Middle East Water Crisis
A quick overview of the current crisis over water in the Middle East.
How does water usage and distribution affect the overall political situation in the Middle East? Who is affected, and in what way?
The Middle East is an area that encompasses many countries in Western Asia. The exact area of the Middle East is not definite, and varies in different geographical accounts. The number of countries located in the Middle East can vary from anywhere from to 16 to upwards of 30, if North African countries are counted. Some of the more notable countries in the Middle East include Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. According to a recent study conducted by the GULF research centre in Saudi Arabia, about 53 percent of the world’s petroleum supply comes from the Middle East.
The Middle East is often known for its unstable political situation and ongoing wars between countries. What is the cause for the instability and warfare? There is no single reason, but disputes over oil supplies and religious disagreements are often seen as the primary reasons. The declining water supply is also another huge problem, which is often overlooked.
The amount of water available per capita, or per person, are the lowest in the world.
Put into perspective, 5% of the world’s population lives in the Middle East. Those 350 million people have access to only 0.9% of the world’s freshwater resources. In 1955, there were only 3 countries in the Middle East considered to be water-stressed. In 1990, the number of countries rose to 11. Up to 7 more countries are projected to join the list by 2025. Underwater aquifers and groundwater supply is limited, due to the nature of the desert-like landscape.
The amount of water available per capita, or per person, are the lowest in the world. Current desalination efforts have mostly proven unsuccessful. The reason that large-scale desalination has not been effective is mostly due to the fact that not enough plants are in operation, and the prohibitive expenses of the method. The Middle East is quickly running out of usable water.
The Euphrates, Nile and Jordan Rivers are the only major waterways that constantly bring in a large quantity of water to the Middle East. All of the countries in the area are dependent on these rivers for water, and must share them accordingly. Of course, we know that for that many countries to share fairly and equally, without resorting to conflict, is virtually impossible. Many wars have happened from water supply disputes.
The following highlights a confrontation caused by unfair distribution of water resources.
Turkey and Syria, 1990
The conflict stemmed from the fact that both countries had previously agreed to sign an agreement agreeing to the fair use of the Euphrates river. The Euphrates is the world’s 18th longest river, and flows through Iraq, into Syria, and then into Turkey. Beginning in the early 1990’s, Turkey started researching and funding a $30-billion dollar project to construct a series of dams on the Upper Euphrates river, keeping more of the water in Turkey and blocking some of the flow to Syria. This project was to allow the Turks to boost their limited water supply.
Syria was obviously not pleased with the project, and made efforts to stop the construction.
The Turkish government ignored the protests, and continued building the dams. In the Turkish government’s mind, they were doing nothing wrong, as all the dams were to be built on their own land.
Turkey and Syria already had strained relations, due to an issue with a separatist party. Syria had previously made repeated failed attempts to force Turkey to cease its support for the the Marxist PKK party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan / Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The PKK is labeled as a terrorist party by NATO and the US government. The PKK often staged rallies and demonstrations on Syrian land. Syria then issued an ultimatum, a threat to invade Turkey and disband the PKK themselves.
Turkey ignored all the threats, and continued with their actions. Syria decided they had enough of Turkey’s ignorance in these critical matters, and began to launch small scale raids. The two countries hastily managed to resolve the situation before a war happened, but during that period of time, citizens of both countries feared for their life. The possibility of a full-scale war between two bordering countries was much too real. The economies of both countries suffered, and the general quality of living decreased. Almost the entire population was affected.
In conclusion, negative water politics affect people in more ways than people might think. These series of events are only one of the many of confrontations over water resources by two or more countries.
Water shortages can hinder people’s quality of life by limiting the resource available to them, but countries fighting.
The Middle East is noted to be one the most culturally and religiously sensitive regions in the world. Unpopular opinions from politicians and individuals are often met with riots and uprisings, contrary to the more peaceful rallies we see at home. The rebellion in Libya and former violent dictatorship in Iraq are only two of the many situations. Combined with a history of political violence and resource shortages, the Middle East can be a dangerous region.
Water shortages are a major problem because:
- 20+ countries are forced to share only 4 major water sources.
The Tigris-Euphrates in Iraq/Syria, Nile in Egypt and the Jordan River.
Countries such as Iraq and Egypt, who “own” the rivers may be reluctant to let other countries take water from the rivers.
- Existing disagreements
As said earlier, the Middle East is an unstable region. Many countries with pre-existing disputes with one another may be pushed over the top by a water distribution disagreement. There are numerous border issues and religious differences already causing insecurity among Middle Eastern countries.
Possible methods to fix the problem.
Desalinating water costs about fifty cents per cubic meter. Drilling a well that supports a community costs $5000. Desalinating enough drinking water for the entire middle east would cost upwards of To supply the entire middle east with enough water would cost upwards $2 billion a year. That may sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the $470 billion the U.S has already spent “helping” iraq in the war.
An international treaty dedicated to the fair sharing of the 4 rivers would benefit all countries. This is because many water-deprived countries would have access to water sources they previously were not allowed to use.
BIBLIOGRAPHY / SOURCES:
“The New Water Politics of the Middle East.” Web.
Desalination Training Center, Educational International Organization, Middle East Technology – Medrc.org. Web. <http://www.medrc.org/index.cfm?area=research>.
“BBC NEWS | Middle East | Middle East Water Crisis Warning.” BBC News – Home. Web. 24 May 2011. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7341977.stm>.
“Middle East — Global Issues.” Global Issues : Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Issues That Affect Us All — Global Issues. Web.<http://www.globalissues.org/issue/103/middle-east>.
Darwish , Adel. “Syria Turkey Border Tension and Water Dispute.” The Middle East Gulf and North Africa Internet News and Analysis Network. Web. <http://www.mideastnews.com/water001.html>.
Kedourie, Elie. “Water Politics in the Middle East.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_politics_in_the_Middle_East>.
“Overview of Middle East Water Resources.” Executive Action Team (EXACT) Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources. Web. <http://www.exact-me.org/overview/index.htm>.