by Molly Kuhn
The Middle East is a region that has been plagued with conflict for much of its long existence. Many of these conflicts are ideologically based and can only be solved by the evolution of attitudes between people of differing beliefs. However, some conflicts arise as a result of geographic or environmental concerns such as border disputes and natural resource allocation. According to J.A. Allan,
The major issues between Jordan and Israel before their negotiated Peace Agreement in 1994 were peace, territorial boundaries and water. In the case of Israel and Palestine, there have been five issues – Jerusalem, territorial boundaries, settlements, refugees and water. (Allan 257)
This statement shows that water was one of the main issues of contention between Israel and both Jordan and Palestine. It also illustrates the importance of resolving both ideological and environmental issues for the creation of a lasting peace.
In his essay titled “Water wars in the Middle East: a looming threat” Hussein A. Amery cites a speech given by Kofi Annan to the United Nations in 2001 in which he says,
Unsustainable practices are woven deeply into the fabric of modern life. Land degradation threatens food security. Forest destruction threatens biodiversity. Water pollution threatens public health, and fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future. Environmental concerns are the national security issue of the future. (Amery 313)
Annan clearly describes the importance of environmental issues in international relations and the potential for conflict that exists when states battle for adequate resources. This statement accurately summarizes the issue of water scarcity in the region and acknowledges the significant role of environmental issues in international conflict. Allan submits that one of the main roadblocks to solving the water scarcity issue is that countries that are unfriendly towards each other allow pride and perspective to rule in negotiations. Because it would be politically destabilizing to admit dependence on other countries in such a volatile international neighborhood, countries downplay their need for water, thereby postponing relief from the tense standoff in the form of an international water allocation agreement. (Allan 258)
Although water scarcity continues to be a contentious political issue, advancements have been made in some areas that have reduced water usage. As Arie S. Issar explains in his article, “Water in the Levant in the Ancient and Recent past,” Israel has made great advancements in reforming its water usage policies to sustain its agricultural water usage through an increase in the “efficiency of irrigation and agro-technical methods and in introducing new varieties of crops and their improvement.” (Issar 270) While these improvements have helped, they do not do enough to overcome the severe shortage of water that exists in the region. As a result Israel, (like much of the rest of the Middle East,) is forced to import large quantities of grain and other foods that have high per crop unit water requirements.
Due to the population sizes in many of these countries, it seems unlikely that any of these countries could ever become completely independent in the agricultural sector. Importing agricultural products that require a lot of water is practical and allowed these countries to utilize the available water for residential and industrial use. Issar suggests that
the potential of the water resources in the Middle East can still be extended if governments are willing to invest knowledge and capital to develop new ideas. In my opinion, resources can be significantly expanded through water development, conservation, and reuse. (Issar 275)
Government oversight is essential to the preservation of natural resources. It is imperative that regional governments work together to promote creativity and resourcefulness in the development of conservation projects. It is also essential that these countries initiate open and honest discussions about the sharing of the limited water resources among neighboring countries.
The shortage of water in the Middle East drastically impacts the lives of millions of people on a daily basis. The competition for scarce natural resources has exacerbated tensions among Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian territory, intensifying already deadly conflicts. In order to establish lasting peaceful relations among these countries the growing crisis of water scarcity must be resolved.
Allan, J. A. (John Anthony). "Hydro-Peace in the Middle East: Why no Water Wars?: A Case Study of the Jordan River Basin." SAIS Review 22.2 (2002): 255-72.
Amery, Hussein A. "Water Wars in the Middle East: A Looming Threat." The Geographical Journal 168.4, Water Wars? Geographical Perspectives (2002): 313-23. http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/3451474&Search=yes&term=water&term=east&term=middle&item=2&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=88792&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dmiddle%2Beast%2Bwater%26dc%3DAll%2BDisciplines
Issar, Arie S. "Conflicts and Covenants in the Middle East: a Review of the Contemporary Literature on Regional Water Problems." Israel Studies 1.2 (2005): 267-77. 27 Mar. 2008 .