Water Resources and Conflict in the Middle East

Water Resources and Conflict in the Middle East

Water Resources and Conflict in the Middle East

Water Resources and Conflict in the Middle East


The Middle East is a region of international concern and political unrest. This book forms a complete reference to both the hydrological as well as the social, economic, political and legal issues in the region and shows how water shortages threaten the renewal of military conflicts and disruption in the area. With resources over-extended due to natural and human causes, the book analyses the river basins of the Euphrates, Tigris, Nile and Jordan and provides detailed study of the hydrology, hydrography and geography of these river basins; it also analyses the needs of the economies and societies of the countries bordering these basins. Conclusions on likely areas of conflict are set within the legal framework of the Helsinki and International Law Commission Rules.


The events of the 1980s have made people throughout the world understand that water is a scarce resource on earth. The Sahelian drought which has continued for almost a decade, for example, is responsible for famine and starvation in Ethiopia, the Sudan and the Horn of Africa and, as a result, this part of Africa has been dependent on food aid for almost a decade. Even the USA which seems to produce an endless source of surplus food, is suffering from drought in the arid western regions, especially in California, and from over-utilization of its water resources. Europe, another important source of cereal exports, suffered from severe drought conditions in 1990, not only causing Greece and France to introduce water rationing but also causing severe water shortages in England, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Hungary.

There are severe water shortages in the Middle East, the subject area of this book. The resources of the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates and the Jordan are over-extended owing both to natural causes and to those deriving from human behaviour.

One hypothesis which might explain the frequent droughts of the last decade is offered by climatologists who believe that climatic changes tied to the greenhouse effect are responsible. The fact is that droughts have affected the Nile and Jordan river basins resulting in water shortages for the co-riparians of these basins: Egypt and the Sudan in the Nile and Jordan, Syria and Israel in the Jordan river basin.

In addition to a severe shortage in the quantity of water, there is a growing concern over water quality and the United Nations Environmental Programme has called for a sustainable water development policy in which water development will be carried out within the context of environmental preservation and improvement (Biswas and Kindler 1989:225). In the study area, for example, contamination of water supplies in the Gaza Strip is reaching critical proportions and deteriorating water quality will be a dominant point of controversy among the co-riparians of the Euphrates: Turkey, Syria and Iraq (Starr and Stoll 1987:8-9). During the next decade Israel is likely to lose one of its major underground water sources owing to contamination, and water quality in the Lower Nile limits . . .

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