Some important events that take place pass by without receiving the attention they deserve until a picture appears to reveal the gravity of this event. Such images are able to reveal more than any news story; one such image was the picture published by Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon visiting the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan which has been transformed into a desert. The shrinkage of what was the fourth largest fresh water lake in the world represents a huge natural disaster. At the same time another picture showing the meeting of the Mekong River Commission in Thailand appeared in the media, the Mekong River Commission [MRC] was meeting to discuss the dropping water levels and the agricultural and environmental effects this is having on the MRC states.
In both cases, human activity is responsible for what is happening. In the first case, reports indicate that Kazakhstan dams and diversion due to Russian irrigation projects to aid Russia’s cotton industry have been responsible for the shrinking of the Aral Sea, which has shrunk by approximately 90 percent. Whereas in the second case China is responsible for the Mekong River’s dropping water levels.
These two pictures are part of a larger picture which affects the Middle East and the Arab region with regards to the international water crisis. It is becoming increasingly likely that this will be the source of conflict in the future, particularly as the effects of climate change and population growth make themselves known, therefore it seems that water is going to be one of the essential components of international politics and state relations in the twenty-first century.
No region in the world has been as affected by water issues as the Middle East, and this was one of the causes of the Iraq – Iran war. This is also something that has increased in recent days, and water shortages are having an impact on the water supply to Basra, as well as the water levels of the Jordan River, and the conflict over water supply between the Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank on one hand, and Syria where a number of its agricultural areas are suffering from drought on the other.
Even a country like Egypt will face problems in the future due to its population growth and the actions of some countries with regards to the Nile River water quotas.
The figures and statistics reveal the size of the problem, for while the Middle East region makes up around 5 percent of the world’s population, it has less than one percent of global water resources, and the number of countries in the region who are experiencing water shortages has increased from 3 countries in 1955 to 11 countries in 1990, and they are expected to be joined by an additional 7 countries by 2025. Therefore there is a strong possibility that water resources will be a source of conflict in the future.
Strategic researchers and intellectuals are imagining future scenarios and wars over water resources, and this is something that attracts the public’s attention, however it is also unrealistic as the only practical solution to a lack of water resources in the modern era is cooperation and attempting to find mutual solutions as well as utilizing modern technology. This is better – and less expensive – than talking about potential wars and become fixated with future conflict over water and energy resources.
This is a problem that the countries in the region are well aware of, and there are bipartite, tripartite, and quarter meetings and discussions taking place between countries that share rivers, such as those that take place between Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, or those that take place between Egypt and its African partners. However no collective efforts to develop a common regional vision with regards to the broader context of this problem and the possibility of cooperation to resolve this have been exerted. However there may be political obstacles to this, such as waiting for a lasting solution to the Palestinian – Israeli conflict that may postpone effort being exerted on this issue, regardless of this the water resources in the region I something that we must contemplate sooner or later.