Plenty of water in the Middle East?

tigris-euphratesThat’s the opinion of  Tunisian geographer and water expert Habib Ayeb. While other experts predict water wars fueled by accelerating scarcity in the region, Ayeb believes that there is plenty of water to go around, but “hydro-politics” stand in the way of equitable distribution. Says Ayeb:

“Water availability in the region is comfortable if we add underground water to rains and rivers,” Ayeb said. “The total quantity of water in the region exceeds 2,000 cubic metres per person per year, while the scarcity edge is around 500 cubic metres per person per year.”

Water wars won’t occur, according to Hayeb, because:

“. . .no country has any interest in launching them [water wars]. Israel, Turkey and Egypt, who gather [emphasis mine] the main available water resources in the region, did not have any interest in provoking wars that would not lead them anyway to increase their water resources. On the other hand, ‘victim countries’ like Palestine, Jordan or Iraq do not have the means to declare wars against Israel or Turkey.”

I highlighted the adroit use of the word “gather” because Israel, unlike Egypt and Turkey, does not have much water within its boundaries, but takes water from such water-rich areas as the occupied Golan Heights. The point is that, Israel, like Egypt and Turkey, are water powers whose policies lead to de facto scarcity in other countries in the region.

Turkey enjoys the enviable fact that both the Tigris and Euphrates originates within its boundaries. Although it has in the past agreed to share the bounteous waters with Iraq and Syria, it has failed to live up to agreements, and has built dams and other impediments to the free flow of water to Syria and Iraq. The good news, if true, is that the three countries are expected to announce a water-sharing agreement at the World Water Forum to start tomorrow, 3/16/09, which is being held in Istanbul.

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