Water scarcity in the Middle East.. Threats and coping mechanisms

BY: Basma Anwar   

The absence of military security is no longer the most serious threat to international peace and security. Water security has occupied the highest list of non-military aspects of the national security of any country, because it affects the existence of its peoples, entities and sovereignty. Sufficient water to ensure the continuation of its development plans. With regard to the Middle East region, the reports of the United Nations and international organizations concerned with water have described it as the most water-scarce region in the world, especially the “Arab region” due to its geographical location in the belt of dry and semi-arid regions.

And by comparing the average amount of water available per person annually at the global level, which is estimated at about 7000 cubic meters, with the average amount of water available per person annually in the Middle East and North Africa region, which is only about 1200 cubic meters, which indicates the deteriorating water conditions experienced by most of the population of this region, as well as This, with the expectation of a population growth that may reach 500 million people in the year 2025, it is expected that the amount of water available per capita will decline by half by 2050, and in this article we will shed light on the dangers of water scarcity in the region, from backlashes that exacerbated conflicts and threats facing it The entire region, which is often the engine of conflicts over water, exacerbates the risks and threats that the region faces in light of the various global crises, in addition to proposing mechanisms of confrontation and looking forward to the future of Middle Eastern waters, as follows:

First: Risks and Threats:

The challenges of water security in the Middle East are due to several main factors, the most important of which are: “Poor management of water resources, climate change, and the increasing population compound the drought problem in the region, the effects of conflicts and economic crises, and transboundary water challenges, in addition to politicizing the water issue and considering it a pressure card in relations between The countries of the region and outside it, where 76% of the water of the rivers of the Middle East comes from sources outside it, and we are aware of the importance of the issue of water in the conflict in the Middle East region, we see the importance of a simple and brief extrapolation of the most prominent threats facing water security in the Middle East, to develop a comprehensive vision on the file water in the region, and then come up with general proposals and recommendations to confront water scarcity with the amount available to it.

1- Water stress and its repercussions (politically, economically and healthily):                                                                            

The effects of water stress are among the main risks that threaten growth in the long run, which exacerbates the difficult economic, political and health conditions facing Middle Eastern societies. Water economies” and it means calculating its impact on growth rates and estimating the effects of its absence or scarcity on the economy, in all its agricultural, industrial or service activities, which impedes economic growth in the region in the “medium and long” term. In some economies, up to 6% of the GDP, in addition to the inability to provide water for agriculture or industry, or even the need to move factories or make changes in the infrastructure, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa are at the forefront of countries threatened with losing large proportions of their GDP, by 2050 No radical changes have been made in the way water is used due to the impact of its scarcity on agriculture, industry and public health. Water scarcity and climate change will significantly affect agriculture, causing Food insecurity, as water scarcity has a profound impact on the entire population of the region, starting with their health and nutrition.

On the political front: Water scarcity is increasingly becoming a driver of conflict and displacement in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Yemen and Sudan, rising migration from rural to urban areas, population growth, poor water management, deteriorating water infrastructure and governance problems. Drought and mismanagement of water resources are among the issues. It prompted those affected to resort to armed and extremist groups in some regions of the Middle East. On the other hand, politicians seek to lay their hands on water sources, and fighting begins to control them. Therefore, the water shortage crisis has been classified since 2012 as one of the five most dangerous crises in the world, according to the list of economic crises. Global, and in 2017 severe drought led to the worst humanitarian problem since World War II, when it prompted about 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East to leave their homes; Because of the accompanying severe food shortages, and because of the conflicts that erupted.

الصعيد السياسي cleanup Water scarcity in the Middle East.. Threats and coping mechanisms

2- Water conflict: World peace depends on ensuring the right of countries to benefit from water, and for this reason, maintaining the smooth management of water between countries, and preventing the development of any conflicts, may become one of the future challenges. Water bodies form natural borders between countries and some of them. Many countries share water Rivers or lakes because they are “upstream or downstream countries or pass through them”, and given the innate readiness of humans to engage in struggles for survival, water issues in the region – the Middle East – may escalate to unprecedented levels and turn into actual wars if not addressed by means. Diplomacy, and in view of the political problems associated with the main international rivers in the Middle East, most of which revolve around “dams issues”, which weaken the water quotas of countries, exposing them to water poverty. limited water” and if the differences and conflicts between the countries of the Nile Basin or the Tigris and Euphrates basin have arisen over the rights of these countries in the waters of the rivers, the water problem in the Jordan River is a product of the Arab-Israeli conflict Before it becomes a problem for water sharing, we will highlight the most prominent ongoing water conflicts between the countries of the Middle East and the upstream countries outside it:

Egypt and Ethiopia, the “River Nile”: Managing the Blue Nile is a complex matter, as the river extends for more than 4,000 miles, passes through 12 countries, meets the White Nile in Khartoum, and then flows to Egypt. [20-40 km] from the Sudanese border, and the Renaissance Dam is the largest in Africa, with a capacity of up to 74 billion cubic meters of water, for the purpose of generating electricity to compensate for the acute shortage of energy in Ethiopia, and to export electricity to neighboring countries, and there were several talks between Ethiopia and the downstream countries “Egypt and Sudan” about the timetable and the speed of filling the dam, and how to mitigate the impact of drought. Ethiopia initially proposed filling the dam within 3 years, while Egypt wanted a period of 10 to 15 years, and for fear of the impact of filling the dam at a rapid pace on the lack of its water share. As Egypt depends on the Nile water by 97% in matters of irrigation and drinking water, and a decrease of 2% of the Nile water will lead to the loss of 200 thousand agricultural acres and about a million jobs. environmental and social impact and Subject to international supervision, Ethiopia began the process of filling the reservoir of the Ethiopian dam in 2020, until Addis Ababa officially announced the completion of the third filling of the dam, and the storage of 22 billion cubic meters of water. Without harm, or stopping the water to the two countries at the mouth of the river, and this is a step capable of fueling tension between the three countries.

Ethiopia called on the two downstream countries to continue the negotiations, and stated that “any opinion other than that will not stop what it started, and it will be a wasted effort.” From a great impact on its share of the waters of the Nile River, which threatens its national security, as Egypt does not want to get involved in a war that might cost it a lot, any air raid that the latter might launch on the dam will lead to the outbreak of a military confrontation between Egypt and Ethiopia, most likely that the air strike It will cause significant damage to the area near the dam, which is located in the Benishangul-Gumuz region in western Ethiopia, 15 kilometers from the Sudanese border. Whether Egypt destroys the dam in whole or in part, this will likely lead to floods, which may cause catastrophic damage to the local communities residing on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border, and on the Ethiopian side, it puts both Egypt and Sudan before two options; Either submission to the fait accompli or a flood, as the military option (hitting) the dam will not be feasible at that time. Because its inevitable result is flooding a wide geography in both Sudan and Egypt, according to experts in this file, and to avoid entering into these disastrous options, Egypt resorted to the Security Council.

Turkey, Syria and Iraq “Tigris and Euphrates Rivers”: The issue of water is one of the most important common issues between the three countries “Iraq, Syria and Turkey” and a source of conflict between them on many occasions, which almost led to an armed clash, as the “Tigris and Euphrates” rivers are among the most important The main sources upon which “Iraq and Syria” depend for agricultural, industrial and domestic uses. Turkey has built many dams on the two rivers, which led to a significant decrease in the shares of the two countries and created a state of tension between the countries. The Iraqi water balance depends mainly on surface water. From the “Tigris and Euphrates” rivers, while Syria is the poorest country in the Euphrates Basin with water resources, while Turkey is the richest country in water, with an estimated annual amount of water flowing in it about 186 billion, and the history of water crises between the three countries dates back to 1974 when Turkey filled the “Kiban” reservoir. Likewise, when Syria filled the Tabqa reservoir, which led to the cessation of the flow of the Euphrates River to Iraq, and another crisis occurred in 1983, when the level of the Tabqa reservoir decreased, Syria protested against Turkey for being the reason for that.

At the beginning of the year 1990, the misunderstanding between Turkey on the one hand and Iraq and Syria on the other hand was renewed, and that situation developed into a dangerous confrontation. This is in addition to using water as a pressure card on the two countries – Syria and Iraq – in order to expel the PKK from the Syrian and Iraqi territories. On the other hand, Turkey’s desire to join the European Union requires maximum water growth in order to obtain advanced agricultural development, to show itself As a prominent regional power in the future on the water level, it is exerting more pressure on its neighbors in order to tighten control over the water resource, and it has recently taken several steps to communicate diplomatically with Iraq to solve the severe water shortage crisis that the latter is suffering from, which has caused catastrophic repercussions on it, especially with a decrease in rain. And the level of the rivers, to conclude an agreement to determine the shares of the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which originate from Turkish lands, and among the reasons for the lack of water coming to Iraq is Turkey’s retention of water in the dams it built, including “ Ataturk Dam” which reduced the percentage of the Euphrates River water that goes to Syria and then to Iraq.

The countries – Turkey and Iraq – agreed to form a joint committee on January 9, 2023 AD to solve the water problem, and through this committee it is possible to go to the rules of international law that regulate the division and distribution of water between the riparian countries in a fair manner, and this will ensure the stability of political, economic and social relations between Iraq Turkey, and Iraq’s share of water.

Iran and Afghanistan “Helmand River”: The water issue remained a dilemma that lasted for decades between “Tehran and Kabul” and with the Taliban taking over the reins of power, Iran pragmatically sought to find a solution to this thorny file. To a century ago between the two neighboring countries, the longest river – the Helmand River – in Afghanistan, has a length of 1150 km. Iran has the lion’s share of the waters of this lake, which is its main source of fresh water, which gives it great economic and environmental importance for Tehran. Former Ashraf Ghani – who fled to the Emirates after the Taliban took control of the country – built the “Kamal Khan” dam in Nimroz Governorate near the Iranian border. Its construction lasted four years and opened in March 2021, at which time Ghani said: “We will give Iran water in exchange for oil.” , and in turn re-ignited the NZ An old dispute between Iran and Afghanistan about its share in the Helmand River, and at that time Iran accused Afghanistan of not respecting the water agreement signed between the two parties in 1973, considering that it gets much less than what is required by the aforementioned agreement, and with the advent of Taliban rule and the withdrawal of American forces from it, a large number of Experts in managing water and dams. In turn, the water issue caused problems between Afghanistan and its neighbors, Iran and Pakistan. Iran recently warned the Afghan side that forfeiting its right to water would negatively affect other areas of cooperation between them, referring to the file of Afghan refugees in Iran, on the other hand. Taliban leaders understand little about environmental problems and want to work primarily with people who agree with them ideologically.

 Second: solutions on the horizon:

Solutions to the problem of water scarcity in the Middle East represent a major challenge for all countries in the region, and in the long term, water scarcity may have dire consequences for its stability. Therefore, finding solutions and innovations that can confront water scarcity and reduce the severity of the risks it causes and reduce the chances and possibilities of actual wars in the region For the sake of water, and not to be drawn into these obstacles and try to reach radical solutions in order to achieve security and peace in the region, as wars only lead to disasters that affect the entire region and destroy everything that is green and dry. A peaceful solution to the crisis, while the military option is advancing to the fore, everyone must implement the solutions on the horizon at all levels, whether “international organizations, governments or individuals” in order to turn threats into opportunities, as these solutions represent an urgent necessity to stop conflicts and reduce displacement and migration, And as long as it is possible to identify the causes fueling conflicts over water resources, it is possible to confront any of them with available solutions to control them in the future:

On the internal level:

– Joint work between the countries of the region, and the use of expertise and water resources experts, to discuss obstacles and possible solutions to manage scarce water resources, in addition to internal cooperation from “individual farmers and consumers to companies and public bodies.” They must also bear the responsibility to overcome water scarcity.

– The role of governments to carry out basic reforms in the field of water and to educate citizens about the seriousness of wasting water, because it is a scarce resource in the region, so everyone has a responsibility to preserve it because it is the first source of life, and because of its great importance for development in all fields, health, security, the present and the future of future generations.

– Accelerating the pace of innovation development and dissemination for the sustainable management of water, and this in turn requires a new “water awareness”, the reforms undertaken by the state in order to reduce the problem of water shortage, and manage its resources.

– Narrowing the gap between water supply and demand is an urgent priority.

– Towards better management of water resources; Water service providers should be asked to invest part of their profits in conducting research and integrating green infrastructure into rainwater management (Peru is a model).

– Work to reduce industrial pollution of seas and rivers, and integrate traditional water infrastructure; To ensure fair distribution of water between the population in the countryside and the city.

– Work to provide additional quantities of water by adopting various technologies, such as desalination of sea water; This technology provides Saudi Arabia with more than 50% of its water needs, and wastewater treatment can provide an alternative, low-cost and easy-to-implement source of water that can be used in agricultural areas that suffer from drought. According to one of the international studies, seawater desalination Treating wastewater can reduce the proportion of people suffering from severe water shortages from 40% to 14%.

– Scientific research recommended pumping additional quantities when needed, continuously relying on seawater desalination technology and wastewater treatment. Being the best and most efficient strategy, a number of countries have responded to this recommendation, including Egypt. Last year, the Egyptian government concluded a number of contracts to build about 47 seawater desalination plants and to establish the world’s largest wastewater treatment plant. Although the Egyptian authorities accelerated the construction of these stations; Most of these projects will not be completed until 2030.

And at the international level: – 

– Water sharing agreements are an ideal solution to mitigate conflicts over water. More than 200 agreements have been signed since the end of World War II, including the Indus River Water Treaty signed in 1960 between India and Pakistan, and the peace treaty signed between Jordan and Israel; But the UN’s decade-long attempts to introduce a global water agreement on transboundary rivers and lakes have not borne much fruit, with only 43 countries pledging to abide by it.

– It might well be that the newly signed treaties include protocols to mitigate the impact of drought; This may dispel some of the fears of estuarine countries about the possibility of depriving them of water in times of crisis, in addition to the mechanism for settling disputes in the event of their emergence.

– Organizations and the international community should provide support in countries of war, in which the water infrastructure has been targeted, in order to alleviate the suffering of the population, and to prevent them from having to migrate to safer places or to search for places with basic services, including water, and to rehabilitate the cracked infrastructure, given the daily problems. suffering, such as access to clean drinking water.

– The international community’s emphasis on not using water as a weapon of war in wars and conflicts in the region because it is against international humanitarian law.

– It seems unlikely that the conflicting countries over water issues will reach an agreement among themselves. Therefore, international diplomatic efforts must be intensified to avoid escalation.

In conclusion, by looking into the future, water constitutes a fatal threat to the stability and sustainable development of the region. After the abundance of water in the region was the most important reason for the prosperity of ancient Middle Eastern civilizations, the most important of which was the “Pharaonic civilization and Mesopotamia”, the Middle East region is now threatened to be the most depleted region of the world expected For fresh water resources, according to international estimates, the risks posed by water scarcity globally are multiplied to the Middle East region, given that it is the most region in the world suffering from water scarcity and therefore its catastrophic repercussions will affect all levels, which leads to exacerbation of problems and crises there, and in turn – water scarcity – It will further escalate the water conflict in the region with the upstream countries, which increases the possibility of beating the drums of war in the future.

Given the sensitivity of the water element, the countries of the region tend to change international relations. Any party can use the water element as a “bargaining and pressure card” for the other party. Diplomatic relations between countries are useful in reducing the escalation of water-related conflicts, and for this water-sharing agreements are an ideal solution. to mitigate these conflicts; Conducted by Peter Glick; President of the Pacific Institute in Auckland, a study on the relationship between water shortages, conflicts and migration, and concluded that the conflict over water resources is increasing; He says: “No one dies of thirst except in very rare cases, but people die more and more because of drinking polluted water or because of conflicts over water sources”.

 The importance of concluding joint water resource agreements to maintain peace and security in the Middle East region is highlighted. An example of this is what happened between “Lesotho and South Africa” and “Botswana and Namibia”, which managed, after disputes escalated among them over common resources to a dangerous degree in 2000, to Cooperation between them intensified through the Orange Cinque River Committee (Urasicum), and the consecration of the principles of rationalization of consumption, as these agreements would reduce the severity of the conflict and contribute to the process of calming it.

And by examining the climate changes that predict hotter and drier summers in the coming years, this climate has many political repercussions, the most important of which are: mass displacement on a very large scale, in addition to facing the countries of the region, according to what environmental affairs experts described as “imminent water bankruptcy”.

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