling. Zentrum für Demokratie- und Friedensforschung, Universität Osnabrück, Germany, 3-4 December 2012.

- 'Blame It on Climate Change: Spinning Syria’s Four-Year Drought'. Water Scarcity and Policy in the Middle East and Mediterranean Conference. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA, 4-6 November 2011.

Damascus: The Death of the Garden of Eden

As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus was known through history as a verdant oasis in the desert, a city surrounded by gardens and orchards and bisected by streams of rushing fresh water.

However, as the city grew and water demand rose beyond the capacity of the Damascus Basin and its water resources, the situation changed. Today Damascus has engulfed the surrounding villages to create a sprawling city of around 6 million inhabitants.

The Barada River, the source of the city’s prosperity through the centuries, has been reduced to a slimy trickle of sewage and garbage.

In the Barada Valley, farmers who until 10 years ago irrigated their orchards with water from the river, fear that their grandchildren will not even remember the river’s existence. The gardens that surrounded the city have all but disappeared, covered in concrete and asphalt as they are swallowed by uncontrolled urban growth.

Francesca’s research traces the history of water use in Damascus from the early beginnings of the city to today, examining the causes of the current water crisis and discussing proposed solutions.

More recent research has focused on the loss of land and water rights in the Barada Valley and how this has impacted the current conflict.

Articles and conference papers
- ‘Damascus: The Death of the Garden of Eden’. In: A History of Water, Series 3, Vol. 1, Tvedt, T. & Oestigaard, T. (eds.) I.B. Tauris. Forthcoming 2014. 

- ‘Damascus: The Death of the Garden of Eden’. 7th International Water History Association conference in South Africa, June 2011.

- Waterless Wadi Barada: Manufacturing Scarcity in a Syrian River Valley - Francesca de Châtel and Mohammad Raba‘a