The Middle East has a limited supply of water. The countries of the region are making increased demands upon that supply. The increased demands arise from a number of goals the countries have set for themselves. The most important are maintenance or expansion of irrigation agriculture, a rising standard of living and service to an increasing population, especially in the cities.
John Bulloch and Adel Darwish believe the increasing demand upon a limited supply has caused past international strife over water, and has the potential to cause more intense conflicts, even war, over water in the future. They concentrate on six cases: the Jordan River, the Tigris-Euphrates system, the Nile basin, Libya, southern Iraq and the Arabian peninsula.
The conflict over water from the Jordan River and nearby aquifers has long been a tangled affair which has enmeshed Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank-Gaza Palestinians. Lebanon and Syria are upstream states and have the first chance at using the water, even though they currently make little use of it. Israel, Jordan and the West Bank-Gaza are generally downstream, and they must either take what water is left to them or act forcibly to acquire the water they want. The water conflict has lasted for decades and has been part of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. The authors touch on a number of incidents in the conflict: the Johnston Plan, the Israeli national water carrier, the Jordanian East Ghor Canal and the various alarms and diversions that have occurred over the years. Essentially, the downstream countries want additional water to supply growing cities, support irrigation development and allow a rising standard of living. Israel, being strong, has acquired most of its wants. Jordan and the West-Bank-Gaza, being weak, have had to adjust to what is available.
Israel's acquisition and use of water have attracted considerable attention. Zionism had, as one of its basic tenets, the goal of "making the desert bloom," or what might be called justification by irrigation. This has resulted in using subsidized water to grow subsidized crops in a subsidized economy. Israel has reached into the aquifers under the occupied territories for the water it wants, and, according to Bulloch and Darwish, may be tapping the Litani River in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the discussion in this book skips back and forth among topics and events and spends too much time on unneeded details of past events. In contrast, an article in a recent issue of this journal concentrated on the current situation, provided data that Bulloch and Darwish did not and suggested a method for reaching a resolution of the dispute.1
The dispute over water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers pits Syria against Turkey, and Iraq against both of them.2 All three countries want to use as much water as possible for irrigation, and all three want to use the river flow for generating electricity. Iraq also has to supply water to Baghdad and other major cities. According to Bulloch and Darwish, Syrian dam construction brought Syria and Iraq "within an inch of war" in 1975 (pp. 59-60). Turkey's Southeast Anatolia Project has been another source of contention. The project has the goal of developing this once-neglected corner of Turkey, especially through the diversion and consumption of large amounts of Euphrates water for irrigation. The authors' account includes description of various diplomatic notes and demands and negotiations, of Turkey's very limited concern for the wishes of Iraq and Syria, and of the involvement of Kurdish nationalists, who are fighting against the Turkish government in southeast Anatolia. According to the authors, the Kurds have a great deal of Syrian support, apparently to discourage Turkish water diversions. Indeed, the Syrian-Kurdish-Turkish connection consumes about 40 percent of the chapter, to the detriment of a useful discussion of other issues. Incidentally, the authors state, "Syria depends on the Tigris and Euphrates for the vast majority of its water supplies... " (p. 60). Syria takes little water from the Tigris in the 30 or 40 kms it touches the river, and Syria receives very large amounts of water in the form of rainfall in the west.
The third case study, stretching over three chapters, examines the Nile River. Egypt obtains almost all of its water from the Nile, and all of the water in the Egyptian Nile comes from Sudan, Ethiopia and other upstream states. With such great dependence, Egypt looks warily at any hydrological or political development upstream. With its increasing population, its ever more intensive irrigation, and its desire for a higher standard of living, Egypt looks acquisitively at upstream supplies. Bulloch and Darwish describe the present and potential importance of different sections of the Nile, with most of the annual flow coming in the flood from Ethiopia through the Blue Nile and most of the low season flow coming through the White Nile.
The authors move through various projects, agreements, plots, disputes, warnings and prophecies. Included are the High Dam, the Jonglei Canal, the Sudanese Civil War and the collapse of the Marxist regime in Ethiopia. The main emphasis in the chapters is the Egyptian concerns: to Egypt, "any interference with the Nile without consultation would certainly be a casus belli" (p. 97).
The Libyan case study opens with the authors' assertion that an Egyptian-Libyan confrontation in 1977 had water as "one of the main factors" or "a prime consideration" for Egyptian action (p. 124). They do not make it clear what water was in dispute-possibly some aquifers which extend into both countries-but move on to discuss Libya's Great Man-made River, a project to bring groundwater from south to north in Libya. This in turn leads to a discussion of "Saddam River," a canal which is to reclaim southern marshlands and/or control the local inhabitants. The final case study examines desalination, long-distance water transport and other topics on the Arabian peninsula.
Water is important to the Middle East. Bulloch and Darwish's Water Wars does not greatly help in the study of water in the Middle East. Their discussion has too many faults. One basic fault concerns a theme of the book: Water is ''the most important resource in the Middle East" (chapter 1). Others would argue that people are the most important resource, that money is a more important resource than water and that land is at least as important as water. The authors advance the argument that competition for water is a past and a potential cause of war. Much of their evidence for water being a major cause in past conflicts consists of off-the-record statements and (apparently) rumor, and the reader is left unsure of how much reliance can be placed on the evidence the authors cite·.
Another fault in this book is the neglect of several important concepts regarding water planning and use. Irrigation is usually a lower value use of water than most other uses. River basin planning, multiple-use facilities and re-use (recycling) of water are usually desirable. The word "needs" is often used with the implication that water "needs" must be accepted without question, even if those needs are merely "wants," such as water for high subsidized irrigation agriculture or for private swimming pools in Saudi Arabia or Israel or for the wasteful irrigation practices found in every country, practices which often damage the soil by overwatering. No one country has a monopoly on water technology: New developments occur in many places and news of them spreads rapidly. Bulloch and Darwish do not bring these and other important concepts into their discussion in a firm and systematic way.
One of these other concepts which the authors neglect is the distinction between "use," "diversion" and "consumption" of water. "Use" is a vague term which is best left vague: How much water does a boat "use" as it travels along the Nile? In contrast, "diversion" is quite precise: the amount of water taken out of the concentrated supply (e.g., a river or an aquifer) for a particular use or set of uses. "Consumption" is both precise and often misused. It is the amount of water not returned to the concentrated supply after being used. For example, the consumption of water in irrigation varies greatly from place to place; but, in general, 50 percent or more of the water diverted for irrigation is consumed in evaporation or in transpiration through the crops to the atmosphere; and only 50 percent is returned to the concentrated supply and is available for recycling.
Urban residential and domestic uses differ greatly from irrigation: They usually consume about 10 percent of the water diverted and return about 90 percent to the concentrated supply. Other uses, such as hydroelectricity, navigation and recreation usually consume less than 10 percent. Indeed, the contrast in consumption is between irrigation, which usually has a high consumption, on one side; and all other uses, which usually have a low consumption, on the other side. The significance of this difference is in the ability to recycle water. Water used for generating electricity at the Aswan Dam can then be used for navigation on the Nile. And then it can be diverted from the Nile for drinking water in a town, and then returned to the river, available to be recycled through another use. On the other hand, half or more of the water taken for irrigating fields near that town will be dissipated into the atmosphere and not available for recycling.
Further along on the Nile, water is taken from the river for use in the Helwan steel mill, upstream from Cairo. This water is returned to the Nile, which dilutes it sufficiently so that there is no real effect on the quality of the Nile water. Some of the water in the Nile is taken from the river to supply Cairo and Giza. Most of that water is returned to the sewage system. In 1980, if not now, laws forbade the sewage outflow from Cairo to be returned to the Nile. It was suitably treated, and most of the outflow was delivered to canals which eventually returned it to the Nile River. Some of the outflow, after treatment, was used for irrigation; though, again by law, it could be used only to irrigate those crops which were not sold as fresh produce.
This recycling of water is important. Note that any water consumed in irrigation upstream from Cairo (or Baghdad) is not available for urban recycling. This is a looming problem which the authors neglect: the potential conflict between users within a country, specifically between irrigation users and urban users. That conflict may prove to be more intense than any international conflict.
The book is not helpful to those who wish to do further work on water in the Middle East. The authors have deliberately omitted footnotes, which can be used by others as a guide to sources of information. The bibliography is impressively long. Closer inspection reveals such items as A Literary History of Persia (1928) and The Travels of lbn Battuta, sources whose connection with contemporary water conflicts is not apparent. It does not cite Georgiana Stevens's 1965 study of the Jordan River dispute.
Errors that can be easily checked can be used to indicate the quality of work that has gone into the preparation of a book. Maps are easily checked. This book has five maps at the beginning of the book. They have numerous errors. On page 11, the .. High Dam" is placed downstream (north) from the town of Aswan, while the "Old Aswan Dam" is placed even further downstream, although both are actually upstream from the town. On page 14, the "High Dam" is correctly placed upstream from the town, but the "Old Aswan Dam" has slid even further downstream to the vicinity of Luxor. Also on page 14, the Blue Nile and the Atbara rivers have had their names interchanged, with the further consequence that Khartoum is moved from its true location to a new site, 300 kms downstream, a mislocation also found on page 11.
Back on page 11, Tehran has been placed almost on the border with Iraq, over 500 kms west of its true location. The name "Rub al Khali" is applied to Asir province in southwest Saudi Arabia instead of being given its correct location in southeast Saudi Arabia, over 600 kms further east. The map on page 13 shows the Ramadi Barrage about 80 kms downstream from its real location, and it shows a tributary of the Tigris in Turkey crossing a tributary of the Euphrates in the same manner as two streets might cross each other.
Water and conflict over water are very important problems for Middle Eastern countries. Unfortunately, this book does not help greatly in understanding or solving problems related to water.
1 James W. Moore, "Parting the Waters: Calculating Israeli and Palestinian Entitlements to West Bank Aquifers and the Jordan River Basin," Middle East Policy, vol. III, no. 2, 1994, pp. 91-108.
2 Iran also has a share of the basin, but that is another dispute.