Sunday, July 26, 2009

Water, Peace and the Middle East

International Water Law Project Blog
http://internationalwaterlaw.org/blog/?p=168


In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Stanley A. Weiss offers a grave perspective of the water situation in the Middle East. He writes that “the region is headed toward a water calamity that could overwhelm all efforts at peace.” Ominous words, but sadly, true.Weiss, however, also offers a prescription for averting the tragedy. Among his recommendations, water-rich Turkey should become a purveyor for the parched nations of the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan, Syria, the future Palestine, and possibly others. While such solutions have been proffered in the past, couched in the language of “peace pipeline” and “water plan for peace,” the politics of the region have always thwarted their realization. My sense is that they will continue to do so into the future.



While Turkey does have prodigious amounts of water in relation to its land area and population, and certainly in comparison with its neighbors in the Middle East, transporting water from Turkey to where it is needed will require negotiations of Herculean proportion. As Weiss notes, a water carrier from Turkey will have to run through Syria and possibly Lebanon. Unfortunately, neither of these nations is known for their stability or international cooperation. In particular, the ongoing tensions between Syria and Lebanon (e.g., over the murder of Former Prime Minister Hariri), Syria and Israel (e.g., over the Golan Heights), Lebanon and Israel (e.g., over Israel’s 2006 conflict with Hezbollah), and Israel and the Palestinians (e.g., over security, human rights, and independence) make any cooperation over water seem illusory.



Yet, it must be stated that the reason that such a scheme is unlikely to materialize anytime soon is not just because of regional politics. It is also due to a historically ingrained lack of trust among the region’s countries. In order to implement the Turkish water solution, the nations of the Middle East would have to become comfortable being dependent on Turkey having ultimate control over an indispensible resource. Iraq’s and Syria’s ongoing water relations with Turkey suggest anything but comfort with Turkey’s management of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (see my prior post). Similarly, given the route of the water carrier, some nations would also have to be reliant on the amiability of countries in whose territory the carrier would run.



It has been said multiple times: water is life. Without it, life ceases to exist. Hence, the question: what country would willingly place its life, its peoples’ lives, in the hands of a neighbor, especially one who may be unfriendly? I suppose nations in Europe and North America might be more inclined to accept such a precarious situation in order to ensure their water supply. These, though, are nations with a history of cooperation over security, shared resources, migration, and other issues. I have my doubts, however, about the nations of the Middle East. With their long record of enmity and conflict, any accord that creates dependency would necessitate a significant calamity (such as widespread famine), immense international pressure, or some advantage that the subordinate State could not refuse (no, I cannot think of any examples).



Pessimism aside, Weiss’ other recommendations do hit the mark. Israel should be convinced to share its water expertise and technology with its Arab neighbors. Israel has long been a leader in water management techniques and technology and such an overture would not only help alleviate water scarcity problems in the region, but also serve as a basis for further cooperative opportunities. The U.N. also should mobilize a global effort to improve desalination efforts to make them less expensive, less energy intensive, and more environmentally friendly. Lastly, a new effort on water management should be brokered between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to replace the failed Joint Water Committee.



In addition, though, steps must be taken to overcome the inherent lack of trust shared by the region’s nations as it relates to fresh water. Specifically, Europe and the U.S. should embark on a new strategy with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and with any other nation in the region willing to exchange peace for water, for a comprehensive plan for water management and provision. Such a plan should have two main tenets.



First, the plan should be based on the undeniable reality that there just is not enough water in the Middle East to support everyone’s population, developmental, and environmental needs. There is a dire need to develop new sources of freshwater through desalination of sea water and brackish aquifers, treatment and reuse of grey water (non-industrial wastewater generated from domestic processes), and the capturing of rain and flood waters that otherwise go unused. Hence, a key aspect of the plan would be to generate financial, technical, and management support from Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere to pursue these new water opportunities. It would also involve assistance in developing the necessary infrastructure needed to deliver the water to where it is needed.



The plan also would be founded on the principle that, to the extent possible, no nation should have the ability to control the flow of water into another nation. While the elimination of all control factors is likely unattainable, the reduction of some measure of countries’ dependence on water resources originating or flowing from neighboring states will go a long way to lessening both water stress and political tensions. This principle would be implemented through two alternate but not mutually exclusive approaches. The first approach is through the creation of bilateral or multilateral water management and allocation institutions that have some degree of independence in their operation. Existing institutions that might be look to as models include, among others, the Mexico-US International Boundary and Water Commission, the Franko-Swiss Genevese Aquifer Management Commission, and the Council of Ministers and High Commission of the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River. Preferably as a complementary approach, but possibly as an alternative approach if the institutional strategy is deemed unworkable, the second tactic would pursue the augmentation of local water opportunities in each country as well as the reassessment of access points and allocations of transboundary waters to provide each nation with enhanced water security. For example, desalination on the Israeli Mediterranean coast would be expanded to benefit Israel in exchange for the Palestinians receiving a greater share of the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank. A similar approach could be employed between Israel and Jordan on the Jordan River.



Weiss’ warning of the coming “water calamity” in the Middle East cannot be overstated. Water is a life issue. But, it is also subject to political, economic, and security concerns, climatic variability, and a host of societal, national, and international interests that threaten to overwhelm any effort to achieve a lasting peace in the region. Although water could certainly serve as a basis for peace in the Middle East, success will hinge on generating a level of trust and cooperation that has yet to be seen in the region.

2 comments:

Gabriel Eckstein said...

Thanks for re-posting my commentary, though, a link to the original (http://internationalwaterlaw.org/blog/?p=168) would have been appropriated.
Also, Terry Spragg, inventor of the Spraggbag, sent me an e-mail responding to my posting, which I have posted at: http://internationalwaterlaw.org/blog/?p=171.

GS Don Morris, Ph.D. said...

Mr. Eckstein,

I do apologize for the reference error-I have fixed it now-this is a most important topic, if I can assist by hosting additional work I am pleased to do so-all the best-doc