River Conservation in North Africa and the
M.J. Wishart, J. Gagneur and H.T. El-Zanfaly
Commonly referred to as the ‘Arab Region’, the countries of North Africa and the Middle East cover roughly 14 × 102 km2 and include the Middle Eastern countries of the Arabian Peninsula (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Republic of Yemen (comprising the former Arab Republic of Yemen and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen which joined in 1990)), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, along with those countries of continental Africa north of the Sahara, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia. Characterized by various topographic and geomorphological features, the region is generally distinguished by its long coastal boundaries, totalling ca 22 870 km along the Mediterranean and Red Seas, the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Although encompassing a wide range of different climatic conditions, the greater part of the region is arid to semi-arid, with much of the area below the 200 mm isohyet, making it one of the most arid regions in the world.
The recorded history of the Middle East and North African region dates back more than three millennia, with the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers considered to be the cradle of modern Western civilization. For centuries communities in these regions have practised water-harvesting techniques and the conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater for dryland irrigation and rain-fed agriculture. Throughout this period water has been a key resource issue. With a rapidly increasing population and concomitant pressures on the region’s resources, traditional technologies related to resource utilization have given way to more modern approaches. The result is that most of the states of the Arabian Peninsula, along with Jordan, Israel, Libya, Oman and Palestine, currently consume more water than their annual renewable supply. Similar scenarios face Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia and the Sudan. Today, water continues to be a key resource within a region plagued by complex political uncertainty and tensions. The situation is such that in 1996 the Vice President of the World Bank, Ismail Serageldin, observed that while ‘many of the wars of this century were about oil… wars of the next century will be over water’. This view echoed that of the deputy prime minister of Egypt (then Boutros Boutros-Ghali), who four years earlier, stated that ‘the next war in the Middle East will be over water, not polities’.
The Middle East and North Africa has seen a complex tectonic history (e.g. Por, 1986). This complexity is reflected in the spatial arrangement, biogeography and characteristics of the region’s river systems. Generally characterized by long coastal boundaries, most of the region is of low topography and covered with vast deserts that extend between the Atlantic Ocean and the Arabian Gulf. The climate of the Arab Region has, however, undergone several important shifts and