Water, an ecological, geopolitical and socio-economic stake in the Middle East

The 5th World Water Forum held in Istanbul this week reminds us of the importance of this resource. In the Middle East, water is a major ecological, but also – and one might even say especially – geopolitical and social.

Water resources are one of the key challenges for the countries of the Mediterranean basin,  evidenced by the numerous projects and conferences taking place this year around the theme of water in the Mediterranean. Among them, the new Union for the Mediterraneanestablished in July 2008 gives water a special place and proposes Mediterranean cooperation projects concerning de-pollution of the Mare Nostrum but also access to water and water management for irrigation.

The prospect of these projects provides a somewhat idyllic picture of a reality far more complex. While many seem to agree on the environmental aspects related to water, most governments are silent on the geopolitical and socio-economic concerns.

In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which access to groundwater is a more and more salient aspect, other conflicts are related to water in the Middle East: the one between Israel and Syria because of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights , that are rich in water resources, and also the one between Turkey and the countries located downstream of the Tigris and the Euphrates (Syria and Iraq) because of the GAP project (Guneydogu Anadolu projesi). The Turkish project also contains a non-negligible effect: in the south-east Anatolia, the GAP project is by far a way to attract a large Turkish immigration in a predominantly Kurdish region and thus drown impulses of autonomy of the latter. On the geopolitical angle, water will soon have the same importance as oil.

In the margins of the World Water Forum, organizations have denounced the veil put on all these issues by governments and corporate bosses participants. The arrest of two of their representatives proves the malaise of the Turkish government to address these criticisms. Those organizations try to attract attention not only on the risky and non-ecological sides of the future dams, but also on the issue of equal access to energy and water resources that they can produce. A lot of such socio-economic issues can arise if the water continues to meet the market logic.

The time has come to address the problem of water in the Mediterranean, but without taboos. Without concerted, responsible and sustainable action, water will indeed become a geopolitical , economic and social issue when it is above all essential to the life of every human being.