Water in the Middle East: A Geography of Peace, eds. Hussein A. Amery and Aaron T. Wolfe. Peter T. Flawin Series in Natural Resource Management and Conservation. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. xvii+ 261 pages. Appendices, glossary, authors' biographies, index top. 292. Maps, tables and diagrams. $45.00, hardcover.
Water Conflict: Economics, Politics, Law and the Palestinian-Israeli Water Resources, by Sharif S. Elmusa. Washington, DC: Institute for Palestinian Studies, 1997. xxii + 362 pages. Appendices, bibliography, index top. 408. Maps, tables, diagrams. $29.95, hardcover.
Water has generally been ignored in studies of the Middle East in favor of the minutiae of ideological disputes within the now-forgotten political movements. More attention is being paid to water now, but there are still some faults. Discussions are often limited geographically. International rivers - the Jordan, the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates - are usually discussed, but the Sebou, the Menderes and the Aassi, also an international river, are rarely mentioned, though this may be the result of editorial selection.
In discussions of water, one should avoid the term "water use." It is ambiguous, for it includes (1) water that is consumed, transferred to the atmosphere by evaporation and transpiration; (2) water that is diverted from the supply but is returned somehow in liquid form and might be reused; and (3) water that is not removed from the stream, perhaps for hydro-electricity. One should also avoid the word "need": it is often used as a substitute for "want."
One problem in assessing and developing water resources in an area is a lack of data on water. Measurements of the flow of a stream may yield quite different figures. Even more difficult is the estimate of the safe yield of a ground-water deposit. A parallel problem is caused by year-to-year variations in stream flow and groundwater yields. For analysts, it is also a problem when no measurements are made or when the measurements are considered state secrets and not published.
The book by Mostafa Dolatya and Tim Gray has the broadest geographical coverage of the three books under consideration. The other two concentrate on Arab-Israeli water problems, while this one looks over Jordan to other places. Dolatyar is "associated" with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Gray is a professor of political thought in Britain. They open their book by noting that various commentators have predicted that conflicts over water are increasingly possible in the Middle East. Dolatyar and Gray argue, on the contrary, that conflict is unlikely and that increasing scarcity will lead the countries to "coordinated, cooperative, and conciliatory arrangements" (p.9).
The authors discuss and generally discount the security, economic, legal and technological approaches to water, listing the advantages and failings of each. For example, they note the concept of “virtual water," under which a country, by importing food grown elsewhere, imports the water used to grow that food and thus saves its own water. Under the technological approach, the authors report the World Bank's increasing emphasis on demand management rather than supply augmentation. The authors tum from those particular approaches to the environmental approach. To them, the goal of the environmental approach is to understand the limits to growth in order to attain sustainable development. Water, they contend, is a global and a regional problem. The global water supply is fixed, but the demand on it has increased markedly and will continue to increase in the future.
From the general treatment in the first three chapters, the authors tum to water politics in three regions in the Middle East: the Jordan River basin, the Euphrates-Tigris basin and the Arabian Peninsula. The Jordan is one of the smallest rivers in the Middle East but one of the most discussed. Dolatyar and Gray assert "that water conflict in the Jordan River is a function of the Zionists' exploitive approach to the fragile natural environment of the basin .... If the Israelis were to come to terms with their natural environment, the problem of water conflict would fade considerably ... "(p.86).
Of the five riparian countries, Lebanon and Syria are water suppliers, though tangential, and Israel, Jordan and the West Bank-Gaza are water users, and the most critical. All three are interested in river water; all three use much groundwater. The largest consumer is Israel. Much of the problem has been the historical concentration by the Zionists on "making the desert bloom." This focus on water-consuming irrigation has led Israel to draw heavily on the Jordan River and to preempt much of the water from the aquifers that lie beneath land inhabited by Palestinians.
A new "paradigm" is growing in Israel, according to the authors, making water a less confrontational issue and more of an opportunity for cooperation with neighbors. Reasons for the shift are the growing Israeli recognition that irrigation is less strategic and that the environment and peace are more important than they had hitherto thought. The fifth chapter treats water politics in the Euphrates-Tigris basin. The authors find predictions of water conflict "unconvincing" (p. I 17). The major conflicts are within, not between, countries, and the countries in the basin have tried to avoid conflict with each other over water. Another reason for a lack of conflict is that both Turkey and Syria, upstream states, have as much interest in hydroelectric power, a non-consumptive use, as they do in irrigation, a highly consumptive use.
Dolatyar and Gray also include a chapter on water in the fascinating Arabian Peninsula, a subject rarely covered in other resources. Only the mountains in Yemen and, to a lesser extent, in Oman have significant rainfall. In addition, there are groundwater deposits. These have been extensively exploited, and some of them will be exhausted in the next few decades. Using their income from fossil fuels, the water-short countries have turned to desalination, a high-cost source of water. The Peninsula countries are considering solar energy for desalination in the post-fuel period.
Other possible answers to Peninsula water shortages mentioned by the authors are wastewater reclamation and the import of water, perhaps by pipelines from Turkey or Iran. All of this illustrates the importance of imaginative examination of alternatives. The history of water use on the Peninsula has been one of restraint, cooperation and innovation. The authors expect these qualities to continue and thus preclude water wars. Two shortcomings to this book should be noted. The maps lack legends, leaving the readers to guess what the different symbols mean. The information footnotes were put at the end of the chapters, which is inconvenient; they should either be incorporated into the text or omitted.
The other two books concentrate on Israel and Palestine. Sharif S. Elmusa, author of Water Conflict, was trained as a regional planner and has been with the Institute for Palestine Studies. His book concentrates on Israeli-Palestinian water problems and was published during the Netanyahu period, a low point in Israeli-Palestinian relations. For him," the maldistribution of water rights between the Israelis and Palestinians lies at the core of the conflict" over water (p. 7). He finds a major stumbling block to any study to be the paucity of data, much of which has been collected by Israel for areas under its control and is being kept secret.
In Elmusa's first chapter, an inventory of the natural water resources, the problem with data is immediately illustrated by discrepancies between the data in the text on page 15 and in the table on page 16. Elmusa properly points out the problem of year-to-year variations in rainfall and the fact that on the West Bank, about two-thirds of the rainfall goes into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. Elmusa details the extensive Israeli control over water in the West Bank and Gaza. New wells for Palestinians were seldom approved and restrictions were placed on existing wells. In the peace process, however, some responsibility has been given to the Palestinian Authority. Another water problem is the contamination of supplies by sewage and, especially in Gaza, salt-water seepage.
Elmusa moves on to water economics in the West Bank and Gaza, first trying to estimate the quantities of water used for irrigation and municipal use. This is a heroic effort, considering the problems with data. Unfortunately, there seem to be inconsistencies between his text, tables and diagrams on water quantities. He then discusses the dubious prospects for successful water markets.
The fourth chapter deals with the broader aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over water. Elmusa believes that water itself has been a relatively minor factor in most Israeli land acquisition, but the result of the acquisition of land has been to exacerbate the gap between Palestinian and Israeli water use. The question of Israeli control over groundwater after independence remains moot. What is certain, Elmusa feels, is that the Israeli ideological perception of water has almost entirely disappeared. For the Palestinians, in contrast, water is another example of Israeli injustice.
In the final chapter, Elmusa reviews past water negotiations and suggests possible principles and outcomes for future efforts. Water in the Middle East: A Geography of Peace is a collection of essays edited by Hussein A. Amery and Aaron T. Wolf, professors of geography at American institutions. Similarly, most or all of the essayists are geographers, some Canadian. In the first chapter, the editors explicitly state that the focus is on the Jordan River and add that they come "from backgrounds representing different sides of the conflict" (p. 2). This chapter also puts forth an assertion that should be printed in 20-point boldface: "Water stress is due in large part to the expansion of irrigated agriculture ... " (P. 3). They are sufficiently evenhanded to estimate that nearly 40 percent of the world's food comes from irrigated land, without, however, specifying that much of that production is irrigated rice in humid sections of Asia. The editors recognize that water quality is only beginning to be identified as an issue. Another issue stated in this first chapter is the one of fragmented planning and management with responsibility divided among often hostile ministries or noncommunicating independent states.
Peter Beaumont concentrates on water use in the Jordan Basin, where the population is seven times greater than it was in the 1920s. The increased pressure on water resources is most serious for the kingdom of Jordan, where the urban demand for very limited amounts of water can only be met by decreasing the use of water in agriculture. In Israel, irrigation takes over half the water. One current solution is what Beaumont terms "water piracy": restricting expansion of Palestinian water use in order to recharge upland aquifers, which feed wells on Israel's coastal plain. Beaumont states that Palestinians "have access only to about 18 percent of the ground water which is generated on their territories" (p. 36). He suggests that Israel's urban-industrial economy no longer needs much irrigation or large volumes of water and suggest desalination, at an estimated cost of $2 per cubic meter, rather than importation.
According to Steve Lonergan, a possible water market has two main problems: the lack well-defined property rights for water and the many inequities between Israelis and Palestinians. His analysis is tinged by negativity, having been written during the Netanyahu administration.
Wolf contributes a chapter on the relations between territorial demands and the location of water resources. He examines boundary proposals and actualities for Palestine from 1913 onward and concludes that "water sources have played a role, albeit subservient to other concerns, in the delineation of international boundaries ... "(p. 76). After a detailed examination of the Arab-Israeli wars, he dismisses water as a causal factor, quoting Israeli General Tamir to the effect that one week's war would cost the same as five desalination plants, which would cause no loss of life. In a succeeding chapter, Amery examines the evidence then available for and against an Israeli diversion of Litani water into Israel. He concludes that it is unlikely. The May, 2000 Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon has not brought any evidence of diversion.
Turning to the Golan Heights, Frederic C. Hof suggests that, in negotiations, while military security will be central, water will also be important. He describes the water resources of the Golan and past negotiations and suggests some possible outcomes of future ones.
Paul Kay and Bruce Mitchell consider a problem often overlooked: how to manage water variability and uncertainty. Because measurements are more complete in Israel, he concentrates his attention there. Rainfall, river flow and groundwater yield have all varied considerably. Even with an extended drought in the late 1980s, the governments have given the problem "little more than a nod of recognition" (p. 181 ). He recommends an adaptive management "that accepts variability, surprise and change are inevitable" (p. 187).
Nurit N. Kliot suggests a framework for cooperation on water by Israel, Jordan and Palestine. The essay was written in early 1998, and is therefore on the pessimistic side. But, in contrast, he details cooperation on water incorporated into the Israeli-Palestinian Agreement on Water and Sewage ( 1995). War over water was, he says, once almost inevitable, but new attitudes of cooperation have arisen. Gwyn Powley describes political controls over water, starting with recent international water law and continuing with recent agreements on the Jordan Basin. He concludes that there is a "general lack of controls on river waters" (p. 240). John Kolars advocates considering a river as an entity with many uses. He applies this principle to the Euphrates, giving particular attention to return flow to the river from other uses. Under his analysis, there would be enough water to satisfy many, though not all, of the riparian countries and still give some water to the Jordan Basin.
Individually and as a group, these three books are valuable. They are realistic and knowledgeable, rather than polemical, discounting the hype about water wars and making the desert bloom.