Water Resources and Conflict in the Middle East

By Nurit Kliot | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION: PRINCIPLES AND REALITY IN WATER ALLOCATION OF INTERNATIONAL RIVERS

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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