(2) Water

Our liquid planet glows like a soft blue sapphire in the hard-edged darkness of space. There is not nothing else like it in the solar system. It is because of water.

John Tod

Water Conflicts in the Middle East: A Preview of the Future?

Many countries in the Middle East face water shortages and rising tensions over water sources they must share. Most water in this dry region comes from three river basins: the Nile, the Jordan, and the Tigris–Euphrates.

Three countries -Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt -use most of the water that flows in Africa’s Nile River. Egypt, where it rarely rains, gets more than 97% of its freshwater from the Nile and is last in line to tap this precious source. To meet the water and food needs of their rapidly growing populations, Ethiopia and Sudan plan to divert more water from the Nile. Such upstream diversions would reduce the amount of water available to Egypt, which cannot exist without irrigation water from the Nile.

Egypt could go to war with Sudan and Ethiopia for more water, cut its rapid population growth, or waste less irrigation water. Other options are to import more grain to reduce the need for irrigation water, work out water-sharing agreements with other countries, or suffer the harsh human and economic consequences of hydrological poverty.

The Jordan basin is by far the most water-short region, with fierce competition for its water among Jordan, Syria, Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank), and Israel. Syria, which is projected to nearly double its population between 2007 and 2050, plans to build dams and withdraw more water from the Jordan River, decreasing the downstream water supply for Jordan and Israel. If Syria goes through with its plans, Israel warns that it may destroy the largest dam. In contrast, Israel has cooperated with Jordan and Palestine over their shared water resources.

Turkey, located at the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, controls water flowing downstream through Syria and Iraq and into the Persian Gulf. Turkey is building dams along the upper Tigris and Euphrates to generate electricity and irrigate a large area of land.

If completed, these dams will reduce the flow of water downstream to Syria and Iraq by as much as 35% in normal years and by much more in dry years. Syria also plans to build a large dam along the Euphrates to divert water arriving from Turkey. This will leave little water for Iraq and could lead to a water war between Iraq and Syria.

Resolving these water distribution problems will require developing agreements to share water supplies, slowing population growth, wasting less water, raising water prices to help improve irrigation efficiency, and increasing grain imports to reduce water needs.

Two or more countries share some 263 of the world’s water basins but countries in only 158 of the basins have water-sharing agreements. This explains why conflicts among nations over shared water resources, especially in Asia, are likely to increase as populations grow and the demand for water increases.

As discussed in this chapter, the world faces three major water resource problems: too little water in some areas, too much water in other areas, and water pollution. To many analysts, emerging water shortages in many parts of the world-along with the related problems of biodiversity loss and climate change-are the three most serious environmental problems the world faces during this century

Many countries in the Middle East, which has one of the world’s highest population growth rates, face water shortages and conflicts over access to water because they share water from three major river basins.

Will We Have Enough Water?

We are using available freshwater unsustainably by wasting it, polluting it, and charging too little for this irreplaceable natural resources.

One of every six people does not have sufficient access to clean water, and this situation will almost certainly get worse. Freshwater Is an Irreplaceable

Resource that we are managing poorly

We live on the water planet, with a precious layer of water-most of it saltwater-covering about 71% of the earth’s surface. Look in the mirror. What you see is about 60% water, most of it inside your cells.

Water is an amazing molecule with unique properties that affect life on earth. You could survive for several weeks without food, but for only a few days without water. And it takes huge amounts of water to supply you with food, provide shelter, and meet your other daily needs and wants.

Water also plays a key role in sculpting the earth’s surface, moderating climate, and removing and diluting wastes and pollutants.

Despite its importance, water is one of our most poorly managed resources. We waste it and pollute it. We also charge too little for making it available. This encourages still greater waste and pollution of this resource, for which we have no substitute.

Only a tiny fraction of the planet’s abundant water supply-about 0.024%-is readily available to us as liquid freshwater in accessible groundwater deposits and in lakes, rivers, and streams. The rest is in the salty oceans, frozen in polar ice caps and glaciers, or is deep underground and inaccessible.

Fortunately, the world’s freshwater supply is continually collected, purified, recycled, and distributed in the earth’s hydrologic cycle-the movement of water in the sea, in the air, and on land, which is driven by solar energy and gravity. This irreplaceable water recycling and purification system works well, unless we overload it with slowly degradable and no degradable wastes, withdraw water from underground supplies faster than it is replenished, or destroy wetlands and cut down forests that store and slowly release water. In parts of the world, we are doing all of these things, mostly because we have placed little or no value on the earth’s natural ecological services

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