Tucked into a piece on the drastically dropping water levels in the Middle East's Tigris-Euphrates Basin comes this theory: The drop helped spur the Syrian civil war. As Joshua Hammer explains for Smithsonian, a pair of satellites tasked with measuring groundwater found that the basin lost the equivalent of all the water in the Dead Sea (117 million acre-feet) between 2003 and 2009. Decreased rainfall and inadequate water management are behind the record drop (only northern India is losing it faster), which has big implications for the Basin's countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and western Iran.
In Syria's case, drought struck hard in 2006, pushing many farmers to lay down their hoes and move into the cities. "There's some evidence that the migration fueled the civil war there," writes Hammer, and an expert backs that up: "You had a lot of angry, unemployed men helping to trigger a revolution." And the tension isn't limited to Syria: Irrigation department officials have been assassinated in Iraq, and both Syria and Iraq have lobbed claims of water hoarding at Turkey. Hydrologists think the answer partly lies in wastewater recycling or a desalination effort. Observes a hydrologist, "Water doesn't know political boundaries. People have to get together and work." (Read more water stories.)