It’s a well-known saying that the next world war will be fought over water and according to Lester R. Brown, an American environmental analyst, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, “It is now commonly said that future wars in the Middle East are more likely to be fought over water than over oil.”
You don’t have to be an environmental expert or a scientist to work out that whilst temperatures worldwide are exceeding annual records, regular rainfall in many areas, notably the Middle East are becoming even scarcer than ever. When neighbouring countries are faced with a situation where they may have to share resources, this will without doubt cause its share of conflict.
Whilst Saudi Arabia for instance has an abundance of one liquid – oil, water which is equally important for their vital agri-economy is dwindling at an alarming rate. Up to now their healthy farmlands have been irrigated by water pumped from aquifers, filled MILLIONS of years ago deep below the ground. These were filled in the days when rain water wasn’t such a precious commodity. This allowed Saudi Arabia to be self-sufficient without having to import food. With almost no rainfall to speak of and empty rivers and lakes those days are drawing to a rapid close.
oases – a thing of the past
Historically there were always literally oases sprinkled across these desert countries, followed by desalination plants which supplied water particularly for agriculture. The Saudi government have announced one of their main crops, wheat, will no longer be able to be grown in a few years, leading the country to use its oil wealth to look at buying neighbouring lands with better water supplies.
So why, like Cape Town and other areas of South Africa did these countries wait until they were almost out of water to face the situation? Put simply they all have one thing in common, poor water management.
One of the Middle East’s biggest concerns, which again can be shared with many South African communities, is not just a lack of water, but a lack of sanitary water. Some countries, including Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have unique problems needing global, immediate attention to avert critical crises including malnutrition.
With 85% of the Middle East’s water being used for agriculture, over irrigation and rapid desertification has added to their current water shortage.
When you look at a country like Jordan which is the same size as Portugal and learn that their average freshwater withdrawal is less than 10% of Portugal’s average you start to understand the enormity of the issue. In an already poor country the cost of water in Jordan has increased thirty percent in ten years. Neighbouring country Yemen has one of the highest worldwide rates of malnutrition as through lack of water they’re not able to produce enough food to feed their people.
money, money everywhere but not a drop of water to spare
Even the United Arab Emirates, which on the surface is a rich man’s playground, are suffering from a lack of water, due, according to a report from the Emirates Industrial Bank, to the fact they have the highest per capita consumption of water in the world. Sadly for them over the last thirty years their water table has dropped about one metre per year, meaning they only have around 50 more years of water left!
Even Israel, which for many years has been seen as a pioneer in managing water has announced that even if 2018 proves sufficiently rainy to avoid a fifth straight drought year, they are remaining in crisis mode. They recently warned that Lake Kinneret, Israel’s biggest water source won’t return to what it was a decade ago when their underground aquifers were full. They further warned that in 20 years it would be a swamp!
Western Galilee also faces sever water problems where pumping water from underground aquifers as they have done is no longer a viable option.
Apart from the exorbitant cost of these installations, they have also led to an overuse of water resources in the Middle East, with 70% of the world’s desalination plants found in the area. Another side effect of water produced by these plants are the high amounts of boron and bromide, which are real health and environmental problems. Added to which these plants also drain the earth of essential minerals like calcium as well as dumping concentrated salt back into oceans causing a further problem.
Whilst we’ve heard in South Africa that putting boreholes into aquifers is the answer for instance to Cape Town’s problems, these only work whilst there’s ground water to pump to the surface and without regular rain or snow to filter into the ground and recharge the aquafer, there’s only so much water that can be pumped out before running dry.