Water Shortage in the Middle East Term Paper

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Water Shortage in the Middle East

Water Shortage and Consequent Conflicts in the Middle East

Even before food, two elements are vital for the survival of an individual, and for life on a planet to exist: air and water. The characteristics of water which make it indispensable for life are endless, including both personal consumption and hygiene, as well as natural and chemical reactions in the nature and atmosphere, without which no form of life would be able to survive. During recent years, the natural resources of water have begun to shrink. Record high levels of consumption, increased elimination of greenhouse gases generating global warming, climacteric conditions and larger than ever global populations are all contributing to the reduction of the globe's water resources. Within the United States for instance, only 40% of the entire water resources are still drinkable; one out of five people on the globe do not currently have access to drinking water (Leonard, 2008).

However, in the United States, the tap water is still clean and can be used for consumption; despite the ideas of bottled water companies which emphasize the low quality of faucet water, the U.S. authorities invest billion of dollars annually to ensure the clarity and safety of tap water. But there are regions of the globe where reduced water resources are creating next to national hysteria and sit at the basis of numerous conflicts. Such a region is the Middle East, with exemplifications of Palestine and Israel.

2. Introduction

Water resources never abounded in the Middle East, but the current situation is a critical one and it affects the population's well-being as well as the chances for development of the countries. The lack of sufficient water has often materialized in numerous conflicts between the neighboring countries, conflicts which are likely to continue during the years to come. "In the Middle East, water may be more important than either oil or politics. While the area's proven oil reserves are estimated to be sufficient for at least a hundred years, water supplies are already insufficient throughout the region, and competition for them is inevitably going to increase in the years ahead" (Drake, 2000).

Whereas some scholars tend to agree that the situation will generate more conflicts, others disagree and state that reduced water resources will force the populations to adapt and probably reduce consumption. Foremost, they expect major technological developments that regulate water collection, distribution and consumption (Amery, 2002). The visions of improved technologies and a rationalization of water consumption are also forwarded by Peter Rogers and Peter Lydon in Water in the Arab World: Perspectives and Prognoses, in which they emphasize on the need to change the approach of water consumption in the meaning of implementing the management based on demand, rather than supply. The two authors also focus on conservation and desalinization (Rogers and Lydon, 1994).

The desalinization of water implies the process through which the salt particles are removed from the collected water in order to make it drinkable or useful for other human activities, such as cooking, personal hygiene or irrigation of the agricultural crops. The process is used within the Middle East, but it raises extremely high costs.

Whichever the future consequences, the impetuous problem remains the incapability to provide the population with sufficient water from the current resources. The basin of the Tigris- Euphrates is the most important water resource and it originates from less arid regions of the globe. There is also a wide array of smaller rivers, but these often fail to make a difference due to the reduced flow. "Other rivers, such as the Jordan, Yarmuk, Orontes, and Baniyas, are too small to be of much significance, yet in the case of the Jordan-Yarmuk are large enough to quarrel over" (Drake, 2000).

The primary reason why the water supplies are an impetuous problem in the Middle East resides in the geographical positioning of the countries - close neighbors in an arid region means that the problems faced by one are likely to affect the others as well. Foremost, the proposed solutions, coming at times from the inner countries and other times from international organizations, have often been met with resistance and even violent reactions and have yet to retrieve the desired results.

3. Causes

The primary cause of the water shortage in the countries of the Middle East is given by the geographical features of the region. "At the root of the problem of limited water resources is the physical geography of the Middle East, for this region is one of the most arid in the world. Descending air (which can hold more moisture) and prevailing northeast trade winds that blow from a continental interior region to a warmer, more southerly location explain why almost all of the Middle East is dry" (Drake, 2000). In other words, there is not enough rain to satisfy the population's need for water. This situation is often particular and understandable in the region, but it can also be explained through increased pollution, desertification and climacteric changes.

Other major causes of both the water shortage as well as the arising conflicts between countries include an increased population and even more increased water consumption. This basically implies that first the need and then the actual consumption of water increased, and the natural resources soon became incapable to provide enough water. "A prime cause of the global water concern is the ever-increasing world population. As populations grow, industrial, agricultural and individual water demands escalate. According to the World Bank, world-wide demand for water is doubling every 21 years, more in some regions. Water supply cannot remotely keep pace with demand, as populations soar and cities explode. Population growth alone does not account for increased water demand. Since 1900, there has been a six-fold increase in water use for only a two-fold increase in population size. This reflects greater water usage associated with rising standards of living (e.g., diets containing less grain and more meat). It also reflects potentially unsustainable levels of irrigated agriculture" (College of Agriculture Life Sciences, 2008)

4. History and Present Situation of Water Conflicts

The river of Jordan is mostly praised in literary, historical and religious works, but due an accelerated consumption of water (even superior to the populations' growth) what was once a primary source of water to the countries of the Middle East is today a mere creek (Dale, 2001). Four periods are relevant in the history of water shortage in the Middle East:

1918-1948 - Period of bargaining for water

After the end of the World War I, the Zionists (politicians militating for the establishment of the Jews in Palestine and then in Israel) negotiated with the winners the movement of the border upwards so to incorporate the springs of the main rivers. Their attempts were unsuccessful and as a consequence, they tried to move the population into Syria and Lebanon, but were prohibited by the French. "By the end of the second world war, the problem of accommodating the needs of the native Palestinians and the new Jewish immigrants crowding into Palestine became acute and the Arab-Israeli wars of 1947-8, which resulted in Israel's creation, complicated the efforts for a regional water solution. With sovereignty came the power to control water resources. The Zionist leaders abandoned the idea of regional development of water resources and shifted to planning at the national level. The new state of Israel thus became determined unilaterally to tap, develop, and exploit any available water resource" (Dolatyar, 2002)

1948-1967 - Period of developing national and shared water resources

With the official proclaiming of Israel as the land of the Jewish population in 1950, immigration of Jews from across the globe dramatically increased, increasing the water demand and pressuring as such the already insufficient resources. Water became more than a vital source of life - it became the mechanism to insure national development, feature which transformed it into a matter of foreign policy. But the attempts to regulate it failed and were most often met with resistance and even violent reactions from other countries involved. "For instance, in 1952 when the American engineer M.G. Banger presented an UNWRA-initiated proposal to use Yarmouk water to alleviate water shortages in Jordan and Syria, Israel related every solution to her sharing the water to the issue of direct or indirect recognition of the Jewish state by the Arabs. President Eisenhower's special envoy Eric Johnston also failed to reach an agreement on a regional water-sharing arrangement because Israel rejected it as long as the Arabs approved it" (Dolatyar, 2002)

1968-1990 - Period of developing the Occupied Territories' water resources

Following the Arab - Israeli war of 1967, the leaders of Israel were focused on preserving their water resources and efficiently using the water they had captured from their neighbors. Numerous consumption restrictions were imposed, fountains were closed or very well supervised and the dwelling of new fountains was prohibited. But even so, the need for water continued to increase. "By the early 1980s it was quite… [END OF PREVIEW]

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