Al mashriq - The Levant


Water and Security Issues in the Middle East

By: Batir Mohammad Ali Wardam
December 26, 1999

IUCN national office —Jordan

The water and security issue in Jordan and the Middle East is of great vitality since this region has virtually ran out of water. So many potential sources of conflicts are being incarnated at an alarming rate, this conflict is both interstate and intrastate. The term "security" itself is now taking a new shape in international relations.

The current trends of globalization and third wave " communication revolution" have resulted in the emergence of the " universal citizen" sense in the international community. Accordingly, several geopolitical and environmental concepts have been linked together, forcing clear modifications in their definitions. One of those modified concepts is that of "Security".

Security has been traditionally dealt with as a strictly militaristic concept associated with security of borders and national institutions from outside. Now researchers and scholars are moving away from that narrow definition to a more wide and holistic approach encompassing environmental security in terms of equitable resource management and combating environmental degradation of life support systems.

Such a concept is vital for the Middle East in particular. Water is the predominant environmental threat to the security of the region, whether the security is interstate or intrastate. HM King Abdullah II was among several leaders in the region to call for joint and collaborative efforts to combat water scarcity and distribution problems in the region. Other wise, this issue might ignite violent conflicts in the future.

Water Security could be defined within several criteria including stability of societies, inequitable distribution of water resources, scarcity and low affordability of water as well as degradation of water quality. All these elements, unfortunately, are reflected in the water dilemma in Jordan.

On the other hand, another integral concept of water Security is Equity. This is manifested in the equitable sharing of affordable resources, which relates to regional, sectoral and intergenerational equity.

Equity has emerged as an important key element of water security due to the fact that globalization trends have increased the proportion of " marginalised" people around the world; those who are being " discriminated against" on the basis of access to economic power and capital. Equitable sharing of environmental (natural ) resources is proving to be both ethically and an environmentally sustainable policy. The UN General Assembly in 1997 has adopted the concept of " Equitable Sharing" officially to be a basic concept in Environmental Law pertaining to water issues in particular.

Natural resources are becoming either a source of conflict or a point of cooperation. This will depend on the existence of conflict resolving tradition and mechanisms between states and between several stakeholders in the community. Unfortunately, the Middle East region is lacking this tradition, thus one of the main objectives of any plan to tackle water security issues will be to facilitate the establishment of such a mechanism and tradition.

The water agenda in the Middle East is rich with bad indicators, the facts and figures which point to existing and potential problems.

Shortages in water resources have reached crises levels. The per capita consumption of countries like Jordan has reached an alarming scarcity. Compared to what is internationally conceived as adequate water consumption at 1000 cubic meters/ year and water scarcity level at 500 cubic meters, Jordanians have a share of 350 cubic meters per capita. There is no common vision between states in the region on how to manage water crises especially in transboundary dimensions.

Added to that, most of freshwater resources of any single country originate from a neighboring country. This will lead into conflicts of rights between riparian countries. The desire of one country to control the water resources originating from its territories or managing it individually may lead to negative reactions from neighboring countries which get negatively affected (i.e. Turkey vs. Syria and Iraq).

Several international agreements on water sharing have not been implemented or abided with. Even detailed peace treaties in some cases leave a room for different interpretations of a single reference text (Jordanian —Israeli peace treaty). There is a general lack of adherence to International Law principles in arbitrating water issues.

Some important projects are taking place in the region aiming at ensuring water security. One of these initiatives has been launched by the IUCN West Asia and North Africa regional Committee. It will tackle water and security issues from a purely ecological perspective. Hopefully, this project will be building up momentum in the coming months to present a unified regional view on this sensitive issue in the Amman 2000 World Conservation Congress to reach a consensus on how to manage scarce resources equitably and peacefully.