Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Water Wars - Coming Soon to The Middle East?

It's the perfect storm of three factors - scarce groundwater resources, climate change-driven droughts and massive population growth.   Put them all together and security analyst Russell Sticklor, writing in the Christian Science Monitor warns it's the formula for war.

The Middle East and North Africa are the world’s most water-scarce region. The desert climate and lack of rainfall make people almost entirely dependent on groundwater and the surface waters of the Nile, Jordan, Tigris, and Euphrates Rivers to meet their daily needs for drinking, growing crops, and commercial and industrial projects.

Historically, the region’s population has been small enough to get by with a very limited water supply. But since 1950, a sustained population boom has pushed the number of people in the region to about 300 million – nearly as large as the water-rich United States.

Syria’s population stood at 3.5 million in 1950. The population has since soared to nearly 22 million and is expected to surpass 36 million by 2050.

Egypt’s 1950 population of 20 million has swelled to almost 85 million in 2013 and is projected to climb past 125 million by mid-century.

Yemen’s 1950 population of 4.5 million has now reached 25 million. Despite having one of the lowest per capita water availabilities anywhere on Earth, the nation’s population is projected to climb past 52 million by 2050. No one knows where the water to support these growing populations is going to come from. Syria, Egypt, Yemen, and other countries in the region are already using most if not all of the annual renewable water resources they have, both above and below ground.

Sticklor notes there's a lot these countries can do from conservation to treatment and re-use of waste water and, some day, desalination may become a viable option.

Water allocation is becoming another burning fuze.   Egypt, for example, is completely dependent upon the Nile and yet it's dependency is threatened by the growing populations of the several upriver countries that also depend on the Nile.  Egypt routinely threatens those neighbours with war - over water, of course.  Iraq is in a similar situation with Turkey and Syria drawing down water from the Tigris and Euphrates.  It's widely believed that Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian West Bank in part because of the aquifer that lies beneath it.

Still it comes down to the fact, in my opinion, that these countries are allowing their populations to swell far beyond their environments' capacity to meet their water needs.   Desalination is nothing more or less than artificial life support.  It's like an entire nation being transformed into a submarine or a space craft.

Update - Despite the problems besetting the region, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan is urging Turkish women to up the birth rate to three kids each.

If you have a young population, the future is yours,” Mr Erdogan has said. “At the moment, thank God, 60 per cent of our population is under 30. But when we look at the increase, if we continue like this, alarm bells are ringing for 2037-40.”
As the Financial Times article points out when a nation's birth rate falls below 2.1 children per woman there are too few births to keep a population stable.   Fair enough but in a world overstressed by a population of 7-billion and headed to 9-billion or more, is a declining population really a bad thing?

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