Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Next Iraq War - Water Wars

The Middle East is facing severe drought and the political and security problems from that are spilling across national borders.

Long-troubled Iraq has now been hit by water shortages that some observers believe could destroy the nation. From the Abu Dhabi newspaper, The Nation:

As bombs continue to tear apart its towns and villages, Iraq is now in the grip of an environmental crisis that experts and officials warn may do what decades of war have not been able to – destroy the country. The new war on Iraq, says one member of the country’s parliament, “is a war of water”.

The Tigris and Euphrates, two of the world’s great water courses, fed life to the historic lands of Mesopotamia, “the land between two rivers”. The previously lush plains south of Baghdad are widely held to be the cradle of civilisation, the birthplace of some of humanity’s greatest achievements and earliest empires.

Today, however, those same rivers are increasingly starved of water. The floodplains on either side of the Euphrates and Tigris, Iraq’s old fertile agricultural heartlands, are parched. In northern Iraq, underground supplies of water have been so depleted they may never recover.

...Wells once 200 metres deep now have to go down twice as far to reach the lowered water table. A majority of existing wells in the region are running dry.“Vast areas of Iraq are now cracked and barren, the marshes have dried up and dust storms worse than anyone can remember obscure the sun,” says Ibrahim al Alubiddi, an economics professor at Baghdad’s Mustansariya University.

...Iraq’s devastating water shortages have three main causes: upstream dams in Turkey and Syria have drastically reduced the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates; rainfall levels have hit record lows; and inefficient management techniques mean Iraq wastes what limited water it does have.

“The drought has been a real issue; without rain there has been no replenishment of rivers and groundwater aquifers,” says Mohammed Amin Faris, a leading Iraqi water official. “We used to have droughts once a decade. Now we are worried they are coming every two or three years because of global climate change.

Turkey and Syria aren't damming off the Tigris and Euphrates to punish Iraq. Those countries are simply also hard hit by drought. Over the last three years 250,000 Syrian farmers have been driven off the land by drought, the worst hit region being along the Iraq border. Both Syria and Iraq met this week with the Turkish energy minister, Taner Yildiz, but came away empty handed when Yildiz said Turkey itself doesn't have enough water to be able to increase flows into the Tigris and Euphrates.
If you look around the world you'll find that severe drought is becoming a common, enormous threat throughout the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, East Africa, most of South America and the southern US. In virtually all of those areas, groundwater (aquifers) are being pumped dry. When the water runs out, food goes with it, and nations that lose their ability to feed their people become destabilized and a threat to their neighbours and to global security.

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