Farmers who have escaped the battle-torn nation explain how drought and government abuse have driven social violence
- By John Wendle on December 17, 2015
A Syrian man comforts his wife after a treacherous sea crossing of around 16-kilometer from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in an overcrowded raft. Many refugees are overwhelmed with relief upon safely reaching the European coast.
Photograph by John Wendle
Kemal Ali ran a successful well-digging business for farmers in northern Syria for 30 years. He had everything he needed for the job: a heavy driver to pound pipe into the ground, a battered but reliable truck to carry his machinery, a willing crew of young men to do the grunt work. More than that, he had a sharp sense of where to dig as well as trusted contacts in local government on whom he could count to look the other way if he bent the rules. Then things changed. In the winter of 2006–2007, the water table began sinking like never before.
Ali had a problem. “Before the drought I would have to dig 60 or 70 meters to find water,” he recalls. “Then I had to dig 100 to 200 meters. Then, when the drought hit very strongly, I had to dig 500 meters. The deepest I ever had to dig was 700 meters. The water kept dropping and dropping.” From that winter through 2010, Syria suffered its most devastating drought on record. Ali’s business disappeared. He tried to find work but could not. Social uprisings in the country began to escalate. He was almost killed by crossfire. Now Ali sits in a wheelchair at a camp for wounded and ill refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.