Water Advocate and Bio Logic Aqua Research Founder Sharon Kleyne Interviews Fred Pearce on the Middle East and the Global Fresh Water Crisis.
The long history of wars in the Middle East, dating back to Biblical times and including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, almost always trace their origins to fresh water shortages, according to International water journalist Fred Pearce. The region breeds water wars, says Pearce, and offers many lessons to those working to resolve the current global fresh water crisis.
Fred Pearce is an international journalist based in London who specializes in water resources and water conflicts. Pearce has been writing about water for over 30 years. His most recent book is “When the Rivers Run Dry” (Beacon Press, 2006). Pearce was interviewed in the Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water radio show of October 6, 2014.*
*Sharon Kleyne Hour Archives: http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/2207/the-sharon-kleyne-hour
*See also: Collard, Rebecca, “Iraq’s battleground dams are key to saving country from ISIS,” Time Magazine, Sept. 8, 2014; http://time.com/3303403/strikes-against-isis-in-iraq-dams/
Sharon Kleyne hosts the syndicated Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water radio show, heard on VoiceAmerica and Apple iTunes. The show is sponsored by Bio Logic Aqua Research, a global research and technology center specializing in fresh water, the atmosphere and dehydration. Nature’s Tears® EyeMist® is the Research Center’s signature product for dry eyes. Kleyne is Bio Logic Aqua’s Founder and Research Director.
The Middle East breeds water wars, says Pearce, because fresh water is scarce and unevenly distributed both geographically and temporally. Because countries are fairly small, many rivers, tributaries and aquifers cross international boundaries and are highly vulnerable. Governments that can’t provide adequate fresh water, Kleyne notes, become targets for rebellion while governments that can supply fresh water become targets for water starved neighbors.
The most visible conflict is the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, according to Pearce. Although the West Bank and Gaza have gained semi-autonomy, Israel retains the rights to most fresh water resources. The average Israeli uses 300 liters of water a day while the average Palestinian uses 72 liters per day. The establishment of the Israeli-Palestinian “Joint Water Authority” has not had the desired equalizing effect and fresh water in the West Bank remains under nearly total Israeli control. The situation in Gaza is worse.
Nevertheless, Kleyne notes, the West Bank-Gaza fresh water situation is better than in other Middle East countries. Since establishing the Joint Water Authority, the West Bank has calmed considerably while unrest in water starved Gaza continues.
Iraq, according to Pearce, boasts the two major rivers of the Middle East, the Tigris and Euphrates. In between lies the Biblical Fertile Crescent. The delta area, where the rivers empty into the Persian Gulf, is believed to have been the Biblical Garden of Eden.
Despite these advantages, says Kleyne, Iraq’s fresh water supply is vulnerable because both rivers, and most tributaries, arise in neighboring countries – Turkey, Syria and Iran. Iraq’s fresh water infrastructure is inadequate and water access and quality are poor.
Saddam Hussein’s real “weapon of mass destruction,” according to Pearce, was control of the fresh water supply. When Saddam’s enemies began hiding in the delta marshes, Saddam drained the marshes, destroying fragile ecosystems and displacing or killing thousands. The marshes have since been mostly restored but some dehydrating environmental damage will take decades to repair.
Iraq remains vulnerable to rebellion and fearful of invasion.
The insurrection in Syria, according to Kleyne, originated with a sharp increase in water prices. Syria’s fresh water situation is comparatively good, fed by natural springs, ground water and Lake Assad. However, the population will soon outgrow the government’s ability to maintain the fresh water supply.
Saudi Arabia is the most vulnerable Middle Eastern nation, says Kleyne, because it has no natural rivers, little agriculture and imports nearly all its fresh water. The government remains stable because they can pay for their water and they control the region’s fuel supply. But this could change.
Water wars in Yemen have been going on for thousands of years. Recently, people from the dehydrated rural areas have been moving to the capital, Sana because of lack of fresh water, but Sana also lacks water.
Iran’s fresh water outlook, according to Kleyne, is surprisingly optimistic despite rapid population growth and two of Earth’s driest deserts. Since 1980, fresh water access has improved from 75 percent of the population to 98 percent. Modernizing the fresh water infrastructure has been a major objective, which partially explains why the government has not been overthrown.
Kleyne and Pearce conclude that resolving the global fresh water crisis would go a long way toward resolving these and other conflicts.