Mideast Region Must Address Water Concerns

The Middle East and North Africa are facing serious problems related to decreasing water reserves, which could result in regional wars in the future if effective measures are not put in place, writes Pelin Cengiz.

Topics covered

water, climate

Apr 1, 2013

Turkey is now in the midst of an unprecedented peace process. The decisiveness shown by the parties is promising, but the road is long. The process is complicated and requires maximum sensitivity and care. A climate of peace is important not only for Turkey but for the region as well. There will definitely be changes in the economic and social structures of the region.

I want to look at this new era from an old viewpoint, namely that of water balances in the region.

Recently, research released by NASA drew attention to new possible dangers in the region because of problems arising from misuse of the region’s water resources. This research seems to agree with expert commentary that from now on wars in the Middle East will be about water instead of oil.

NASA’s research revealed that the loss of fresh water in the region has reached dangerous levels. One of the most important findings was the loss of 144 cubic kilometers of fresh water reserves in the Tigris and Euphrates basins of Turkey, Syria and Iran.

The NASA research, which goes back to 2003, determined that fresh water reserves approximately the size of the Dead Sea have been lost because of bad management, increasing demand for underground water and the 2007 drought. The research found that 60% of this loss is caused by pumping water out of underground reserves. While regional demand is growing fast, countries of the region are unable to coordinate water management because of their conflicts.

The NASA research is once again pointing to an important reality: drinking water in the Middle East is rapidly becoming scarce and some countries are likely to have water problems. During the UN Climate Conference in Doha last year, the World Bank issued serious warnings that reduced water resources could become a serious problem in the Middle East and North Africa. 

According to the predictions of several organizations, water conflicts will be a major issue in the coming years and will emerge as the primary cause of wars in the region. One prediction that requires careful attention is that after 2022, access to water resources in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa might be used as an instrument of war.

Data obtained by the NASA research therefore concluded that one-fifth of lost water is because of the soil drying out and a snowfall reduction. Evaporation of lakes and water reserves results in the loss of another fifth. The rest of the loss is because of a 90 cubic kilometer reduction in underground water reserves. Such a loss used to meet the needs of nearly 100 million people.

While the Middle East is undergoing this rapid water loss due to misuse and climate change, what is Turkey doing? It continues with controversial policies that disrupt ecosystem balances and disrespect nature. While hydroelectric dams and reservoirs are being built carelessly, rivers and streams are drying up and the death warrant of underground water reserves is signed with every wrong drilling. Another misguided policy is to encourage farmers to resort to irrigated agriculture, even in areas where dry agriculture is possible.

In light of the latest NASA data, Turkey and regional countries have to develop and apply an emergency plan of action for the correct use of water resources. Policies are not always decided by parties sitting around a table. If we do not pay attention to phenomena such as climate change, drought and misuse of natural resources today, one day these issues will reach desperate levels if necessary measures are not put in place.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Pelin Cengiz