Securitizing Water, Climate, and Migration in Israel, Jordan, and Syria

Original Paper


Protracted droughts and scarce water resources, combined with internal and cross-border migration, have contributed to the securitization of discourses around migration and water in much of the Middle East. However, there is no clear understanding of the conditions under which water, climate change, and migration are conceived of as security concerns or of their policy implications. This article explores the different means through which Israel, Jordan, and Syria have framed issues of water, climate change, and migration as national security concerns. Based upon an analysis of governmental and publicly available documents, coupled with field interviews with Israeli and Jordanian policymakers, experts, and nongovernmental organizations, we identify two different framings of the water–climate–migration nexus, depending on whether migration is largely external or internal. In Israel and Jordan, concern with influxes of external migrants elevated migration as a security issue in part through impacts on already-scarce water resources. In Syria, where severe drought in the early 2000s prompted large-scale internal migration, officials downplayed connections between scarce water resources, drought, and internal migration, part of a broader pattern of rural neglect. Unlike much of the conventional literature that has posited a linear relationship between climate change, decreasing water availability, and migration, we provide a more robust picture of the water–climate–migration nexus that shows how securitized framings take different forms and produce several unintended consequences.


Securitization Refugees Water Climate change Migration 



Global mean surface temperature


Israel Climate Change Information Centre


Nongovernmental organization


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


United Nations Environment Programme


United Nations HIgh Commissioner on Refugees


United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East


United States of America


  1. Akkad, D. (2009). Severe drought affects 1.3 million in Syria. Christian Science Monitor, 18, 6.Google Scholar
  2. Allan JA (1997) Virtual water: A long term solution for water short Middle Eastern economies? Occasional Paper 3, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.Google Scholar
  3. Al-Qdah, T., & Lacroix, M. (2010). Iraqi refugees in Jordan: Lessons for practice with refugees globally. International social work. doi:10.1177/0020872810383449.  
  4. Biermann, F., & Boas, I. (2010). Preparing for a warmer world: Towards a global governance system to protect climate refugees. Global Environmental Politics, 10(1), 60–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, O., & Crawford, A. (2009). Rising temperatures, rising tensions: Climate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle East. Winnipeg: IISD.Google Scholar
  6. Buzan, B., & Wæver, O. (2003). Regions and powers: The structure of international security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buzan, B., Wæver, O., & de Wilde, J. (1998). Security: A new framework for analysis. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Cook, C., & Bakker, K. (2012). Water security: Debating an emerging paradigm. Global Environmental Change, 22, 94–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dabelko, G. (2009). Avoid hyperbole, oversimplification when climate and security meet. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.Google Scholar
  10. Daoudy, M. (2013). Back to conflict? The securitization of water in Syrian–Turkish relations. In R. Hinnebusch & Ö. Tür (Eds.), Turkey–Syria relations: Between enmity and amity (pp. 133–143). Farnham: Ashgate Publishers.Google Scholar
  11. de Châtel, F. (2014). The role of drought and climate change in the Syrian uprising: Untangling the triggers of the revolution. Middle Eastern Studies, 50(4), 521–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donati, C. (2013). The economics of authoritarian upgrading in Syria: Liberalization and the reconfiguration of economic networks. In S. Heydemann & R. Leenders (Eds.), Middle East authoritarianisms: Governance, contestation, and regime resilience in Iran and Syria (pp. 35–60). Stanford: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Erian, W. (2011). Drought vulnerability in the Arab region; Case study—drought in Syria: 10 years of scarce water, 2000–2010. Damascus: The Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD) and UN International Strategy of Disaster Reduction, Regional Office for the Arab States, April. Accessed 19 Dec 2014.
  14. Evans, J. (2009). Global warming impact on the dominant precipitation processes in the Middle East. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 99, 389–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fagen, P. W. (2009). Iraqi refugees: Seeking stability in Jordan and Syria. Qatar: Institute for the study of international migration, Georgetown University and Center for international and regional studies, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.Google Scholar
  16. Feitelson, E., Tamimi, A., & Rosenthal, G. (2012). Climate change and security in the Israeli–Palestinian context. Journal of Peace Research, 49, 241–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fischhendler, I. (2015). Securitization of water discourse: theoretical foundations and research gaps. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law, and Economics, Introduction to Special Issue. doi:10.1007/10784-015-9277-6.
  18. Fischhendler, I., & Katz, D. (2013). The use of “security” jargon in sustainable development discourse: Evidence from UN Commission on Sustainable Development. International Environmental Agreements, 13(3), 321–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fiske, G. (2013). Netanyahu: Egypt border fence halted flow of migrants. Jerusalem: The Times of Israel.Google Scholar
  20. Floyd, R. (2008). The environmental security debate and its significance for climate change. International Spectator, 43(3), 51–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Freimuth, L., Bromberg, G., Mehyar, M., & Al Khateeb, N. (2007). Climate change: A new threat to Middle East security. Israel: EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East. Google Scholar
  22. Göbel, W., & De Pauw, E. (2010). Climate and drought atlas for parts of the near east: A baseline dataset for planning adaptation strategies to climate change. ICARDA: International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.Google Scholar
  23. Haddad, B. (2012). Business networks in Syria: The political economy of authoritarian resilience. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Hinnebusch, R. (2011). The Ba’ath’s agrarian revolution (1963–2000). In R. Hinnebusch, A. El Hindi, M. Khaddam, & M. Ababsa (Eds.), Agriculture and reform in Syria (pp. 3–14). Fife, Scotland: University of St. Andrews Centre for Syrian Studies.Google Scholar
  25. Hoerling, M., Eischeid, J., Perlwitz, J., Quan, X., Zhang, T., & Pegion, P. (2012). On the increased frequency of Mediterranean drought. Journal of Climate, 25(6), 2146–2161. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00296.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Human Rights Watch. (2014). Human rights report 2014. Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
  27. Humpal, D., El-Nasser, H., & Irani, K., et al. (2012). A review of water policies in Jordan and recommendations for strategic priorities. USAID.Google Scholar
  28. Israel Climate Change Information Centre (ICCIC). (2012). Survey of existing knowledge: Identification of gaps and priorities for knowledge completion. Report No. 1. March. (In Hebrew).Google Scholar
  29. Israel Water Authority. (2012). Long-term master plan for the national water sector., Accessed 19 Dec 2014.
  30. Keane, D. (2004). The environmental causes and consequences of migration: A search for the meaning of “environmental Refugees”. Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, 16, 209–223.Google Scholar
  31. Kolmannskog, V. O. (2008). Future floods of refugees: A comment on climate change, conflict and forced migration. Oslo: Norwegian Refugee Council.Google Scholar
  32. Lowi, M. (1993). Water and power: The politics of a scarce resource in the Jordan River Basin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luck, T. (2012). Second Syrian camp delayed due to ‘funding gap’. Amman: Jordan Times.Google Scholar
  34. Luck, T. (2013). Jordan prepares third Syrian camp as refugee exodus continues. Amman: Jordan Times.Google Scholar
  35. Margalit, R. (2014). Israel’s African asylum seekers go on strike. New York: New Yorker.Google Scholar
  36. Mason, M. (2013). Climate change, securitisation and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The Geographical Journal, 179(4), 298–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Milrad-Givon, M. (2012). Climate change policy in Israel must become a national priority. Heinrich Böll Foundation.
  38. Nabhan, G. (2010). Drought drives Middle Eastern pepper farmers out of business, threatens prized heirloom chiles. January 16, Accessed 19 Dec 2014.
  39. Namrouqa, H. (2012). Refugees, expatriates to stretch Jordan’s supply this summer. Amman: Jordan Times.Google Scholar
  40. Nasser, R., Mehchy, Z., & Abu Ismail, K. (2013). Socioeconomic roots and impacts of the Syrian crisis. Damascus: Syrian Centre for Policy Research, January 2013.“Socioeconomic-Roots-and-Impact-of-the-Syrian-Crisis” Accessed 20 Mar 2013.
  41. Nathan, D., & Fischhendler, I. (2012). The reconstruction of Israeli-Palestinian water negotiations as a securitized discourse and its implications on cooperation. Paper presented at the Graduate Student Workshop on Transboundary Water Governance. 19–20 December.Google Scholar
  42. OECD. (2013). Water and climate change adaptation.Google Scholar
  43. OEDC. (2011). OECD environmental performance reviews: Israel 2011.Google Scholar
  44. Orenstein, D. E. (2004). Population growth and environmental impact: Ideology and academic discourse in Israel. Population Environment, 26(1), 41–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Oweis, K. Y. (2009). Water crisis uproots Syrian farmers. Canary Wharf: Reuters.Google Scholar
  46. Reuveny, R. (2007). Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict. Political Geography, 26, 656–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Saleeby, S. (2012). Sowing the seeds of dissent: Economic grievances and the Syrian social contract’s unraveling, Jadaliyya, February 16. Accessed 23 Sept 2014.
  48. Schäfer, P. J. (2013). Human and water security in Israel and Jordan. Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schwartz, P. & Randall, D. (2003). An abrupt climate change scenario and its implications for United States national security.Google Scholar
  50. Siddiqi, A., & Anadon, L. (2011). The water-energy nexus in Middle East and North Africa. Energy Policy, 39, 4529–4540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Smith, D., & Vivekananda, J. (2009). Climate change, conflict and fragility: Understanding the linkages, shaping effective responses. London: International Alert.Google Scholar
  52. Sowers, J. (2011). Re-mapping the nation, critiquing the state: Environmental narratives and desert land reclamation in Egypt. In D. K. Davis & E. Burke III (Eds.), Environmental imaginaries in the Middle East: History, policy, power, and practice (pp. 158–191). Athens: Ohio University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Sowers, J., Vengosh, A., & Weinthal, E. (2011). Climate change, water resources, and the politics of adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa. Climatic Change, 104(3–4), 599–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sowers, J. & Weinthal, E. (2010). Climate change adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa: Challenges and opportunities (No. 2). The Dubai Initiative Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  55. Sweis, R. (2012). Jordan struggles to absorb refugees. New York: The New York Times.Google Scholar
  56. Tacoli, C. (2009). Crisis or adaptation? Migration and climate change in a context of high mobility. Environment and Urbanization, 21(2), 513–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tal, A. (2002). Pollution in a promised land. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  58. Tertrais, B. (2011). The climate wars myth. The Washington Quarterly, 34(3), 17–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Trombetta, M. (2008). Environmental security and climate change: Analysing the discourse. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 21, 585–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Trondalen, J.M. (2009). Climate changes, water security and possible remedies for the Middle East. UNESCO. Accessed 19 Dec 2014.
  61. Udasin, S. (2012). Defending Israel’s borders from ‘climate refugees’. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Post.Google Scholar
  62. United Nations. Syrian drought response plan, (2009–2010). Midterm Review, February 2010., Accessed 10 Dec 2012.
  63. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2010). Convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees. Accessed 23 Sept 2014.
  64. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2012). The state of the world’s refugees: In search of solidarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2014). Accessed 14 Dec 2014.
  66. Van Hear, N. (1995). The impact of the involuntary mass ‘return’ to Jordan in wake of the Gulf crisis. International Migration Review, 29(2), 352–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Warner, J. (2012). The struggle over Turkey’s Ilısu dam: Domestic and international security linkages. International Environmental Agreements, 12, 231–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Warrick, J. (2013, June 15). Influx of Syrian refugees stretches Jordan’s water resources even more thinly. Washington Post.Google Scholar
  69. Werrell, C. & Femia, F. (2013). The Arab spring and climate change: A climate and security correlations series. Center for American Progress, Stimson Center, and the Center for Climate and Security. Accessed 23 Sept 2014.
  70. White, G. (2011). Climate change and migration: Security and borders in a warming world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wolf, A. (1998). Conflict and cooperation along international waterways. Water Policy, 1(2), 251–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. World Bank. (2007). Making the most of scarcity: Accountability for better water management in the Middle East and North Africa. The World Bank: Washington D.C.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Zawahri, N. (2006). Stabilising Iraq’s water supply: What the Euphrates and Tigris can learn from the Indus. Third World Quarterly, 27(6), 1041–1058.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zawahri, N. (2012). Popular protests and the governance of scarce freshwater in Jordan. Arab World Geographer, 15(4), 265–299.Google Scholar
  75. Zeitoun, M. (2011). Power and water in the Middle East: The hidden politics of the Palestinian–Israel water conflict. London: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  76. Zeitoun, M., Allan, J. A. T., & Mohieldeen, Y. (2010). Virtual water ‘flows’ of the Nile Basin, 1998–2004: A first approximation and implications for water security. Global Environmental Change, 20, 229–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zhang, X., et al. (2005). Trends in Middle East climate indices from 1950 to 2003. Journal of Geophysical Research, 110(D22104), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Zureik, E. (1994). Palestinian refugees and peace. Journal of Palestine Studies, 24(1), 5–12.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceCleveland State UniversityClevelandUSA
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations