The Syria crisis continues to fuel the largest displacement crisis in the world. Ecological degradation and climate disruption are impacting and shaping the humanitarian and development operations that have been mounted in response. These include those under the umbrella of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in Response to the Syria Crisis (hereafter known as the 3RP). 3RP countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Türkiye – have been housing refugees of this crisis for over a decade. Together, they host a population of approximately 7.1 million refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons, as well as 12.9 million impacted host community members.
The urgent development and humanitarian challenges triggered by the Syria crisis are exacerbated by an interlinked, but often less visible, slowmotion crisis: ecological degradation in the form of growing water insecurity, rising temperatures, decreasing agricultural production, and the legacies of the conflict. Even before the conflict erupted in 2011, the sub-region was considered the world’s most water scarce, and one where land and water resources were highly politically sensitive, both at a community level and across borders. The wider region was already grappling with a number of pressing environmental challenges:
Environmental mainstreaming in the 3RP 3 in addition to water scarcity, these included deteriorating water quality, degraded landscapes, damaging air pollution, rapid biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and poor waste management.
The Syria crisis has taken a humanitarian, socio-economic, and environmental toll, not only on Syria but also on all the surrounding countries impacted by the large movement of refugees. The more than a decade of fighting has, directly and indirectly, damaged the environment. This has left a legacy that has worsened the crisis and complicated the humanitarian response. In 3RP countries, the influx of refugees and internally displaced people has put additional pressure on natural resources such as land and freshwater, on which host communities also rely.
As the demand for assistance in the 3RP countries has risen, so too has the environmental footprint of 3RP partners. Unintended environmental degradation resulting from humanitarian action can worsen a crisis by impeding the recovery of refugee and host communities who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, with negative and long-term impacts on their lives and on the environment itself.