Water is a prominent topic in discussions about the Middle East. Yet media coverage, policy reports and scholarly works often fall into simplistic accounts of scarcity, imminent crisis and potential water wars. “Water in the Middle East,” a primer in PDF format by Jessica Barnes, offers a valuable introduction to the topic that challenges these dominant narratives.
Although climate change is a major issue of global consequence, blaming climate change for the 2011 uprising in Egypt fails to account for the political and economic issues that were behind the uprisings across the region and distracts from the factors that produced bread shortages in Egypt.
Negative stories about the Middle East dominated Western news headlines in 2015. It’s easy for Americans, especially those who listen to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, to get the impression that the region is just one miserable homogeneous place of violence, terror, religious fanaticism and authoritarianism.
The grinding war in Syria brings new horrors with every passing week. The death toll and the number of displaced people continue to soar, as more areas of the country are reduced to rubble. This month, two additional issues with dire long-term consequences have been gaining attention: the possible drought affecting the northwest and the entrenchment of a war economy.
The Middle East is running out of water.
Under pressure to solve immediate economic problems, Middle Eastern countries seek to industrialize as quickly and as cheaply as possible. While developed countries around the world are very slowly adopting technologies and production methods that exert less pressure on the environment, Western industry at the same time sells its old, polluting technologies to less developed countries at cut-rate prices. Too often, the myopic drive for quick economic gains means that destruction is taken for development and deterioration for progress. Greenpeace and other international and local organizations are combating this mindset on several fronts.
Around 10,000 of the estimated million people employed in Egypt’s ﬁshing sector are based in ‘Izbat al-Burg, situated at the northernmost tip of the Nile’s Damietta Branch and bordered on the east by the vast Lake Manzala. As recently as nine years ago, Lake Manzala was a major ﬁshing area and a collective asset for this community. Small-scale ﬁshers used simple, cheap ﬁshing boats and equipment, faring well alongside larger operators working in both lake and sea ﬁshing. But at the turn of the century, the lake is no longer regarded as rizq (a source of livelihood). Increasingly, local ﬁshers have been prevented from ﬁshing in Manzala by state-licensed private enclosures that have virtually sealed off access to the lake’s northwestern shorelines.
As the western and southern United States sizzled in record heat this summer, a broad swath of the Middle East was suffering through the worst drought in memory. Through June and July, Middle Easterners sweltered in unusually high temperatures. In Morocco, where half the population works in agriculture, lack of rainfall has forced thousands of peasants into the overcrowded shantytowns around large cities. In Iran, precipitation has dropped by 25 percent in the last two years.