Dry Spell 

By Alex Gryciuk

August 2022—Pakistan experiencing a monsoon rainfall that brought almost 190% more rain than a three decade long average, declared a national emergency. Subsequent flooding due to rainfall destroyed 1.7 million homes, caused about 1,400 deaths, and affected more than 33 million Pakistanis. 

September 2022—Hurricane Ian passing through the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, and Florida set record highs. The strongest September since 2007 in the affected Caribbean regions, Ian’s winds reached maximum speeds of 105 mph in the islands. Further sustaining 115 mph winds, the category three hurricane was the strongest September hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since 2017. After passing through Cuba, Ian, now a Category four hurricane, became the strongest hurricane to hit Florida since 2018 and the fifth strongest hurricane to hit the United States. In Florida, 1-1000-year amounts of rainfall in some places resulted in 15 inches of rain within 12 hours and a reported storm surge of 12 to 18 feet above ground level along the southwestern coast. 

October 2022—historically low water levels cover less than eight percent of a 2005 target level reported for the Euphrates River. In fact, according to The Smithsonian, “A recent NASA-German government satellite study found that the Tigris-Euphrates basin is losing groundwater faster than any other place on earth except India,” meaning that water is leaving the important river beds facing environmental catastrophe more than ever. Such studies confirm scientists’ worst fears: Iraq’s historic, fertile Tigris and Euphrates rivers face complete depletion of water levels by 2040. 

The start to a steady decline, water levels first significantly dropped after the 1991 Gulf War when Saddam Husseini diverted the flow water away from the Tigris and Euphrates river marshes as retaliation for a failed rebellion. Further damaging a healthy water line for the historic river, ongoing conflicts with Turkey, dam regulations, and domestic war threaten the livelihood of millions. Most devastating, climate change causes the most damage to water levels. Declared as “the fifth-most vulnerable country to climate breakdown” by the United Nations, Iraq remains in significant danger of being affected by “soaring temperatures, insufficient and diminishing rainfall, intensified droughts and water scarcity, frequent sand and dust storms, and flooding.” Already facing climate change’s unrelinquishing hand, a trend of devastating droughts forces millions to leave behind their homes and livelihoods for newer, more secure ones. 

2006 marked the first significant drought that “forced farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers” according to The Smithsonian. Today, after about three years of typically low rainfall, drought and extremely high heat leave the historic rivers to where they are now with a devastatingly low level of water

The Euphrates—the longest river in southwest Asia measuring about 1,740 miles long—flows through Iraq, across Syria, and Turkey. For its fertile agricultural land and river beds and historically huge water supply, the Euphrates River fostered an environment perfect for the establishment of the first civilizations like Mesopotamia that for almost 3,000 years “maintained a significant degree of cultural unity.” Found in the fertile crescent, the regions around the Euphrates River allowed for the “exchange of culture and ideas, and advancements in the region as writing (cuneiform), math, and religion” as civilization transformed societies who once lived nomadic lifestyles. The first civilizations set a precedent for the rest of human history to value a sedentary lifestyle, better education, and establish more emphasis on artisanal societies, leaving valuable, archaeological artifacts behind. 

Not only does the Euphrates river expose the devastating effects of climate change, but also reveals historical land sites. Since much of the river has dried up, an ancient history lodged under water has been discovered recently. Archaeologies are currently excavating a perfectly preserved city built around 3,400 years ago so well preserved that walls of buildings still contain bricks. Furthermore, “at least 75 archeological sites had been partially excavated” from civilizations dating back to Sumerian and Roman periods in the basin. 

While some parts of the planet face the horrifying effects of droughts, others face even greater devastation from a lack of water. The Eurphaties and Tigris river are no exception to the horrifying trend. Having never dried up before, there’s definitely some concern about the current dry spell in the Middle East.