Middle East water wars

Friday, 30 May, 2003

By Adel Darwish 
Writer and commentator on the Middle East 

Darwish says that water is at the heart of the conflict 

After  signing  the  1979  peace treaty with Israel, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said his nation will never  go to  war again, except to protect its water resources.

King Hussein of Jordan identified water as  the  only  reason that might lead him to war with the Jewish state.

Former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali  warned bluntly that the next war in the area will be over water.

From  Turkey   to  Uganda,  and  from  Morocco  to  Oman, nations with some of the highest  birth-rates  in  the  world are  all  concerned  about  how  to  find  enough  water  to sustain urban growth and to meet the needs of agriculture, the main cause of depleting water resources in the region.

All of these countries depend on either the three great river systems which have an average renewal  rate  of  between 18 days to three months, or on vast  underground  aquifers some of which could take centuries to refill.

International law is inadequate  in  defining  and  regulating the use of shared water resources.

The Nile, the world's longest river, is shared  between  nine countries whose population is  likely  to  double  within  two decades; yet the volume of water the Nile  provides  today is no larger than  it  was  when  Moses  was  found  in  the bulrushes.

The  list  of  'water-scarce'  countries  in  the  region  grew steadily from three in 1955 to eight  in  1990  with  another seven expected  to  be  added  within  20  years,  including three Nile nations.

The hidden factor
International  law  is  inadequate in defining and  regulating the use of shared water resources. Few  agreements  have been reached about how water should be shared.

Middle Eastern nations have resorted to  force  over  issues less serious than water.

Since   the   Madrid  conference  in  1991,  Palestine-Israel negotiations and the  now  frozen  negotiations  with  Syria have always stumbled over the issue of sharing water.

With the Israeli army in control prohibiting Palestinians from pumping water, and  settlers  using  much  more  advanced pumping equipment, Palestinians complain of "daily theft" of as much as 80% of their underground water.

During the research  for  the  book:  Water  Wars  both  my co-author and I,  discovered  that  water  was  the  hidden agenda for past conflicts and one major obstacle  to  reach a lasting and final settlement in the region.

Ariel Sharon went on record saying that  the  Six  Day  War started because Syrian engineers were working on diverting part of the water flow away from Israel.

"People  generally   regard  5  June  1967  as  the  day  the Six-day war began,'' he said.

"That is the official date. But, in reality, it started two-and-a-half years earlier, on the day Israel  decided  to act against the diversion of the Jordan.''
                             previous                                       main page