At the edge of the Sea of Cortez lies what was once the mouth of the 1,450-mile-long Colorado River, a marsh land that, half a century ago, was filled with birds and wildlife and supported hundreds of small farms and fisheries. But drought, dams, and a booming population along the river’s path have turned the Colorado delta into a salt-caked dust bowl that geologists and hydrologists say may never recover.
On the other side of the globe, in Syria, a multi-year drought pushed many farmers into the hands of Islamist extremists. Locals recounted how, as far back as 2009, when rains failed and extreme weather blighted crops, jihadists would appear and offer cash to farmers who would trade their plows for Kalashnikovs. Grain production in Syria peaked in 2001, and has fallen more than 30% since, as the country has pumped its aquifers nearly dry. The resulting combination of crop failures and water scarcity has pushed even more people into the arms of well-funded jihadists.