Sunday, January 11, 2009

[water] and the middle-east


Putting aside military action, oil and gas for now, a good indicator of whether there is any form of cooperation in the middle-east can be seen through water.

Israel's main water supplies come from:

Long-term Potential of Renewable Water
Resource Replenishable Quantities

(MCM/year)
The Coastal Aquifer 320
The Mountain Aquifer 370
Lake Kinneret 700
Additional Regional Resources 410
Total Average 1,800

A look at the mountain aquifers and Lake Kinneret [follow links] show that these are not without their problems and the coastal aquifer is similarly environmentally and politically fraught. Also Israeli and Syrian intransigence towards one another has to be counterbalanced against pure need in the region.

Non-conventional Water Resources and Conservation After drawing on nearly all of its readily available water resources and promoting vigorous conservation programs, Israel has long made it a national mission to stretch existing sources by developing non-conventional water sources, while promoting conservation.

These efforts have focused on the following: reclaimed wastewater effluents; intercepted runoff and artificial recharge; artificially-induced rainfall - cloud seeding; and desalination.

Naturally, that is not sufficient and so Israeli long term strategy includes:

# The construction of desalination plants with an installed annual capacity of 400 MCM for seawater and with an annual 50 MCM capacity for brackish water.
# The rehabilitation of polluted and depleted wells with an annual total yield of up to 50 MCM.
# The importation from Turkey of an annual quantity of 50 MCM fresh water.
# To increase the amounts of treated sewage effluents suitable for for irrigation up to 500 MCM.

Turkey-Israeli trade is an indicative factor which adds to the mix:

Turkey and Israel are trade partners thanks to the geographical proximity, the good ties and the friendship, in 2007 Turkey [becoming] Israel's 8th largest trade partner ... based on a Free Trade Area agreement signed in 1997 [allowing] free circulation of trade between the two countries.

[By] 2007 the volume of the bilateral trade had reached a new record of almost three billions US dollars and in the first nine months of 2008 [it had] increased [by] more than 30% ... compared to 2007. The Israeli and Turkish navies have conducted joint exercises, there is a plan to build a massive pipeline from Turkey to supply water, electricity, gas and oil to Israel.

Egypt has a domestic need to publicly growl at Israel and to facilitate weapons through Gaza and yet they have common interests in some ways and are "not opposed" to a joint water project:

Several countries have contributed $15 million for the multipurpose Red-Dead canal project's feasibility study and environmental assessment. French company Coyne et Bellier is currently carrying out the feasibility study for the project, while the British firm Environmental Resources Management is undertaking the environmental assessment.

Meanwhile, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who headed his country's delegation to the water conference, said the "Peace Canal" project could benefit the entire Middle East.

He noted that Jordan's share of desalinated water under the project will be 65 per cent while 35 per cent will go to Israel and the West Bank. The project is expected to provide Jordan with 500 million cubic metres (mcm) of water annually.


The Red-Dead canal project is part of international efforts to save the Dead Sea, which has been shrinking at the rate of one metre per year, largely due to the diversion of water from the Jordan River for agricultural and industrial use.

Ditto with gas:


The protocol signed between Egypt and Israel in 2005 under which Israel imports Egyptian natural gas at a fraction of the cost on international markets provoked reactions that went beyond words. The opposition appealed to the courts and earlier this month the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the pumping of gas to Israel be stopped.

The government has not only refused to implement the decision but in doing so acted so hastily that it effectively undermined its own position in ongoing negotiations with Israel to secure a fairer price.Looking at it dispassionately, there is a joint problem here of expertise and the ready cash.

A 1997 article said:


For the most part, Egypt's desert reclamation attempts have been environmental and technical failures. Typically these Nile diversion projects are very expensive and the economic returns are minimal. Moreover, investments currently spent on desert reclamation could be put to better use in the fertile delta area.

Sorely needed are drainage systems to save the lands that are currently being lost to salinization and to the rise of the underground water table (a side effect of the High Aswan Dam).

While there is an obvious need for water-sharing arrangements, Israel remains a large per capita consumer, due to the lifestyle expectations of its westernized citizens. An anti-Israeli article says:

In spite of the positive publicity that Israel has received for its water sharing agreements with Jordan and with the Palestinians, Israel's share of area waters as a result of their agreements with the Arabs will be reduced marginally if at all, while the Arabs' share will be increased by only a relatively tiny amount.

American money is also a factor with the big players and can't be sneezed at.

Both biblically and strategically, the Tigris and Euphrates loom as a major factor, certainly for Iran's plans for expansion and a reliving of their ancient glory:

Turkey constructed the first major dam of the basin, commissioning the Keban Dam in 1973, with Syria soon following suit with the Tabqa Dam in 1975. The filling of these dams caused a sharp decrease in downstream flow, causing Iraq and Syria to exchange mutually hostile accusations and come dangerously close to a military confrontation.

The implications of the Turkish GAP projects are clear:

Given their position on the two rivers upstream from Syria and Iraq, the GAP projects, in particular, the Ilisu dam, have provoked concern in Damascus and Baghdad that the project, when completed, will substantially reduce the rivers’ total volume of downstream flow.

According to an official in Iraq's Water Resources Ministry, when Ilisu is completed in 2011, it will reduce the Tigris River waters by 47 per cent a year, depriving Mosul of about 50 percent of its summer water requirements (Al-Sabah, July 3).

Iraq annually requires about 50 billion cubic meters of water, with the Tigris providing 60 percent and the Euphrates the remaining 40 percent.

With Turkey angling for EU membership and major powers taking an interest in this, the American and European factors in the region cannot be ignored.

The simple fact is that the major local players in the region have to confront realpolitik, that sustenance and prosperity for each party depends on at least minimal levels of trade agreement and this forever undermines religious tensions at street and holy house level.

The world from the Minister of Trade's office where I put in a few hours each week for a few years was a different world to that perceived on the street. There is a level of realism at the sub-elite level which contrasts with the ideological madness at the elite level [the backers of governments and the king-makers] and the common factor is bilateral trade.


Put simply, there must be trade and on the question of essential resources, e.g. water, if there is much politicking then there is little ideology present at negotiations. It is out and out need. I put the opinion to the Minister last year that if the world could be governed by trade considerations, it would go a long way to normalizing relations.

He smiled a smile which spoke volumes - that it would be very nice, yes but that other parties considered there were higher political considerations.

As population increases, mismanagement continues and the west is present on the ground in the middle-east, water will increasingly become the catalyst for a real deterioration, a real slide in relations:

Facing historical, psychological and political barriers that have impeded cooperation and deadlocked diplomacy, nations in the region are sliding toward conflict over water. Water’s growing role in the emerging hydropolitics of the region has stressed the need for a new approach to safeguard this diminishing resource.
And into the whole cocktail can be mixed the religious factor:

Religious disagreements inside Jerusalem can get ugly, and invariably reverberate around the monotheistic world. Ultra-orthodox Jews have spat on Christian pilgrims visiting the stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa, and Muslim clerics have screamed vitriolic threats at Uri Ariel, a Knesset member intent on testing Islamic tolerance by announcing plans to re-erect a synagogue beside the 7th-century silver-domed al-Aqsa mosque. Provocatively, he affirmed his commitment by pacing out the construction site with a posse of armed guards.

What to do? What can anyone do. Pray for eventual peace? Implement more efficient irrigation and water-supply techniques using shared technology in a stabilized middle-east with nutter groups like Hamas marginalized and where realpolitik reigns?

7 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

This issue is vastly overhyped. Malta is a tiny little island (well, two actually) with basically no water at all, so they trade with the world and buy the stuff from Italy. If those Palestinains got themselves sorted out with a proper economy, they could export olives or have income from tourism* or whatever and sort out the water question afterwards.

Oil is important too, but only few countries have their own oil. Everybody else imports it. None of this is insurmountable.

* West facing beaches on the Mediterranean? It's perfect for tourism, but nobody goes there because you'll be kidnapped or blown up.

Sackerson said...

Yes, James, the Middle East has everything in its toolbox to make a wonderful world. Loads of unused land; ocean-sized underground aquifers; endless sunshine for solar power; a dry climate supremely useful for storing manufactured hard goods outdoors rust-free; vast reserves of oil and gas (still); and a beautiful geogparhical position, offering trade routes to Europe, Africa and the Far East.

I spoke recently to an Asian engineer who's worked in Kuwait and other places round there: he says they have all the wealth they need, and invest 10% to take care of the future. And when the oil runs out, there's also vast deposits of minerals to exploit.

So it seems they have little incentive to industrialise properly and democratise, and the poorer people must take out their frustrations in Jew-hating.

lady macleod said...

Thank you for the presentation of data as usual - and it brings home the point that nothing - politics, culture, religion, economy, etc. - works in a vacuum. No matter one's opinion of the data, it is a valid point and one that is seldom, in my opinion, addressed.

jams o donnell said...

Excellent article James. Sadly I can only imagine that water resources will become another casus belli... as if the Middle East needed another of those

James Higham said...

They do have resources, it's true but lack the expertise in the sense that they don't bring it in to address the construction and procedures. The leaderships are more interested in the political.

The middle-eastern leaderships have much to answer for.

North Northwester said...

"The middle-eastern leaderships have much to answer for."

Well, yes they do, but my mantra about this horror is that a lot of Moslems, really, really believe in the teachings of Islam.

Since Koran Sira and Hadith all stress intolerance, war, deception, slavery and murder on earth and the eventual damnation in the afterlife of all non-believers, you get a culture whose roots are in blood and hatred and death.

All that wealth: oil; sea and river water; wind and sunlight and natural gas and all those clever, Nobel-prize generating Jews and their western education system; what a paradise they could build.
But all the Islamists see are pigs and monkeys and rocks that call out to Moslems to look behind them for the Jew to kill.

It's a cultural war, James, for which the Islamists have Heaven's mandate to conquer.

I firmly believe that people act according to their ideologies, and producing-consuming, rationalising economic man has no place in Allah's plan.

They just aren't playing the game that you and I would, in their place.

WE'D be rich. THEY line their arsenal roofs with women and children and beg for bombing runs.

James Higham said...

Yes.