Libmonster ID: UK-1462


Candidate of Historical Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Arab countries Keywords:, water supply problemGreat Artificial Riverdesalination of waterstruggle for water resources

The avalanche-like growth of production and population of the Earth has led to an increase in the need for water. In this regard, water supply is beginning to turn into one of the global problems. This problem is particularly acute in the Arab countries, where most of the territory is occupied by deserts.

For normal human functioning, depending on the ambient temperature, 0.5 - 1 thousand liters of water are needed per year. Naturally, the use of water for domestic needs, agriculture, and other sectors of the economy is added to this. If in 1960 in this region per capita accounted for 3.3 thousand people per year. m3 of water consumed, now this indicator has decreased to 1.3 thousand cubic meters.

In the period 2003-2009. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Irvine conducted a study on the problem of water. It turned out that in six years, the water indicators of surface sources (not counting sources located in depth) decreased by 144 km3 1.

In countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, 2.7 thousand, 1.4 thousand and 1.1 thousand m3 per year are accounted for per inhabitant, respectively. By current standards, this volume is insufficient, and these countries fall into the category of countries with low and very low water supply. The situation is even worse in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait, where water supplies intended for personal consumption, from natural sources flowing on the surface, are 56, 37 and 7 m3 per capita per year, respectively .2

Already in 2000, 130 million people in the Middle East and North Africa were living on starvation water rations (less than 1 thousand m3 per person per year), and 45 million in countries with insufficient water supplies. Currently, 30 million people in the Arab East do not have access to clean drinking water, and another 27 million have to use water that does not meet sanitary standards.3

The main problems with water supply are related to the increase in the population, the growth of cities and the expansion of agricultural production. As a result, there was a drop in the ground water horizon, which represents 60% of the volume loss in total water consumption. But geographical factors also play a role. In particular, up to 20% of water losses occur due to a reduction in snowmelt in the Levant and the area of the moisture-forming soil surface.4

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The Arab world understands the urgency of the problem and is trying to solve it. The most drastic steps were taken in Libya, where an average of 26 mm of precipitation falls per year, and the real annual surface runoff does not exceed 100 million m3. Measures to rectify the situation began to be taken immediately after the September Revolution of 1969.

By 1984, 6 dams were constructed to create reservoirs with a capacity of 387 million cubic meters and 2.9 thousand artesian wells were drilled.5 In addition, 30 stations were constructed that desalinated 150 thousand m3 of seawater daily.6 At the same time, renewable water resources continued to decline: in 1960 they amounted to 538 m3 per person per year, and in 1990-154.7.

In this situation, the leader of the Libyan revolution, Muammar Gaddafi, put forward the idea of building a Great Artificial River (VIR) to transfer fresh water to the north of the country from underground lakes in the Sahara-in the Murzouk, Kufra and Hamada regions, containing 35 thousand km3 of water. 8

This project, worth $30 billion, has become the world's largest hydraulic engineering structure of the 20th century9.

270 wells were drilled and 250 thousand reinforced concrete pipes with a diameter of 1.6 to 5 m were laid. 50 thousand people were employed in the construction. Libyans and several thousand foreign specialists 10. As a result of the construction of VIR, it became possible to transfer 2 km3 of water to the coast per year. However, it remains unclear what environmental consequences this grandiose construction may entail. So, neighboring countries claim that it can cause the outflow of groundwater from the territory of these states to Libya. Time will tell whether these concerns are justified.


The construction of desalination plants has become the most widespread in the countries of the region. Currently, Saudi Arabia is in the first place in terms of desalinated water, and Oman is in the last place. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, has 528 liters of fresh water per capita per day. Currently, the Arabian States meet 70% of their water needs through desalination.

However, a liter of produced water is quite expensive. The use of desalinated water for industrial and agricultural production increases the cost of products and reduces their competitiveness. Environmental consequences also pose a serious problem: the salt remaining after evaporation is discharged into the sea, which has already led to an eight-fold increase in salinity standards in some areas of the Persian Gulf, accompanied by the death of fish and corals.


In the Arab Republic of Egypt (ARE), where only 3% of the land is arable and 95% of the population lives in the Nile Valley, measures are being taken to increase the area under cultivation. However, by the early 1990s, it became clear that this was not enough. Then a project was developed to create a New valley in the Western Desert, which would receive water from the Aswan reservoir. It is expected that this will make 7.5 million feddans suitable for agriculture* and 7 million people will be resettled in the New Valley.

Despite all the measures taken in the Arab countries, the problem of water supply is expected to worsen. Currently, the region is trying to solve this problem through negotiations, following the principle that their actions will not pose obvious threats to neighboring countries. However, it remains unclear what will be required in the future to solve the water supply problem.

In the largest country in the Middle East - Egypt, whose population today is more than 85 million people,

* Feddan - land measure in Egypt, equal to 0.42 ha (editor's note).

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under current conditions, up to 90 million people can be provided with water. However, by 2025, when the population of Egypt will increase to 100 million people, the situation is likely to change for the worse.

This situation will lead to an increase in the importance of water resources as a political factor. "The role of water in fueling unrest," said J. P. Morgan, a fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington. Elterman, - was still relatively limited, but it is unlikely to be so in the future. In the future, water scarcity will become much more permanent than in the past, and the techniques used by Governments in response to unrest may not be effective enough."11

In foreign policy terms, hotbeds of contradictions related to the distribution of water resources exist in relations between Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi; Egypt and Libya; Turkey, the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and Iraq; between the SAR, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.


The guarantee of water delivery is vital for Egypt, whose water supply is more than 90% provided by the Nile. Depending on the time of year, 60% to 86% of the river's flow is provided by the Blue Nile, which originates in Ethiopia, while the White Nile, whose basin includes Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, provides 14% to 40%.

Distribution of Nile water is monopolized by Egypt and Sudan. It was originally regulated by the 1929 treaty, according to which Egypt received 48 km3 per year, and the then Anglo-Egyptian Sudan-4 km3 of runoff. At the same time, neither Ethiopia nor those equatorial countries that at that time were colonies of Great Britain and Belgium were considered at all.

In 1956, Sudan gained independence, and this required a new agreement. It was concluded in 1959, and in accordance with it, the Egyptians retained 48 km3 of runoff, and the Sudanese received 6 km3. Later, during the construction of the Aswan dam, an agreement was reached, according to which Egypt will receive 55 km3, and Sudan-18.5 km3 (a total of 88% of the Nile flow).

The remaining eight States consider this situation unacceptable, do not recognize the treaties of 1929 and 1959, and seek to increase their share.

Ethiopia currently receives 1 km3 of water per year (2% is actually consumed), and the equatorial States-1.7 km3 . Addis Ababa has approved the doctrine of absolute territorial sovereignty over water sources located on its territory (the"Harmon Doctrine"*). But in 1991, the new Ethiopian leadership signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Sudan, which provided for an equal division of the waters of the Nile between the two countries (Egypt was not mentioned in this treaty)**.

Egypt is taking a tough stance, fearing that the construction of dams in the Nile basin countries - and especially in Ethiopia-will lead to water shortages for Egyptian agriculture. The Egyptians claimed that the social and economic needs of the Nile water supply in accordance with the 1959 agreement were limited and that there were no possible alternative sources.

President Anwar Sadat (1970 - 1981) stated that attempts to circumvent the previously concluded agreement would be perceived as a pretext for war. Al-Amir Othman, executive director of the High-rise Aswan Dam, stressed at the time that "violating the 1959 treaty is tantamount to violating our border."13 Cairo, as Egypt's Foreign Minister, Ahmed abu'l-Ghaith, noted, "does not respect its own interests."-

* The "Harmon Doctrine" is a principle formulated in 1895 by U.S. Attorney General Harmon in connection with the conflict with Mexico over the issue of common natural resources between the two countries. The content of the doctrine boils down to the absolutization of the sovereignty of the state within its state territory, to ignoring the interdependence of states, especially in the field of environmental protection (editor's note).

** For more information about Ethiopia's position on the "Nile issue", see: A. N. Bragin (Editor-in-Chief of the journal in Addis Ababa). Ethiopia: "The Great Renaissance Dam" / / Asia and Africa Today. 2012, No. 1 (editor's note).

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It will not allow the implementation of any project in the Nile basin that could harm its interests in the water sector. " 14 In turn, the Minister of Water Management and Irrigation, Mohammed Allam, stated that Egypt "reserves the right to take any measures to protect its rights." 15

However, these statements were made before the 2011 revolution in Egypt. But the "time of troubles" in which Egypt was plunged did not weaken the statements on this score. In particular, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called Ethiopia's leaders "immature fools"in connection with the construction of the dam.16

At present, the Egyptian army is too preoccupied with internal events to attempt to allow itself to be drawn into a war outside Egypt's borders. At the same time, Cairo's relations with sub-Saharan countries are not limited to the issue of water distribution. Egypt is engaged in trade with them (however insignificant), coordinates its policy with these countries in international organizations, and claims to be a pan-African leader.

From time to time, the Nile basin countries have attempted to establish cooperation to address the challenges they face. Thus, back in 1984, the Egyptians and the Sudanese agreed to build the Jongli Canal in the Sudanese marshes, where the White Nile annually loses 18 km3 of water due to evaporation, but the renewed civil war in Sudan, and then the next aggravation of relations between the two countries, prevented the implementation of this plan17.

The subsequent implementation of this project was hindered by the ambiguity of environmental problems associated with the construction of the canal. The secession of South Sudan from North Sudan (2011) and the revolution in Egypt led to the complete cessation of contacts on this issue.

The Baltic States are trying to establish cooperation within the framework of the Nile Basin Initiative, a regional organization that they established in 1999. The issue of implementing 22 joint projects is being considered, but full-fledged cooperation is hindered by friction between the countries that are members of the IBN. At the same time, the region's long-term political instability, ongoing wars and ethnic conflicts, the presence of autocratic regimes in most countries, and the lack of external assistance block any steps aimed at developing cooperation.

Another conflict may arise between Egypt and Libya if the withdrawal of water to VIR leads to the depletion of the waters of the Kufra basin under the oasis and the displacement of part of the Nile water*.


The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are another node of contradictions, due to the fact that the sources of these rivers flowing through Iraq and Syria are located in Turkey.

According to Ankara's statements, it adhered to the "Harmon Doctrine". In August 1991, Prime Minister S. Demerel announced that "water is a resource of the countries in which it flows, and downstream consumers cannot tell us how to use it" .18 However, later Ankara changed its position, stating that it adheres to the principle of "equal use" However, she clarified that she does not intend to contribute a large share to providing water to Syria and Iraq. The Turks emphasize that in Iraq, in addition to the Euphrates, the Tigris also flows, and therefore they consider themselves entitled to build their own dams on the Euphrates.

The Euphrates River has 30 billion cubic meters. m3 per year of runoff on the Syrian-Turkish border and 32 billion m3-on the Iraqi-Syrian border. Ankara has been developing plans to create reservoirs on this river and use the water for irrigation since the late 1980s.

In the early 1990s, Turkey created a flood plan called the Southwestern Anatolian Project. It intends to build cascades of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power stations on the Euphrates. 19 Hydroelectric plants are capable of generating $ 27 billion in electricity. One - half of Turkey's electricity needs - and open up 1.6 million hectares of land for cultivation 20.

In 1996, the Keban, Karakaya and Ataturk dams were built, which was the first step towards the project's implementation. Full completion of the project will result in a reduction of water runoff in the Euphrates River by 16 km3. Ankara continues to state that the SAR and Iraq will receive 15.7 km3 per year for their needs. This, however, is not sufficient for both countries.

In the past, Syria supported the liberation struggle waged by the Kurdistan Workers ' Party (PKK) in Turkey. Ankara has threatened that if Damascus does not change its position on the PKK, the Euphrates river will be completely blocked for Syria. In this regard, at the beginning of the XXI century. The SAR has changed its approach. Now, given that the PKK has stopped fighting Ankara, and the Syrian army is busy fighting the rebels, Damascus has not resumed its assistance to the Kurdish rebels.

Syria has adopted the "Harmon Doctrine" in connection with its hydro projects on the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers. But it turned out that this doctrine contradicts its interests due to disputes with Ankara regarding-

* The Kufra basin is one of the so-called underground lens lakes in the Sahara. The volume of water in it is -20 thousand km3 (editor's note).

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In addition to Turkish hydro projects on the Tigris and Euphrates. And Damascus has changed its view by adopting the "doctrine of limited sovereignty", i.e. a doctrine that allows the use of water resources as long as it does not harm the interests of neighboring States. In December 1994, Damascus officially protested against the Turkish project, because Syrians need water from the Euphrates to meet their own needs in the north-east of the country.


The upper reaches of the Jordan River provide 540 million m3, while the waters under the West Bank and Israel provide 679 million m3.

Israel, where water consumption per person is 240 m3 per year, covers 2/3 of its needs from the flow of the Jordan River (400-4 million m3 per year) and water representing the water resources of the West Bank and Israel (483 million m3 per year). The Palestinian population in the West Bank accounts for only 75 m3 of water per capita per year.

Thus, Israel claims the waters located under the West Bank, which the Palestinians are dissatisfied with. However, the solution of water supply issues depends on political reasons, in particular, the question of which territory is covered by the agreement.

As for the Golan Heights, it is the source of most of the rivers used by Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel.

In 1952, the Israeli Government approved the diversion of the Jordan River about ten kilometers from Lake Tiberias, which would allow pumping about 420 million m3 of water per year. Immediately after the work began, Syria began to counteract them, resorting to shelling and mining, as well as using diplomatic methods. In October 1953, the UN Security Council, in response to an appeal from the Syrians, banned the construction of the canal. Then Israel developed a plan according to which water was to be taken from the Lake of Tiberias. In 1956-1964, the all - Israel water pipeline was put into operation, allowing the transfer of 450 million m3 per year to the heavily populated center of the country, as well as to the northern part of the Negev Desert.

In September 1964, shortly after the opening of the canal by the Israelis, the Arab League (LAS) met in Cairo and approved a plan proposed by Syria to divert the Hatzbani and Banias Rivers into Syria and Jordan. Money was allocated, and construction work began in early November. The Arab League's decision threatened Israel's very existence, as it involved the withdrawal of 60% of the Arab League's funds. Jordan and the fall of the waters of Oz. Tiberias, in connection with which the Israeli government decided to stop construction.

All this led to the "war for water". The Syrians made three attempts to implement the Arab League's decision, but all of them were thwarted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In June 1967, during the "Six-Day War", Israel occupied the Golan Heights, and the sources located there were under the control of the Israelis. Tel Aviv's unwillingness to return the Golan Heights to the Syrians is explained not only by military and strategic considerations, but also by the desire to preserve their water resources, as well as the entire coast of Lake Tiberias.

On October 26, 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a water-sharing agreement. Both countries agreed that both the banks of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers and the underground waters of Wadi Arab (whose waters are located in the wadi connecting the Dead Sea with the Gulf of Aqaba) are of value to its participants. Tel Aviv decided to leave $ 30 million to supply Jordan. m 3 from the lake. Tiberias and 20 million m3 of water - from the Beisan Valley.

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Currently, Israel annually supplies Jordan with water in the amount of 30 million m3, coming through a specially created water supply system for this purpose. In the long term, after the Jordan and Yarmouk water storage facilities are put into operation, the share of Jordanians should increase to 100 million m3. In general, the agreement is certainly more beneficial for Israelis than for Jordanians, as it allows Israel to receive more water than Jordan.


Tensions over water resources are growing slowly, and it takes years and decades for the "critical mass" to accumulate. But it also takes years and decades to solve the accumulating problems. If you let the current situation "take its course", the consequences can be the most tragic. Back in the late 1980s, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of EGYPT, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, warned that a future war in the Middle East would be caused not by political reasons, but by a struggle for water.21

To avoid this, it is necessary to establish cooperation between all interested States of the regions - Arab and African countries, Turkey, and Israel. First of all, it is a matter of creating organizations to which all data on water consumption and loss flow, since monitoring performed at the national level will not allow us to determine the main causes of water loss. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that a decrease in the level of water flowing on the surface threatens to affect all countries of the regions. The creation of regional organizations would allow for the exchange of information received from satellites, establish monitoring of surface water resources, and start analyzing weather reports from national weather stations.

In this context, the establishment of the Arab Water Council in spring 2004 seems timely. The Meeting of Arab Heads of State and Government devoted to economic and social development (Kuwait City, 2009) instructed the Ministries of Water Resources to develop a regional security strategy in order to create conditions for the implementation of development projects. The summit participants approved water resources management projects, which will be monitored by the Arab Center for Arid and Desert Land Research. The meetings of the Heads of State and Government of the member States of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf (GCC) adopted declarations on water resources.

However, the activities of these organizations have not gained the necessary scope due to the contradictions between the Arab countries.

* * *

In general, the establishment of regional cooperation requires overcoming differences on political issues, and on the other hand, a clearly defined will of the States concerned. No cooperation will allow us to find a way out of the crisis situation if the problem of lack of fresh water is not solved. The main direction here is the desalination of sea water, including using nuclear, solar and wind energy, which would allow Arab countries not to spend hydrocarbons on this - their main export product.

Hart T. 1 Ou en est la situation de l'eau dans le monde arabe? // Visions et voix du Moyen - Orient et d'Afrique du Nord -

Akimov A.V. 2 Population of the Middle East countries up to 2050 and problems of water supply in the region / / Middle East and modernity. Issue 43. Moscow, 2011, pp. 12-13.

3 For more information, see: Gashev B. N., Zudina L. P. Vodoobespechenie v araby stranakh [Water supply in Arab countries]. Issue 38, Moscow, 2009, pp. 5-27.

Hart T. 4 Op. cit.

Yegorin A. Z. 5 The Great artificial River // Asia and Africa today. 2003, No. 6; Smirnova G. I. Livia: ot totalnogo goskontrolya k liberalizatsii ekonomiki [Libya: from Total state Control to economic liberalization].? (50s - 2008). Moscow, 2011, p. 122.

Yegorin A. Z. 6 Decree. соч.; The Man Made River - http://www.h20. net/magazine/infrastructures_grand_projects/cadeau-du-desert.htm

7 The Middle East Economic Digest. 24.01.1997, p. 8.

8 The Man Made River. Libya // New Dawn Magazine -http://www.galenfrysinger.corn/man_made_river-libya.htm

9 Ibidem.

Yegorin A. Z. 10 Decree. Op.

Vidal J. 11 What does the Arab world do when its water runs out? -

12 Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Jerusalem, 1999, p. 785 - 786.

Mamedzade P. N. 13 On the problem of water resources in the Middle East and Africa / / Institute of the Middle East - http://www.iimes.rU/rus/stat/2004/21 -09-04hlm

14 Eau du Nil: la suprematie de l'Egypte contestee - -la-suprernatie- de-l-egypte-contestee.html

15 Ibidem.

Makovetsky M. 16 The Great Dam of the Ethiopian Renaissance

17 For more information, see: Gashev B. N., Zudina L. P. Edict op.

18 Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East.., p. 788.

19 Ibid., p. 787; La Geopolitique de Petrole et des Energies // - geopolitique-petrole.html

Makovetsky M. 20 Turkey destroys Iraq and Syria 170

Mamedzade P. N. 21 Edicts op.



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