In what is already one of the most arid regions in the world, the Middle East is drying up. Due to irresponsible agricultural choices, desertification, and a lack of conservation practices, water shortages have constantly plagued almost every country in the Middle East. For instance, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran are all severely affected by desertification. In Syria specifically, water issues are believed to have contributed to the ongoing Civil War. The effects of water shortages will only intensify as the Jordan River is predicted to shrink by 80% by 2100. As a result, the New World Resources Institute identified the world’s thirty-three most water-stressed countries, fourteen of which are in the Middle East and North Africa.
While shortage of water is a widespread and relevant problem to all nations in the Middle East, it is especially problematic in relation to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. The water dispute between Israel and Palestine became noteworthy after the Six-Day War in 1967. After their victory, Israel seized exclusive control of the waters of the West Bank and the Sea of Galilee. Together, these resources combine to provide Israel with about 60% of its fresh water, making the nation extremely reluctant to relinquish this land.
The allocation of water resources since 1967 has been extraordinarily uneven and is a constant source of tension. Since Israel controls the water, the nation and its settlements take about 80% of the West Bank aquifer’s flow. Israel also apportions three to five times more water to its citizens than to the Palestinians. This disjunction is further seen by the fact that those who live in the Occupied Territories have access to about 300 million cubic meters of water per year, while the Israeli population has access to around 2,000 million cubic meters per year. This not only cripples the agricultural economy in Palestine, but also makes Palestinians extremely reliant upon Israel for water. Often Palestinians are left with little choice but to buy bottled water at inflated prices from Israel.
In addition, because of the scarcity of water and its significance, Israel has taken drastic measures to safeguard their resources at the expense of the Palestinians. For instance, Amnesty International claims that the 2002 Security Fence was always planned to prevent Palestinians from having access to water. The issue of water is so contentious that it has been relegated to being solved in a final peace settlement, which is similar to how the substantial issue of Jerusalem is being addressed. Some suggested solutions to reducing water shortages include investment into desalination, enhanced recycling techniques, and other technologies.
At Grieboski Global Strategies (GGS), we are committed to discovering ways to advance technology in order to combat the world’s greatest environmental issues. We recognize that access to resources and emerging technologies are essential to implementing programs that bring about positive geopolitical impacts. For example, Israel has begun to exemplify the power of harnessing new technologies through their investment into desalination, a technique which has the potential to bring about positive change in the Middle East.
Having realized the extensiveness of the water problem after the 1967 War, Israel has made great technical and innovative strides in solving it. For example, the Sorek desalination plant, which is the largest reverse osmosis desalination facility in the world, has been called “Israel’s salvation.” Israel now receives 55% of its domestic water from desalination, a process that Israel has perfected to such an extent that the government currently has a water surplus. And while desalination used to be an expensive venture, the new technologies being employed at Sorek have reduced the cost of the process by about one-third.
Now that there is more water available in Israel, perhaps water can be a catalyst towards amity. Edo Bar-Zeev, a member of Israel’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research explains, “I believe water can be a bridge through joint ventures. And one of those ventures is desalination.” Because of Palestine and Israel’s growing need for water as the region continues to dry up, there must be collaboration in an exchange of thought leadership in order to prevent a potential war over water. Israel’s fruitful and inexpensive desalination discoveries could not only be a solution to the water crisis, but could also be the first step towards even greater productivity and change in the entire Middle East.