Friday, August 19, 2016

Finding Water in the Desert: Water Security in the Middle East - The Cipher Brief

The beginning of the Syrian civil war presents an excellent example of this phenomenon. Of course, a variety of different factors led to the outbreak of “Arab Spring” revolts in Syria. However, few were as important, or as little understood, as the most severe drought in modern Syrian history. Between 2006 and 2011, this drought affected 60 percent of the country, devastated the crops of 75 percent of Syrian farmers, and internally displaced over 1.5 million people. As Peter Jacques, Professor at the University of Central Florida and Cipher Brief expert, explains, these farmers “abandoned their lands for the cities. Not long afterward, social crisis in these cities ensued, and then revolution.”
At the same time, chronic government mismanagement of water resources across the region only sharpens this kind of political unrest. This is especially damaging in countries with little access to renewable water resources like flowing rivers. These countries – Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, amongst others –  often rely on groundwater or fuel-hungry desalination plants for their water supply. However, many of the region’s aquifers are non-renewable fossil aquifers, and all are being drained at a dangerous rate. As Amit Pandya notes, “annual withdrawals exceed 350 percent of renewable resources in Egypt, 800 percent in Libya, and 954 percent in Egypt.”
To make matters worse, a large portion of these resources are channeled – intentionally or otherwise – to water intensive agricultural projects, wasteful personal use, or simply lost through inefficient distribution systems. The countries of the Arab Gulf, for instance, have some of the highest water use per capita numbers in the world despite possessing few renewable water sources. Similarly, in Yemen, almost 14 million people have limited access to safe drinking water but, as Peter Jacques points out, 90 percent of the country’s diminishing groundwater supplies are used for agriculture “and half of that water is used for an amphetamine crop called Qat, despite the severe malnutrition of Yemen’s population.”...

bth: over population, lack of infrastructure investment, lack of educational institutions, lack of water resources. What could go wrong? Given the immensity of the mismanagement, one can anticipate that the Middle East will be a socio-economic disaster for the rest of this century.

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