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Geography Factsheet: 199. Water issues in the Middle East

  • Geography Factsheet: 199. Water issues in the Middle East

Geography Factsheet: 199. Water issues in the Middle East

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  • Code: GEA-FSPI-199
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    The Middle East is shorter of water than most places, and getting shorter all the time. The region faces drought every few years. There are few unexploited sources of fresh water. It is not just the cost, but dealing with neighbouring countries, that creates problems in developing water resources. Farming uses at least 80% of the region’s water. In addition, population growth and rising standards of living increase the demand for water. Some cities such as Amman in Jordan, ration its piped supplies, and unrationed drinking water from tankers costs more than the poor can pay. What water there is in the region is frequently in dispute. The area’s biggest rivers rise from sources outside the Middle East, and the division of their waters is already quarrelled over. The only formal treaty in the region is a 1959 agreement on the Nile between Egypt and Sudan. Downstream states fear that their upstream neighbours may divert the headwaters. In spite of many headlines on Water Wars, war is improbable. One reason is that in each of the three most disputed river basins, military power is not evenly balanced: one country is strong enough to get its own way, or most of its own way. In the Nile and Jordan basins, the dominant countries, Egypt and Israel, are downstream but through threat or military occupation have seen to it that upstream states leave the flow of the water alone. In the third dispute, over the Euphrates, Turkey is upstream-and strong enough to do what it wants despite the protests of downstream Iraq and Syria.