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Issues Middle East: Northern

(we recognize that geographically, many of the countries featured here are located in West Asia, but the writers have often chose the political location for their papers)

Water Resources Action Project in the Middle East

by Zuhdiah Sarhan

The Middle East is generally an area which, when brought up to those in the west brings to mind images of conflict, confusing politics, resource management issues, and now more than ever, environmental concerns.

The most pressing of these concerns is water scarcity. In the Levant, specifically within and between the bordering states of Palestine, Israel, and Jordan water resources are dwindling. Though this has much to do with the exacerbation of the region’s hot and dry climate through human contributions to climate change, it also has much to do with the area’s political climate. The ever growing mistrust that has developed over decades between the Palestinian and Israeli people has led to poor use and unequal share of the water resources, to the extent that some suggest water may be used as a weapon of war. And while most approach this situation by swooping in and proposing grand plans with the unrealistic ambition of tackling and fixing relations between the countries, WRAP does the opposite.

WRAP, or the Water Resources Action Project focuses on creating effective change by funding small projects one at a time and building on top of each small success to improve on the issues of the region on a long term basis. WRAP is a nonprofit group which runs on a fully volunteer basis and runs out of Washington D.C. Some ten diverse and ,for all WRAP purposes, politically neutral individuals made the decision to focus on water issues in the middle east and give an agreed upon cash amount each year to fund a project.

As of October 2014, WRAP has developed a specific system of targeting schools which are chosen on the basis of good leadership, cooperation, and whether a WRAP partner can be present on the ground, such as FOEME, Friends of the Earth Middle East. Once the school is chosen one or more WRAP members visits the site and a grant (usually around 20,000 USD) is given to the school which allows WRAP’s own on-the-ground engineer to set-up a rainwater harvesting or cistern system on top of the building to collect water during the rainy months so that it may be provide water for the students throughout the year. The funding includes enough for at least 3 years of maintenance to the system and training for a school board member, such as the science department head for example.

In this way WRAP ensures that the system remains in working condition and that the students are educated on how to use and maintain the system themselves. WRAP even returns to check in on each school it visits on a semi-annual to annual basis. Though it is with small steps, having worked in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel WRAP has begun not only to spread water education but also build bridges between people’s who have, per the presenter’s own words, “good reason not to want to talk to each other”. By having young students relate to one another in their experiences using and maintaining these systems and helping them realize that the issue of water scarcity affects them all together, they just might also come to the realization that it is a problem that must be fixed by them all together too.

for more information on WRAP, go to

Water Crisis in the West Bank


Samar Azzaidani


Water Scarcity & Security: Resource and

Environmental Integration for Israel & Palestine


Rula Ahmad


Disappearance of

Lake Urmia

(Northwestern Iran)

By Marlena Bludzien

Lake Urmia is an endorheic salt lake in northwestern Iran that was once the six largest saltwater lake in the world. At its largest the lake had a surface area of 5,200 km but in the past few decades it has shrunk to approximately 10% of its original size.

The desiccation of Urmia is recognized to be an effect of both anthropogenic and naturogenic causes.

The anthropogenic processes that began depleting water involved damming and diverting of the rivers that once supplied the lake with fresh water, unsustainable irrigation systems and extraction of groundwater, which together accelerated the impact of increased droughts. Much blame is also put into the construction of the causeway that separated the north and south side of the lake interrupting the natural processes of temperature regulation. The causeway was built in 2007, and it is believed that since its placement, evaporation and salinity tragically increased, destroying the lake’s ecosystem.

Throughout thousands of years, salt has accumulated in Urmia’s basin. When the water from the lake started perishing, it began exposing tremendous amounts of salt. Now, the salt is being picked up by the wind and by the means of ‘salt storms’ is spread throughout farming lands and crops destroying local fauna and flora. The plants can no longer grow on the crops and many vegetation types have been lost. The brine shrimp the lake was once famous for can no longer survive in the lake which salinity level exceeds 450 grams per liter.

The spreading of the salt with the wind is also posing a major health risk for people living in the area. As seen in the case of dried-out Aral Sea, people affected in this manner develop respiratory diseases, allergies and even cancers.

Iranian government has begun actions to attenuate the process and save this ecological treasure from entirely vanishing. The plan involves a well-managed plan with reduction of water consumption and more sustainable irrigation systems in local agriculture. Many ecologists are also advocating to stop construction of new dams on the supplying lake rivers. The Urmia Lake Restoration Committee approved a plan for lake’s water restoration in 2014, and the government is investing over 660 million dollars in 88 projects to support multiple actions. The supporters also believe that removing of the international sanction on Irancould allow the country to do much more including financing of workforce and access to technology.

The Water Conflict Between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan

By Jennifer Young

Enclosure of the commons and water wars are inextricably linked issues. It is common knowledge that Israel and its Arab neighbors have long been in conflict. However, lesser known are that the problems are due less to religious differences than to the stress of water scarcity. Of the 37 military conflicts that have taken place over water since 1950, 32 of them have taken place in the Middle East and 30 of them have involved Israel and its neighbors. In the National Geographic article “Parting the Waters”, the author, Don Belt explains that water has always been a source of conflict in the Middle East but it has become even worse in the area around the Jordan River due to a six-year drought and a steadily increasing population. The Jordan River is the major source of water for Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. In the past five decades, the Jordan River has decreased by 90 per cent and the southern portion of the Jordan River has turned into a polluted, brackish trickle. This is because many of its tributaries upstream, like the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmuk River, are being diverted.

In an interview about her book Earth Democracy, Vandana Shiva discusses the political movement and environmental theory of the same name. In this book, Shiva explains the relationship between earth democracy and corporate globalization. “Earth Democracy” is a set of principles based on inclusion, non-violence, reclaiming the commons, and freely and fairing sharing natural resources. Shiva argues that the objective of corporate globalization, trying to own and privatize natural resources, is against nature. The conflict between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories is a prime example of corporate globalization at work. Another important point of Shiva’s in Earth Democracy is the commoditization of natural resources, like water, destroys democracy. She states, “When economic dictatorship is grafted onto representative, electoral democracy, a toxic growth of religious fundamentalism and right-wing extremism is the result. (p. 6)” This rise in religious fundamentalism and right-wing extremism has added fuel to the fire of water wars. In the aforementioned article, we can see how enclosure of the commons and water wars are inextricably linked.

Israel has much control over the water supply in the West Bank because the area has been under its military rule since 1967. Israel’s national water authority, Mekorot, makes it difficult for many Palestinians to have adequate access to water because much of the water from underground aquifers gets diverted into Israel. Israelis enjoy water parks, cultivate the water-demanding banana plant, and irrigate miles of agriculture while Palestinians must purchase West Bank water that in reality comes from the land underneath their feet. Agriculture serves as the main source of water use around the world and this area of the Middle East is no exception. Israel created the “National Water Carrier” in 1964 to carry water to its farms and cities. This body of water transports water from the Sea of Galilee to Tel Aviv and farms in the Nagev desert.

Corporate globalization’s effects on the earth include reduction of biodiversity, scarcity of natural resources, destruction of species, and ultimately planetary death. Its effects on people include a rising tide of fundamentalist views, extremism, terrorism, violence against women, ethnic cleansing, and religious intolerance. Humans and the environment need to be reconnected as related and interdependent. In order to prevent further conflicts over natural resources, like the water wars in the Middle East, we must begin to apply sustainability to our economic and agricultural practices. We need to stop thinking of “nature” as only the natural environment without humans in it and start designing systems that take both into account. In Parting the Waters, a local environmental nonprofit called Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOMED) tried to mitigate the differences between Israelis and Palestinians by addressing both the environmental and the social aspects of the problem. First, they worked to improve water quality for both parties by raising awareness through their grassroots initiative, Good Water Neighbors.

If cooperation can be achieved at the community level, sustainable water management methods can gain support. Bottom-up pressure from grassroots organizations like Good Water Neighbors forces governments to take action to redesign their environmental and diplomatic strategies. It is bottom-up initiatives like Good Water Neighbors that provides the necessary impetus for governments to change their policies in favor of more sustainable, democractic methods.

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