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Dario deCamara Eubank

Political Violence in the Middle East

Professor Robinson

Essay # 4

Water, it covers all corners of the globe and provides humanity the ability to produce

foods and provide for other materials. In some areas of the world there is enough to provide for

the people of the area, in other areas it’s scarce and groups compete for this resource. This is

evident in areas of extreme heat and desert, like the Sub Sahara Africa and the Middle East

which suffer from drought, desiccation and water stress (Morrissette and Borer, 2004). For the

most part, the wars that were fought in the Middle East were over who controls the vast oil

supply, not the water supply. In coming years through this might change and nations might once

again have to compete for a precious natural resource in order to insure their survival. But can

this bleak future be avoided? Can Middle Eastern states adapt to the growing populations and the

needs of these people in their borders? I believe the answer is yes; they must adapt to insure their

survival, because the alternatives of war or civil unrest would surely bring about their demise.

While Morrissette and Borer do not share my optimism on this topic, their article Where

Oil and Water do Mix: Environmental Scarcity and Future Conflict in the Middle East and

North Africa provides us all the reasons why war in the Middle East will be fought over water.

While their research is correct they did not take into account the massive amount of money and

materials that are going into the water infrastructure that is taking place in the Middle East today.

After discussing the issues in the ME and the authors views on the topic, I would like to take a

look at the future solutions that the ME countries are coming up, that will hopefully keep this

war(s) from happening.


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Problems in the Middle East

If war over water is on the horizon like Morrissette and Borer predict, this will happen

due to a mix bag of factors. Population growth that the ME region has experienced has put great

pressures on the current water table, the lack of fresh water sources; the Nile, Tigris/ Euphrates

river do not have enough water for the region and underground aquifers are slowly drying up. A

lack of robust water infrastructure, failure of governments to adopt more pragmatic solutions to

their water issues and lack of diversity in goods they provide to the world market will all bring

this crisis to bear. In the article, Where Oil and Water do Mix: Environmental Scarcity and

Future Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, these issues are discussed but the main

issue that will further make this crisis worse is the governments of these countries not having

long term sustainable plans for their water needs. The need for water must be solved from a

multi- phased approach and the countries should develop plans with neighboring countries to

avoid any confrontation in this matter. But as we know of the history of the ME and its relations

with its neighbors, this is extremely tricky, and takes time.

While certain countries do have an understanding and set up a partnership on water

issues, with one example being Israel and Jordan, this has still led to many problems. Israel and

Syria, in the 1960s had a back and forth battle over who controlled the Jordan river and while the

eventual war that did happen was not over water, who controlled the water and allowed access to

it was a big factor. Still using the example of Israel, Palestinian West Bank residents rely on

Israel to provide 90% of its basic water needs, but if there are times of unrest or the government

of Israel wants to send a message they have the ability to cancel water contracts and distribution

and use it as a weapon. This approach coupled with the drought that is taking place is placing

more Palestinian people at risk and decreasing crop output.


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While the Middle East has no abundant source of drinkable/irrigation water that can meet

their needs, they do receive the water in other forms. As the article discusses most of these

countries have bypassed the lack of drinkable water, by buying ‘virtual water’ or water that is in

other forms (Morrissette and Borer, 2004). One particular important source of virtual water

comes in the form of grain, which the countries import from the US and Europe. While this

enables this countries to provide for their citizens, the main problem with relying on this form of

virtual water is the cost of grain in recent years has shot up and certain countries in the MENA

region could not afford to purchase the grain. While countries that have oil are able to offset the

cost by having money to purchase the goods they need, other countries that lack a stable

economy will be hurting. If these prices continue to behave in this manner and the economies of

the Middle East do not adapt then according to the authors, war will be inevitable.

Middle East Plan

While the authors show that conflict in the ME do to water is not a matter of if but when,

they did not take into account that regimes are already dealing with this crisis, or at least the ones

that have the money to invest in along term water program. According to the CCC (California

Costal Commission), over 60% of the worlds desalination plants are in the ME, that’s well over

4,000 plants (CCC 1993) , with the largest plant in Saudi Arabia which can pump out over 300

million metric tons of water per year (Industrial Info Resources). An estimated 100 billion

dollars is being spent on water projects across the region, and in UAE there are spending 15

billion on a waste water treatment plant with 120 billion planned on being invested in the region

by 2020, the ME will soon have water ready and will not have to rely so heavily on virtual water

for its needs (Industrial Info Resources).


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While the consensus is that these countries that have desal plants need huge amounts of

energy; in the case of Saudi Arabia its through petroleum, to turn seawater into drinkable water,

there is a push to use nuclear power plants as an unlimited source of energy needed for these

plants. In the article Seawater Desalination by Using Nuclear Power, in 1993 the International

Atomic Energy Agency concluded that using nuclear energy to desalinate seawater could be

carried out safely and reliably, without any technical obstacles. To date there are over 11 nuclear

power plants around that world that are providing water at a much cheaper cost and are more

environmentally friendly. The only problem with this approach is that by placing nuclear reactors

in the ME it could pose a security problem or lead these countries to somehow produce nuclear

material for other purposes, but with constant checks and measures by the International Atomic

Energy Agency (IAEA) this can be avoided.

While this investment is all possible due to oil wealth other countries that lack the capital

to develop a sound water system must interact with their neighbors to develop a long term

solution to their water needs. Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Syria all must develop strategies to

deal with each countries water needs so that they can avoid any future conflicts over water.

Future of the Middle East

While the authors laid out a vey bleak future for the MENA region they failed to look at

how governments in these countries are taking proactive measures to meet their water needs.

The technology is out there and with enough money invested ME countries can create their own

water supply, but even then they must negotiate with each other, especially the countries that do

not have a huge oil supply if they are to ensure that there will not be conflict over water. The US

and Europe also play a important role in ensuring peace in the region; by keeping the world grain

price down and stable, they can take off the economic pressure in buying virtual water that some
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of the poor countries in the region have. Investment in new plumbing, pipes and water pipe lines

will help reduce water waste which can also help poorer countries in an effort to conserve the

water they do receive. Overall, the governments in the region must act accordingly to avoid any

conflict and continue to construct more plants and find ways of conserving water in their desert

environments, if they can accomplish this then the War of Water can be avoided.
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Works Cited

Morrissette, Jason and Borer. Where Oil and Water do Mix: Environmental Scarcity and
Future

Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. Parameters Winter 2004-2005

California Costal Commission: Seawater Desalination in California

http://www.coastal.ca.gov/desalrpt/dchap1.html. (accessed on 12/11/2008)

West Bank residents face severe water shortage as drought continues.

Associated Press, 7/27/2008

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1005890.html. (accessed on 12/11/2008)

Water and Desalination Projects in Middle East Likely to Attract $120 Billion in Investments by

2020. Industrial Info Resources

http://www.pump-zone.com/global-news/global-news/water-and-desalination-projects-in-
middle-east-likely-to-attract-120-billion-in-investments-by-2020.html. (accessed on 12/11/2008)

Seawater Desalination by Using Nuclear Power. China Education and Research Network

http://www.edu.cn/20010101/22349.shtml. (accessed on 12/11/2008)