As the year 2000 approaches, humanity has passed an important milestone, one that has nothing to do with the new Millennium, but which may have many more consequences than the Y2K bug. On October 12, the world’s population officially passed six billion. While pundits debated whether this was cause for concern or celebration, it is worth noting how we got here and where we’re headed. Population issues are particularly relevant in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where the population has more than doubled in size since the mid-1960s and will likely increase by another 50 percent by the year 2025. 
As the Middle East enters the 1990s, the food situation cannot be easily captured in catch phrases like “dire emergency." Outside of the Horn of Africa, no country confronts wide-scale starvation, though poor people throughout the region face personal food emergencies daily.
Agricultural production continues to grow at a respectable rate — often better than the world average — in most of the region. Many countries have increased average daily calorie supply per person to levels equal to or better than the industrialized West. Where 22 percent of the population (35 million people) were undernourished in 1969-1970, this had dropped to 11 percent (26 million people) in 1983-1985, a ratio that compares favorably with other parts of the Third World.
Once irrigated and lush but now barren, the Mesopotamian plain circling the ruins of Gilgamesh’s Uruk makes present day calls for food security via vast new irrigation projects appear shortsighted. Irrigation today suffers the same problems as in ancient times — salt buildup in the soil, collapsing dams, irrigation channels narrowed and blocked by silt buildup — plus some new ones, such as pesticide runoff. But irrigation planners figure they have learned a few things since Gilgamesh’s time. We can expect Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others to go on building new, expensive irrigation projects until they finally reach the limits of their water supplies. Reaching these limits should take only two or three more decades.
The long conflict involving Israel, the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states has revolved around the elementary bonds of people and territory. Water is perhaps the single most important material resource determining the relationship of people to land. From the beginnings of the Zionist project through the wars and occupations of the last two decades to the current negotiations between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, access to and control of water has figured as a primary strategic factor. The centrality of water to Israeli strategy can be summarized in the following points: