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The Middle East Water War

February 3, 2014

Of all the substances that we humans need to sustain our lives, air and water are undoubtedly the most important. The average time one can survive without air is about 3 minutes, after that there is the risk of brain damage and death.

The average survival time without water is 3 days. Water is part of the blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells and flushing waste materials out. It cushions joints and soft tissues and it is essential to digest and absorb food. 66 percent of the human body is water.

There is an abundance of water on this planet, but only 2.6 percent is fresh water (not salinated) and only one percent of the fresh water is easily accessible. Most of the freshwater reserves are frozen in Antarctica and Greenland, bound as soil moisture, or hidden in deep underground aquifers.

We need not only drinking water to stay alive, we need water also for the irrigation of crops and for most industrial processes.

Each of us drinks 3 to 4 liters of water a day in one form or another, but it takes nearly 2,000 liters of water to produce the food we consume each day. 40 percent of the worlds grain harvest is grown on irrigated land and agriculture is responsible for between 70 and 78 percent of global water consumption. Irrigation systems often perform poorly, wasting up to 60 percent of the water, and they diminish surface water because of evaporation and plant transpiration. 

Evaporation is not necessarily bad, because the water vapors form low-altitude clouds, which reflect sunlight and heat back into space, thus preventing the further heating of the atmosphere. But for the river areas the diminished surface water means that water tables fall, wells dry up, many rivers run dry and never reach the ocean.

The available surface water is limited and it cannot support anymore the steadily growing water consumption. Consequently water from underground aquifers has become more and more important, new wells are drilled and, using advanced drilling technology, the wells reach deeper.

Many aquifers are replenished by rainfall and they could be used indefinitely if water is extracted moderately. At present most aquifers are over-pumped and they will run dry in a few decades or even years. There are also deep fossil aquifers which are not recharged (the Saudi aquifers for instance).

At this time, more than a fifth of the inhabitants of this planet do not have easy access to potable water. Scarcity and water contamination causes illness, thereby making the lack of this resource “the greatest killer on the globe.” As incredible as it sounds, more people own a mobile phone than have access to water-sanitation services, and bottled water at the grocery store is more expensive than crude oil on the spot market.

Poor water management exacerbates the problems caused by diminished supply and increasing demand. Inefficient irrigation techniques, poor crop selection, and an unwillingness to share water between riparians contribute to the water crisis.

Running Low

A CIA analysis in the 1980s already mentioned the Middle East as a possible conflict zone because of water issues and the revolts of the Arab Spring were clearly ignited by rising food prices, which were the result of diminishing crop yields because of irrigation water shortages.

Following is a short description of the water situation in Middle Eastern countries. Libya is not included because the country is in chaos and there is no reliable information available.

Iran

Iran is facing severe water shortages, caused by climate change, wasteful irrigation practices, and the depletion of aquifers. Several big rivers and lakes have gone dry and officials are making contingency plans for rationing water in Tehran and other major cities.

Iran has built many hydroelectric dams which greatly reduce the water flow downstream. 91 percent of Iran’s water is used for agriculture. Many farmers grow particularly thirsty crops like grapes and sugar beets, while rising temperatures due to climate change increase the evaporation of water in the irrigated areas.

Turkey

Turkey, which controls the springs and contributors of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is in the midst of a massive dam building program that is sharply reducing downstream flows. The Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) includes the construction of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants, which shall irrigate approximately 1.6 million hectares of land and produce 24 million kWh.

Turkey’s ambitious plans to expand its hydropower generation and its irrigated areas mean that the downstream riparians Syria and Iraq will have not enough water left for their agriculture.

A UN report noted with alarm that the Turkish government has conducted no assessment of the environmental and social impacts of these dams, perhaps because they mostly affect already marginalized groups:

Although the vast majority of the affected population belongs to vulnerable groups like the rural poor, nomads, Alevi or Kurds, the State party fails to address this issue in violation of art. 2.2 of the Covenant. The State party also fails to fulfill its extraterritorial obligations in respecting the right to food and water in Iraq, where… it has failed to conclude an agreement with the neighboring country on a fair and equitable sharing of the water.”

Turkey plans to build an additional 1,700 dams in the next 12 years and according to UN estimates Syria will lose between 30 and 50 percent of its water supply and Iraq, the last country in the Tigris-Euphrates flow, 60 to 90 percent.

The Iraqi parliament in December 2013 consequently refused to sign a convention between the two countries because the convention did not contain conditions to ensure Iraq’s right to water.

Armenia is the third country effected by Turkish dam projects and it fears that water reserves in the Ararat Valley will be diminished and irrigation networks there could run dry.

Turkish dams

Turkey is building an 80 kilometer undersea pipeline to transport water from the Anamur-Dragon Creek to Northern Cyprus and also offers water from the Manavgat river to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. In addition to that, Turkey intends to lease or sell 1.2 million hectares of newly irrigated land to the Gulf States to ensure their food security.

The Turkish government is determined to maintain its hold on what it perceives as a Turkish commodity and has fought hard on the international front to maintain the principle of sovereignty in water law. In 1997 Turkey refused to sign the UN’s Framework Convention of the Non Navigational Uses of Transboundary Water Resources.

Suleyman Demirel, then Prime Minister of Turkey in 1992: “Neither Syria nor Iraq can lay claim to Turkey’s rivers any more than Ankara could claim their oil. This is a matter of sovereignty. We have a right to do anything we like. The water resources are Turkey’s; the oil resources are theirs. We don’t say we share their oil resources, and they cannot share our water resources.”

Despite its huge water resources Turkey is not a water-rich country by world standards as it has about 1,600 cubic meters of water per capita while on the global scale water-rich countries have 8,000 to 10,000 cubic meters per capita. Turkey has more water that all its neighbors but it is not immune against shortages. The average cumulative precipitation from October 2013 to January 2014 across Turkey has decreased 31.4 percent compared with the long-term average and 41.6 percent compared with the average for 2012.

Istanbul and the surrounding areas are drought stricken and the water levels in the reservoirs have decreased to 33 percent this year from 63 percent last year. At a press conference in January minister Veysel Eroglu unveiled new dam projects to provide fresh water supplies to İstanbul (Melen Stream Dam, Osmangazi Dam, Sungurlu Dam).

Turkeys frantic dam building will have severe ecological impacts with negative implications that will only be fully visible in the decades to come:

Dam reservoirs flood precious ecosystems and world heritage sites (Ilisu Dam – Hansakeyf), disturb natural fluctuations in water flow and the transport of sediments along the rivers. Dams lower groundwater tables, increase flood risks, and cause an accumulation of toxic materials and salt, which can make the water unusable for drinking and irrigation. Decomposition of organic matter in the reservoirs and the leaching of mercury from the soil can introduce additional toxins.

The social impacts will be as grave:

The WCD  (World Commission on Dams) notes, that those who have most frequently lost out include subsistence farmers, indigenous groups, women, and ethnic minorities, whose land and water has been expropriated, often with minimal compensation, whilst the beneficiaries have tended to be richer sections of society, most notably commercial farmers and industry.

Syria

Most parts of Syria are arid land, the precipitation varies considerably and has tended to diminish since the early 1980s. Aquifers have steadily been reduced by over-exploitation, while the population has been growing at an average rate of 3.1 percent between 1975 and 2002, increasing the pressure on water resources accordingly.

The government also regrettably promoted agricultural policies that encouraged unsustainable and inefficient irrigated cultivation of water-intensive crops such as wheat and cotton.

Turkish dams and irrigation schemes on the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (the already mentioned Southeast Anatolia Project) caused a reduction in downstream flows and a decrease in sediment loads for Syria.

Syria built three dams on the Euphrates (Tishrin dam, Tabqa dam, Baath dam) and withdrew more water from the Jordan River to supplement the diminished water flow of the Euphrates. The country gets 90 percent of its water from the Euphrates and before the war it had planned to build a fourth dam (Halabiye) that would have diverted even more of the already by Turkey reduced water, leaving next to nothing for Iraq.

drought water scarcity 15

Syria experienced an extraordinarily severe and prolonged drought from 2006 to 2011, and its northeastern part — the “traditional breadbasket of Syria” — was particularly hard hit. The drought affected approximately 3 million inhabitants of eastern Syria, and more than one million lost their livelihood and were facing extreme hardship. The consequence was internal mass displacements from rural to urban areas, especially to the outskirts of cities like Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Damascus, and Dara’a.

In 2011 Syria’s grain harvest had fallen by one-third since peaking at roughly 7 million tons in 2001 and it is evident, that the economic hardship and social tensions induced by water scarcity and recurrent drought were the most significant contributing causes of the 2011 protests that were used by foreign agents to destabilize the country and start the war.

In September 2012 the major pipeline delivering water to Aleppo was badly damaged and the city was suffering shortages of drinking water. In November 2012 jihadists captured the Tishrin Dam near Aleppo and in February 2013 the Tabqa Dam near Raqqah.

Damascus and other major Syrian cities are experiencing frequent water shortages since the start of the war. Rationing lasts for days in some districts, and a few areas get not more than one hour of running water per day.

Iraq

Because of new Turkish dams the flow of Iraq’s major rivers declined by some 40 percent.

The impacts of reduced flows of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers are most felt in agriculture and the grain harvest has fallen by one sixth since peaking at 4.5 million tons in 2002. Water shortages prevent the flushing out of salts from irrigated land, leading to increased salinization. Orchards which should be watered weekly can only be irrigated every month and many suffer irrevocable damage as a result.

From 1990 to 2003 the water problems were compounded by UN imposed sanctions which meant that spare parts were not available for the equipment needed to clean out drainage canals or to pump saline water off the land.

According to 1995 data from the WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund), before Iraq’s pre-war period 96 percent of water in Iraqi cities was sanitized, and 48 percent in rural areas was considered clean. 93 percent of city populations and 31 percent of the rural population could access clean water thanks to different sanitation methods. As a result of the bomb attacks by the USA in March 2003 a big part of the sanitation infrastructure was dismantled — dams, pumping stations, channels, sea water desalination plants, and wastewater treatment plants were damaged or completely destroyed.

Recent surveys show, that 73 percent of city populations and 43 percent of the rural population have access to clean water. Only 17 percent of wastewater is treated before discharged into rivers. As a result, waterborne diseases are widespread among children.

According to UN data, 884,000 cases of diarrhea, 57 percent of which were attributed to children under the age of 5, were reported in 2010. Because of waterborne diseases, 41 out of every 1,000 children die before the age of 5. The quality of water used for drinking and agricultural purposes still remains far below the values recommended by Iraqi National Standards and the WHO.

In 2009 severe water shortages threatened to leave up to 2 million people in the south without electricity and almost as many without drinking water. Electricity to Nasiriyah, Iraq’s fourth-largest city, was disrupted because of the rapidly falling levels of the Euphrates River, and two towns with about 3,000 people on the northern edge of Basra had to be evacuated.

Barren land near the Afghan border

Under Saddam Hussein some 90 percent of Iraq’s marshland had been drained, but after the US invasion residents tore breaches in the existing earth dykes, allowing water from the north to flow into the area again.

Turkish dams have reduced the amount of water available for the marsh areas to less than a quarter and when water levels are low, the Euphrates cannot anymore feed the small tributaries that channel water to the marshlands, but a record rainfall in 2012 caused salinity to drop and brought a fresh, almost miraculous burst of plant growth and wildlife. There are reports, that some 40 percent of southern Iraq’s marshes have been restored.

Iraq and the EU signed an agreement on July 25, 2012, to improve the management of water resources in Iraq. The agreement focused on an integrated approach to the management of groundwater, monitoring of water quality, and water education.

Lebanon

Lebanon is water-rich compared to all neighboring countries, it has 2000 springs and 40 major streams. Water shortages are nevertheless common because the infrastructure has been severely damaged in the civil war and in the wars with Israel. Mismanagement and corruption are also blamed for insufficient supplies. The country yet has managed to avoid a decline in grain production.

Lebanon’s Hasbani River is a tributary to the Jordan River and Israel has repeatedly threatened war if Lebanon increases use of the rivers water. 

Israel has also several times tried to occupy South Lebanon and get access to the Litani River springs in the Bekaa Valley.

Israel has had historical interest in the Litani River. Haim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization, mentioned it already in 1919 and David Ben-Gurion demanded 1941 that the Litani area should be included in a future Jewish state. Moshe Dayan was also a strong advocate of conquering the Litani and regretted openly, that this was not achieved in the 1967 war.

In 1978 Israel unilaterally established a security zone in South Lebanon and prohibited drilling of wells in the Bekaa Valley. After the 1982 invasion, Israeli army engineers carried out seismic soundings and surveys near the westward bend of the river, probably to determine the optimum place for a diversion tunnel, and confiscated hydrographical charts and technical documents of the river and its installations from the Litani Water Authority.

Israel was not able to divert significant amounts of water from the Litani because of an intensifying guerilla war with Hezbollah. Israel had to retreat and was also not able to break the resolve of Hezbollah in a devastating bombing campaign in 2006.

The al-Qaeda affiliated terror organizations Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL have recently established themselves in Lebanon and start battling Hezbollah. If Lebanon again descends into chaos and Hezbollah is seriously weakened, Israel will undoubtedly use the chance to conquer the Litani area and close the last open entry of its territorial wish list.

Jordan

Jordan, with over 6 million people, has to replace the diminished flow of the Jordan River, which is mostly used by Israel, with groundwater and is overexploiting the wells nearly twice the sustainable yield. Many municipal and irrigation wells have already run dry. The country was producing over 300,000 tons of grain per year in the 70s, today it produces only 55,000 tons and it must import over 90 percent of the grain it consumes.

In 2006, Jordan completed the Al-Wehdah Dam on the Yarmouk River, but as the water is already reduced by dams in Syria, the dam reservoir holds only a small part of the envisioned capacity.

Israel and Jordan signed a water supply deal as part of their 1994 peace treaty. In December 2013 Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority signed a water agreement which includes the construction of a desalination plant in Aqaba, a canal connection between the Red and Dead Sea, and the guaranty to sell Palestinians an additional 30 million cubic meters annually. The canal connection raises environmental concerns and critics point out, that Palestinians would’t have to buy water if Israel would not steal the water from their aquifers in the West Bank.

Since 2013 Jordan pumps water from the Disi aquifer to the capital Amman. This is a fossil aquifer which is recharged, though by at a very slow rate which is dwarfed by current extraction. The bigger part of Disi lies beneath Saudi Arabia, which also extracts water from there. This fact has created controversy between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with each country demanding from the other to use less of the shared water.

Palestine

Manu villages in the West Bank have no wells and water must be bought from the Israeli national water company Mekorot at a high price. The villagers spend between 10 and 50 percent of their income on water.

Water in the West Bank comes from three aquifers and according to the 1995 Oslo II agreement, Palestinians would have the right to draw 118 million cubic meters of water from the estimated 679 cubic meters of water that flow annually into those aquifers. Israel would have to supply an additional 28.6 cubic meter per year to the West Bank and Gaza.

According to the World Bank, Palestinians in the West Bank have drawn between 117 to 138 cubic meters from 1995 to 2007, less than the water allocated to them by the Oslo agreements. Israel is using 80 percent of the water.

Since the Oslo accord, Israel approved no more than 66 percent of Palestinian applications for new wells and approximately 50 percent of those for supply pipes. Since 2009 59 water structures have been demolished in the West Bank because of a lack of building permits and Israel also only grants building permits for new sewage pipes and treatment plants if Palestinians agree also to treat the wastewater of the illegal Jewish settlements.

Israel blames mismanagement by the Palestinian authority for the water shortages and points out that 33 percent of urban water pipes are leaking and that there are no facilities to reclaim sewage water for agriculture. The mentioned deficiencies clearly exist but the onerous permission process and Israel’s precondition that a project has also to serve the illegal settlements makes it nearly impossible to renew and improve the water and sanitation infrastructure.

drought boat

As for the Gaza Strip, the water emergency has already entered a critical stage, with only 4 to 8 percent of the local aquifers now yielding drinking-quality water. Half of all diseases in the Gaza Strip are believed to be caused by contaminated water.

Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip between 1967 and 2005 caused groundwater depletion because Jewish settlements in Gaza cultivated crops for export like flowers, fruits, and vegetables, which consumed large quantities of groundwater. Gaza’s water resources were also exploited by Israel’s water company Mekorot, who transported it either to other areas or sold it at high prices back to the Palestinians.

Israel has drilled at least 27 extremely deep wells along the eastern border of the Gaza Strip through which it is able to capture water from the aquifers under Gaza.

Israel

In 1957 Israel completed the first big diversion of Jordan River water to irrigate the coastal Sharon Plain and eventually the Negev desert. When Lebanon and Syria tried to build diversions of the Hasbani River and the Banias River, Israel destroyed the construction sites with artillery and airstrikes.

The 1967 Six-Day War was essentially a struggle for water sources. Israel succeeded in occupying the southern slopes of Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights, It annexed the new territories in 1981 in defiance of UN Security Council resolution 497.

In 1988 a Syrian/Jordanian agreement about the development of the Yarmouk was blocked when Israel as a riparian right holder refused consent and the World Bank withholded funding. Israel then unilateral increased its allocation of Jordan River water to the fourfold amount.

Israel’s water policies have been aimed at exploiting the aquifers in the West Bank, run-off interception, increased efficiency of water distribution networks, and reuse of 80 percent of treated waste water.

The area of irrigated farmland has increased from 30,000 ha in 1948 to about 190,000 ha today, but Israel is a leader in drip irrigation techniques and while agricultural production rose 26 percent between 1999 and 2009, water use dropped 12 percent.

Israel has also built large desalination plants along its Mediterranean coastline (Ashkelon, Palmachim, Hadera, Sorek), but the government will reduce the amount of water it buys from the plants by 30 percent, because the last two years brought relatively heavy rainfall and desalinated water is expensive.

Israelis are still cautious because before the rainy years they experienced a severe drought and the aquifers were nearly exhausted. Experts also forecast a 10 to 15 percent decline in precipitation by 2050 due to creeping desertification in the region and the authorities therefore still plan to triple Israel’s desalinization capacity to 1.7 billion cubic meters over the next 30 years.

Egypt

Egypt’s only water source is the Nile River. The Nile Waters Agreement, which Egypt and Sudan signed in 1959, allocated 75 percent of the water flow to Egypt, 25 percent to Sudan, and none to Ethiopia. In practice this agreement has largely become void, because foreign governments (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait) and international agribusiness companies are buying all arable land in the upper Nile basin. 

Four percent of South Sudan has been acquired by foreign investors since it achieved independence, and Egypt must deal now with a number of governments and commercial interests that were not party to the 1959 agreement. Moreover, Ethiopia has announced plans to build a big hydroelectric dam on the Nile, which would reduce the water flow to Egypt significantly.

Egypt’s wheat yields are already among the world’s highest and it has little potential to raise productivity further. Egypt has a population of 84 million people and the number is projected to reach 101 million by 2025. Its upstream Nile neighbors, Sudan/South Sudan with 46 million people, and Ethiopia with 87 million are growing even faster but there is little hope to increase food production accordingly because there is no water for additional irrigation available.

Saudi Arabia

Using oil-drilling technology, Saudi Arabia has opened aquifers far below the desert to produce irrigated crops and for two decades the kingdom was self-sufficient in wheat, a food staple. But the aquifers are largely depleted and between 2007 and 2011 the wheat harvest dropped by half. The Saudis likely will harvest their last wheat crop in 2016.

Saudi Arabia’s growing food insecurity has led it to buy land in other countries, mainly Ethiopia and Sudan. The Saudis are planning to produce food for themselves with the land and water resources of other countries to augment their fast-growing grain purchases in the world market.

Yemen

Yemen has very little rainfall and only 2.2 percent arable land. Overgrazing and desertification reduce the usable land even further. Like in almost all other Middle Eastern countries the aquifers are being rapidly depleted and water tables fall by some two meters a year. In the capital Sanaa, home to two million, tap water is available only every 4 days and the city is prognoses to completely run out of water in 2024.

drought water scarcity 19

Yemen is already on the verge of becoming a failed state and the water shortages will cause hunger and social collapse, with tribal fiefdoms warring over the remaining water resources.

Tunisia

Tunisia is the 9th most water-stressed country in the world but it nevertheless has achieved the highest access rates to water supply and sanitation services in the Arab countries of the Middle East. Access to safe drinking water is close to universal, approaching 100 percent in urban areas and 90 percent in rural areas.

Primary water resources are deep aquifers, which have been intensively overused. Excessive groundwater extraction in the coastal regions of Cap Bon, Soukra, and Ariana has resulted in saline intrusion which made the groundwater unusable. Water scarcity and a decrease in water table levels is most serious in southern Tunisia.

Phosphate, one of Tunisia’s main exports, requires three cubic meters for every ton of phosphate concentrate mined. Gafsa, the region where phosphate is mined has changed from an oasis to a highly water-stressed area. The industry is now competing directly with the basic needs of the population of Gafsa. Recently, angered by water cuts, people took to the streets and clashed with police. Locals claim that tap water has also been contaminated by chemicals used by the phosphate industry and that they are forced to drink bottled water.

Limited possibilities of irrigation remain a key obstacle to agriculture, which also faces problems of inappropriate crop choice. While tomatoes and potatoes would be crops with relatively high water productivity, one of the major export products of the country are olives, which have a low water productivity. 

Tunisia is, like all other countries in the Maghreb, under strong pressure from IMF, World Bank, and the European Union to privatize public services and liberalize trade. In 1999 Tunisia signed a free trade agreement with the EU, which encouraged agricultural imports, mainly cotton, sugar, and cereal crops from Italy, France, and Germany.

The neoliberal reforms impoverished parts of the population and resulted in a water and bread crisis which toppled Ben Ali. While the crisis was deepening, the interim government led by the right-wing Islamist Ennahda party prepared to sell off remaining public assets to European or multinational corporations including the much coveted public water and sanitation system.

Ennahda has stepped down and it is not clear which policies a newly elected government will pursue.

Algeria

Thanks to the country’s oil and gas revenues the amount of drinking water from reservoirs, long-distance water transfers, and desalination plants has increased, but only 22 percent of urban residents in Algeria receive water 24 hours per day and in some regions water is available only every 10 days.

Water shortages In Setif in Northeastern Algeria have already led to protests and clashes with the police.

The water and sanitation infrastructure suffers from poor execution and lack of completion of works, poor maintenance, and numerous illegal connections to the network. The reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation is a priority of the government but the realization until now is insufficient.

The number of wastewater treatment plants has increased rapidly from 18 in 2000 to 113 in 2011, with 96 more under construction.

Algeria has 15 seawater desalination plants, a new plant in Magtaa should start operating soon.

The pollution of water resources has reached a worrying degree. Groundwater in the Mitidja plain close to Algiers is polluted with nitrates, and groundwater in coastal areas is often degraded by saline intrusion from the sea due to overpumping.

Morocco

Morocco is characterized by a strongly contrasted climate, with its rainfall being highly irregular in space and time. The irregularity causes big variations in crop yields and uncertainty in the agrarian sector. Climate change has brought an intensification of extreme weather events, namely droughts and floods.

In the early 1960s, Morocco’s water reserves equalled nearly 3,000 cubic meters per person, but they  gradually decreased to less than 730 cubic meters per person. A further reduction to less than 500 cubic meters is forecast, which would place Morocco among the Middle East countries with severe water scarcity, after having once been among the countries that enjoyed a water surplus.

75 percent of the 23 million hectares in mountainous areas are affected by soil erosion, which has contributed to the silting of dams, resulting in lost storage capacity of about 75 million cubic meter per year.

Rainfall has been reduced by 30 to 50 percent, depending on the area, and by 60 percent in the southern desert regions. Right now the freshwater resources are only half the amount which was available last year and the grain production is likely to decline by at least 20 percent because of a drought.

Like Israel, Morocco is betting on wastewater reuse, drip irrigation, and desalination plants.

Researchers have introduced new grain varieties that in laboratory tests have proven resistant to water stress or drought. Agrarian experts have developed a deficit irrigation technique where only 70 percent of the conventional water quantity suffices for most crops, they also try to optimize fertilizer use and propagate early sowing which lets seeds take advantage of early rains.

drought water scarcity 16

Conclusion

Seven out of the world’s 10 most water-stressed countries are in the Arab region, which is by far the driest and most water depraved part of the world. Arab countries have 5 percent of the world population and only 1 percent of fresh water resources. Globally, the average citizen has access to an amount of renewable potable water 16 times that available to Arab citizens. 

Mismanagement of water resources, corruption, and carelessness increase the problem. Water policies lack future visions and proper planning, wars, social strive, tribal and sectarian hostility make the implementation of long term programs impossible. The groundwater resources are exploited far beyond their natural replenishment rates, the water infrastructure is crumbling, pipes are leaking, wells and reservoirs become polluted by sewage.

Climate change negatively affects the water sector, increasing desertification, the frequency of droughts, and the severeness of floods, which usually exceed the absorptive capacity of national and local water networks and lead to water contamination and the destruction of infrastructure.

The population in the Arab region has nearly tripled since 1970, climbing from 128 million to more than 360 million. High population growth increases water scarcity and leads to social tensions and instability. While the lack of water hinders agricultural development and increases food prices, thereby inflicting economic hardship and poverty, the young people who finish their education don’t easily find employment.

High youth unemployment means, that idle young men are susceptible for the radical religious view and doctrines of takfiris/salafis. The young men feel redundant and unwanted, they have time at hand and are likely to join protests for whatever cause, and they can be recruited in the mosques by hardline preachers to join the various terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Outside forces were able to use this pool of unemployed young men for the rebellions of the so called “Arab Spring,” which resulted in the destabilization of Egypt and Tunisia, the destruction of Libya, and the devastating war in Syria.

The logical solution to the problems of both water scarcity and youth unemployment would be a strict family planning policy similar to China’s one-child policy with easy access to contraceptives, information campaigns, financial disincentives, better education of girls, the opening of the labour market for women, and an increased age of marriage.

At present there is no Arab country where the prevailing social climate would allow to install such measures. Arab societies are solidly patriarchal and changes that could diminish male superiority (an inevitable side effect of family planning initiatives) will be furiously opposed.

The only country who implemented population control policies was Libya under Muammar Gaddafi. Libya had for many years right until the NATO bombing the lowest birth rate of all Arab nations and the highest active participation of women in society.

After years of successful efforts to curb its population growth by offering free or very inexpensive family planning services and promoting the idea that “two children are enough” in their health centers, Iran in 2012 dramatically changed its population policy, announcing that previous family planning was ungodly and a Western import. This has the potential to undo the gains that were achieved under the old policy where population growth went from 3.9 percent a year in 1986 to 1.6 percent in 2006.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has equally called for a population increase and the government unveiled an ambitious program to increase birth-rates, including prolonging maternity leave, financial support per child, half-day working options for pregnant women, child care vouchers, and a guarantee of return to work. The government plans to pay families for a third child 5,000 Turkish Lira.

This is shortsighted, irresponsible, and utterly stupid. Population control will happen in one way or the other, and if it is not done by carefully social planning it will happen in the most cruel and painful way, it will happen by starvation, deceases, and war.

As for the Syrian water war, Syria’s neighbors Turkey in the north and Israel in the south have already won it, because even if Syria can defeat the islamic terrorists who were unleashed by the West onto its territory it will be in no position anymore to challenge the robbing of its vital water resources by Turkey and Israel.

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