If Syria's War Started With Water, What Should California and São Paulo Do?

On March 15, 2011, the Syrian war officially started. Coupled with the "Arab Spring" the region seemed to be experiencing a promising time; young and old were revolting for democracy and justice. While the other countries ousted their violent dictators, Syria found itself trapped in a bloodbath. The last four and a half years have left thousands displaced and hundreds of thousands dead. Now we are witnessing the largest refugee migration since World War II.

When considering the timeline of events, it is quite possible that what is happening can be linked back to one important factor -- access to fresh water.

Reporters and Middle East experts have made links between the Syrian civil war and dry farmlands - some noting that those who would have had their hands in the dirt are now left with no opportunity than to put their hands on guns. Now, nearly five years later, we are witnessing a massive migration of refugees fleeing their bloodstained nation, seeking safety and refuge in Europe and beyond.

Water wars are not a new conflict. Climate change is not causing water wars, but climate change could increase the frequency in which we experience conflict and displacement because of widespread, long-term droughts.

If drought does have something to do with Syria's incredibly devastating war and mass migration, we must wonder if other drought stricken regions are at risk of increased violence and displacement.

From Syria, to California, to São Paulo - a lack of access to fresh water is becoming all too common across the globe. The state of São Paulo, with a population of 44 million, is experiencing its most significant drought in 80 years. People are already protesting water rationing and lack of government oversight. Civil unrest is bound to take hold in São Paulo as taps continue to run dry and the government turns to military involvement to control the situation.

Meanwhile, California is a tinderbox that has not seen this level of dryness for 500 years. Porterville, a predominately Latino area that was once flourishing farmland, is home to more than a thousand residents without running water. Local drought centers are offering communal showers, and many residents have to pay for gallons of bottled water. This is not a long-term, sustainable solution. Eventually, they will have no choice but to pack up their bags and leave.

With trends toward increased populations, sprawling cities, water guzzling industries, and expanded military operations, there is a dire need for policymakers to assess these unpredictable, volatile situations that are displacing people in record numbers.

If drought is intensifying mass displacement and civil unrest, what are the solutions?