Why is the Middle East so important

Water scarcity : Why the water shortage in the Middle East leads to conflict

Six percent of the world's population, but only one percent of global drinking water supplies: the Middle East and North Africa are among the driest areas on the globe. The water shortage is fueling more and more internal and external conflicts in the region.

There are several reasons for the often dramatic water shortage. Fanned by climate change, the temperatures in the Middle East rise to more than 50 degrees in summer - in Kuwait the birds fell dead from the sky because of the heat last year. Some scientists fear that some regions in the Persian Gulf will be uninhabitable in a few decades.

In addition, there has been a drought that has been going on for years. In Israel, some tributaries of the Jordan have dried up because it has rained even less in five years than before. In general, the amount of precipitation is falling significantly and continuously.

Another factor is the region's high population growth of around two percent per year. This is particularly noticeable in the cities. More and more people are moving to the centers. Their millionfold thirst can hardly be quenched.

Water is already playing an important role in the many wars and conflicts in the Middle East. Dams in Syria and Iraq were important targets in the conquest of the “Islamic State” (IS). Potential for conflict also arises from the fact that the three largest rivers that bring water to the Middle East originate in neighboring countries.

This gives rise to conflicts over distribution. The Nile comes from the interior of Africa to Egypt, the Euphrates and Tigris start in Turkey. In a study on water scarcity in the Middle East, the World Bank came to the conclusion that the states in the region need to work more closely together to increase their “water security”. Will that work?

Turkey / Iraq / Syria

Unlike its southern neighbors, Turkey is a comparatively water-rich country. The Turks dammed the biblical rivers Euphrates and Tigris on their way south with a whole network of dams in southeastern Anatolia for the purpose of energy production and irrigation of the surrounding area. Syria and Iraq have been accusing the Ankara governments for decades of pursuing tough policies with the dams: Turkey is suspected of literally turning off the tap on its neighbors.

Such accusations are always denied in Ankara, but lawsuits from neighbors continue. The new Ilisu dam on the Tigris in the southeastern Turkish province of Batman is currently causing disputes. The Turkish authorities had started to fill the basin behind the huge dam at the beginning of June, but interrupted the process after only a week because protests from Baghdad about falling water volumes in the Tigris rained down.

The Ilisu Dam is also controversial within Turkey because the reservoir will destroy the ancient city of Hasankeyf and swallow almost 200 villages on the Tigris. Western donors had therefore withdrawn from the billion-dollar project.

For Iraq, however, it is about much more than money. The country obtains almost three quarters of its drinking water requirements from bodies of water that arise beyond its borders. Like the Tigris, the Euphrates is one of these sources - according to Iraqi sources, Turkey also holds back a lot of water there.

In the past, Iraq was able to draw around 30 billion cubic meters of water from the Euphrates, said Water Minister Hassan al Janabi in the British newspaper “Independent” last year - today he is happy when 16 billion cubic meters arrive in his country.

In Syria, the water shortage played a role in the outbreak of protests against President Bashar al Assad in 2011, because a series of bad harvests drove tens of thousands of people from the countryside to the cities, where a lot of resentment was brewing with high unemployment.

During the civil war, water was repeatedly used as a weapon. The United Nations accused Assad's government of bombing water sources in a rebel-controlled area in northwest Damascus, temporarily destroying the drinking water supply for 5.5 million people.

But the insurgents did not shy away from turning off the tap in the regions ruled by the regime. The infrastructure is also badly damaged by the conflict. Sewers and pumping stations have been destroyed, and pipes have not been repaired for years.

Egypt / Sudan / Ethiopia

A mega project around 1,500 kilometers south of its national territory makes Egypt fear for its survival. This year, Ethiopia wants to complete the so-called Great Dam of the Ethiopian Rebirth, a five billion dollar project on the Blue Nile, which is intended to double the African country's energy production.

Egypt, which is more than 90 percent dependent on the water of the Nile, sees the largest dam in Africa as a mortal danger to itself. More than half of the water in Egypt comes from the Blue Nile, which in Sudan joins the White Nile united.

The main reason for the dispute is the length of time in which Ethiopia wants to fill the reservoir. The rulers in Addis Ababa want to implement the project very quickly so that electricity production can begin as quickly as possible. But in Cairo they are pushing for the longest possible process. If the Ethiopian reservoir leads to a two percent reduction in the amount of water for Egypt, 80,000 hectares of arable land could wither there, it is feared.

On the other hand, neighboring Sudan, downstream of Ethiopia, welcomes the project because the dam should curb the floods of the Nile. In addition, Sudan wants to buy excess electricity from the hydropower plant from the Ethiopians.

Even a military conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia over the dam project appeared possible in the meantime. At a summit meeting in June, the Egyptian head of state Abdel Fatah al Sissi and the Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed officially settled the dispute, but tensions over the dam project persist. Just a few weeks ago, the dam's chief engineer, Simegnew Bekele, was shot in the head by strangers.

Gaza / Israel

Anyone who goes into the water near Gaza City risks their health and, in the worst case, even their life. Because the Mediterranean is contaminated there. The same goes for the beach, where parents are better off not letting their children play. Otherwise it can lead to serious infections. It's not surprising. An estimated 100,000 cubic meters of wastewater every day hardly or completely untreated flow into the sea or seep into the ground - an ecological disaster for the residents. And not the only risk that has to do with water as a luxury good.

The available groundwater is quantitatively and qualitatively insufficient to supply the overpopulated coastal strip with its two million inhabitants, which is largely sealed off by Israel and Egypt. According to experts, 95 percent of tap water is unsuitable for human consumption.

The limit values ​​of the World Health Organization for nitrate and chloride are massively exceeded. There are several reasons for this. For example, untreated sewage, waste, fertilizers and pesticides penetrate the groundwater - but there are no sewage treatment plants. Three wars in the past ten years have also dealt a severe blow to the already rudimentary infrastructure.

So the water shortage is immense. Israel delivers several million cubic meters of water annually. But that is by far not enough. Desalination would be useful and necessary. However, such systems cost a lot of money, are electricity-intensive, and the building material for them reaches the coastal strip with difficulty.

The government in Jerusalem fears that the ruling Hamas could misuse the supplies for its own purposes, for example to build attack tunnels. In addition, ever decreasing rainfall in the entire region prevents the formation of new groundwater.

At the same time, existing reserves are ruthlessly exploited, and seawater seeps into the storage facilities. No wonder the United Nations and the World Bank are warning that the Gaza Strip could be uninhabitable in two years.

Israel is already affected by the misery in Gaza. Because the wastewater from the coastal strip spreads across the Mediterranean towards the Jewish state. You try to protect yourself from this, for example, by using barriers. After all, providing the citizens with usable water has top priority and is part of the security doctrine.

However, Israel has one big advantage: thanks to its technical know-how, the country has been one of the world's leading states for years when it comes to using water efficiently. With the help of seawater desalination, a large part of the demand can be met, not least in agriculture.

But such systems are also considered potential targets. That is why the Jewish state also relies on natural resources. The Jordan and the Sea of ​​Galilee play a major role in this. However, the lake lacks water due to the lack of precipitation. It dries up, small islands have already formed.

And there are always distribution battles with Jordan over the Jordan. The kingdom is one of the most arid countries on earth and accuses Israel of shamelessly using the Jordan River - at the expense of Jordan.


Rivers that have no water. Fields that are not cultivated because they resemble scree deserts. Groundwater that is becoming more and more saline. Dried out tracts of land that are uninhabitable and sweep away over the tornadoes - Iran's water shortage is visible and noticeable throughout most of the country. And it has dramatic consequences.

There are many reasons for the crisis. Often it is not “nature” that is responsible, but the person who overexploits the scarce resource. The country, whose population has doubled to 80 million since the 1979 revolution, lives far beyond its ecological standards.

The starting point is clear. Iran has suffered from a persistent drought for years. There is no rain, the average temperature has risen by up to two degrees. The country has lost a good 50 percent of its surface water. But instead of using what is available sparingly, everything is done.

This is especially true for cities, which are getting bigger all the time. 70 percent of Iranians now live in urban centers. Their thirst seems insatiable. Because the need cannot be met by the authorities, citizens illegally tap into the groundwater supplies, which empties the reservoirs.

Agriculture is downright wasteful. 90 percent of the water is used for plantations and fields. Nevertheless, farmers build pumps and wells without a permit. Then it is missing elsewhere. Farms have to close, tens of thousands fear for their livelihood.

Unrest only recently broke out again. People are angry, resentful of corruption, and complain that powerful landowners are diverting water for their lands. There is therefore not enough left for ordinary citizens. Mismanagement and a self-service mentality have long been preoccupying the rulers. President Hassan Ruhani has made the fight against the water shortage a top priority. With the aim of significantly reducing consumption.

But the misery also has a political reason: the sanctions of the USA. Iran opposes the punitive measures with the ideal of self-sufficiency. Food like wheat should be produced in the country itself. This includes the state buying their grain from the farmers at a price that is far above that of the world market. What motivates the farmers to be too generous with the water.

This exacerbates the crisis and protests are mounting. That is exactly the stated aim of the US sanctions. Washington wants to bring Iran to its knees to bring the mullahs to the negotiating table.

The displeasure resulting from the water shortage suits Donald Trump as an opponent of the regime - he weakens his opponents.

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