Friday, May 26, 2006

Water Everywhere and Nowhere

As the calendar flips past Memorial Day this coming Monday, the price of petrol is expected to go up as the country enters vacation mode and hits the roads.

There is another shortage in the globe’s vital fluids It is the result both of mal-distribution and absolute scarcity Some 75% of the earth’s surface is water; 98% of this surface water is not potable. Of the remaining 2%, 90% is locked in ice at the poles or underground.

In terms of natural distribution, Europe contains 40% of the world’s running surface while 88 developing countries with 40% of the human population fall below the water scarcity barrier of 1,000 cubic meters annually.

Nowhere is the resultant condition as more a threat to peace – the coming resource wars – than in the Middle East, especially the swath called the Fertile Crescent whose arc runs from Egypt through Lebanon into Iraq and Afghanistan

All countries in the region are heavily dependent on irrigation to sustain the intense form of plant cultivation – both legal and illegal.

Three rivers carry the main burden of providing reliable flows of water for the eight most heavily populated countries: Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Egypt’s needs are met by the Nile. But none of the main feeder rivers – the Atbara and the Blue and White Niles – has its origin in Egypt. Ethiopia boasts Atbara and Blue Nile while Burundi, through Lakes Albert and Victoria, is the source for the White Nile. Recognizing Egypt’s vulnerability, and hoping to ameliorate the negative effects of the annual floods, Egypt built the High Aswan hydroelectric dam. (Other reasons for building the Dam included the need to provide useful employment for a young population, to create a new source for electric power, and as part of Gamul Abdal Nasser’s drive to create symbols around which he could build Arab socialism.

The heart of the region is also the most vulnerable, for none the major rivers flow into Israel, Jordon, Syria, or the Palestinian enclaves. Another factor that is contributing to the shortages are the burgeoning populations. In 2000, annual rates of population growth were 1.7% in Israel, 3.1% in Jordan (down to 2.49% in 2006), 3.4% in the West Bank, and 4.0% in the Gaza Strip.

That leaves Turkey, Iraq and Syria. The Euphrates and the Tigris both have headwaters in Turkey. Turkey is planning a series of dams on both rivers in the basin. This has caused enormous consternation n both countries.

By 2025, by some estimates, demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 56%. That’s a recipe for war and for exploitation for profit of life itself. For while it might be hugely inconvenient to have to switch to alternate means of transport (remember walking?) if we run out of recoverable petroleum, the day people run out of water is the day of death.

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