Is water a source of concern for the Middle East?
By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing writer
The Middle East is one of the richest areas in the world in natural resources. The region is primarily known for its production of oil and gas as 80% of the world’s oil use comes from an OPEC member country. In turn, this natural resource has enriched these countries’ economy. However, what’s not discussed as often is the regions’ resource limitations; the biggest one being water. As the region grows more and more unstable through declining autocratic regimes, many people are asking if the water is a new source of concern in the region and if there is anything that can be done about it. Although this question is difficult to answer, there are major issues with sources of water for many of these countries.
The area has been going through one of the largest cases of desertification we’ve seen in the last century. Agriculture is responsible for approximately 85% of the region’s water use. 17 of the 22 Arab nations fall below the water poverty line designated by the United Nations. Paired with the harsh environment and factoring in climate change, the environment is prone to long droughts and water shortages. Although different political leaders had varying views on how to fix the water shortage issues, many took to lowering consumption by the people. This never worked out as in turn it allocated a greater percentage of water to agriculture. One of the most notable attempts in trying to fix this issue is Libya’s creation of man-made rivers. One of the first of its kind, the Great Man-Made River circled the Libyan desert providing irrigation and drinking water to thousands of communities.
One of the main areas of concern is the Litani River in Lebanon. This river along with its dam, the Qaraoun dam, is a natural water source for hundreds of thousands of people living around the river and also serves as an irrigation system for nearby agriculture. However, the river is also a source of dispute, especially between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel’s Defense Force. In the summer of 2006, Israel targeted strikes on open water channels and underground hydro diversion pipes of the Litani River. Because of this, agriculture on the river banks and in the coastal plains and parts of the Bekaa Valley near Qaraoun Dam were all suspended as the crops had no source of water. Given that the region’s land is already exhausted by the pressures of population and pollution, it has left the residents of southern Lebanon in a terrible situation with an uncertain future.
Among Lebanese, there is speculation that Israel wants to steal its water source as both countries compete for natural resources. When asked about it, Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said, “There’s a policy decision at the highest level not to target those hydro-pumping stations, We don’t claim an inch of Lebanese sovereign territory. We don’t claim a gallon of Lebanese water. We have no hostile intentions whatever towards Lebanon as a country, towards the Lebanese people or Lebanese natural resources.” However, Israel hasn’t always retained this position, as its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, proposed including the Litani River in the 1940s on the eve of the creation of the Jewish state. Before him, zionist leader Chaim Weizmann included the Litani valley as among the “minimum requirements essential to the realization of the Jewish National Home.” And lastly, Moshe Dayan, then chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, had planned on occupying and ultimately annexing southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. Recently, the United States’s recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel created more of a hostile environment as there are fears Israel will attack the Litani River once again.
Although the water issues in the Arab world will not be solved overnight, shedding a light on the thousands who suffer from water scarcity in the region will help bring awareness to the issue. Water is written as a basic human right under the United Nations and everyone suffering from water scarcity deserves equal access to clean water. In the future, dramatic changes must be made in order to combat the issue of water scarcity as it worsens with the rapid consequences of climate change.
Intro: As the region grows more and more unstable through declining autocratic regimes, many people are asking if the water is a new source of concern in the region and if there is anything that can be done about it.
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