Is the Middle East Thirsty for Freedom … or Water?

Posted: 21st September 2012
Is the Middle East Thirsty for Freedom … or Water?
Guest author: Aaron Anderson is a recent graduate from King’s College London with a Master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security. Prior to graduate school he worked in government for both the UK and US Department of State, and served five years in the US armed services with tours overseas. He has previously posted on the effectiveness of drone strikes as a deterrent to terrorism in Pakistan.

For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? (Luke 23:31)

Looking forward and providing actionable intelligence on threats is difficult because of the many unknowns that may occur. For instance, the development of the Arab Spring in the Middle East was not seen by any western intelligence agency, let alone the outcome of regime changes that resulted from the protests. Peripheral threats such as a state’s population with high rates of HIV or AIDS may limit its future ability to form functioning militaries thereby creating possible intrastate or interstate security dilemmas with regional players. However, this analysis is quite simple and focuses on one human requirement for survival – water.

The goal is to answer the question: Will an ever growing population in the Middle East affected by shortages of water turn to conflict to ensure its own survival? If so, what and who are these threats? Statistics provided from the United Nations outline the current and projected world population which will jump from 6.1 billion in 2001 to 8.9 billion by 2050. That is an increase in 47 percent with limited supplies of potable water. Countries in Less Developed Regions in 2000 had a population of 4.877 billion compared to 1.194 in More Developed Regions. (Numbers from the UN) In 2050, those numbers are estimated to reach as high as 9.263 and 1.370 respectively.

The suggests that the average person requires 20-50 liters of water a day for basic needs for drinking, cooking and cleansing, and with populations in Less Developed Regions outpacing the more industrialized, destabilizing factors will contribute to possible widespread security concerns both internally and externally. This post will focus on four key player in the Middle East: Israel, Egypt, Yemen and Iraq and provide an analysis using Recorded Future.

The terms “water shortage” or ” water shortages” or ” water drought” or ” water droughts” are used to search for all instances in each country’s media. By searching for media exported from each state a more accurate representation of that state’s threats may be provided. Summaries will conclude each slide with information collected from Recorded Future’s database outlining past and future documented instances along with the top cited key external players associated with each state.

Israel (2010-2012)

Israel’s population is estimated to jump from 6.04 million in 2000 to 9.98 million in 2050. The most striking information pulled from Recorded Future’s database notes that the Palestinian population and some Israeli academics believe that Israel has control over the water supplies, and future crisis may be targeted at Israel as a result. Additionally, the time between May and November is the window of water shortages as cited by Palestinians on its population. Expected future tension may fall inside this window.

Israeli media has also focused attention outside its borders. In early January, 2010 at least four of seven states aligned with the Nile river were looking to renegotiate its 80 year old agreement with Egypt. The agreement allowed for upstream states to have more water allocated. With Egypt not willing to negotiate, the World Bank has prevented any funding as it views Egypt as a key player in any agreement. Yemen is cited in the above timeline for its severe water shortage in 2011. As the Syrian crisis continues (September 2012), Jordan is expected to see 500 refugees cross its borders with little support for both food and water. Israel does not appear to have shortages of water supply for its own need and security.

The top cited countries related to Israel referenced in order are: Egypt (24), Jordan (16), Palestine (14), Yemen (9) and Bahrain (9).

Israel (2012-2025)

By 2013 Israel is expected to complete the world’s largest building of three osmosis desalination plants which is then expected to provide 44% of the country’s water supply. Media projects a negative outlook for surrounding states with no direct security issue tied to Israel.

The top cited countries referenced in order are: Nigeria (4), Qatar (4), Yemen (4), Ethiopia (4), Libya (4), Egypt (4), and Jordan (3).

Egypt (2010-2012)

Egypt’s population is estimated to jump from 67.78 million in 2000 to 127.4 million in 2050. Early negative discussions beginning in 2010 and continuing to late 2012 suggest that Israel unfairly controls water supplies to the Palestinians. Additionally, estimates suggest that by 2017 demand in Egypt for water will outpace the country’s supply. Tensions attributed to negotiations over the Nile’s supply of water are noted in negative sentiment in September, 2012. This claim is supported with suggestions of ‘doomsday scenario’ in losing Egypt’s control of the Nile. In early 2012, friction between Egypt and Ethiopia over a new agreement led Ethiopia to develop new plans without the approval of Egypt to build a massive dam to generate electricity. There has been no discussion of internal friction regarding water shortages. The fall of 2012 saw discussion about attacks and water shortages in Sinai which should now be targeted at the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood led government rather than military forces. 2012 marks the year furthest forward that Egyptian media has so far referenced water shortages.

The top cited countries referenced in order are: United Arab Emirates (9), Ethiopia (8), Palestine (7), Abu Dhabi (6), and Beirut (5).

Yemen (2010-2012)

Yemen’s population is estimated to jump from 18.01 million in 2000 to 84.38 million in 2050. Yemen’s negative sentiment is an acknowledgement of the water shortage as well as comments that the supply is further dwindled by farmers and wasted on the stimulant qat which is largely smoked in the region. Major negative sentiment throughout 2011 show water shortages as a factor in the Arab Spring in Yemen which led to President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepping down in October, 2011. Much of the discussion regarding shortage of potable water supply has direct links to the Saleh government. No external state has been linked to concerns of its own water supply.

The top cited countries referenced in order are: Somalia (4), Tunisia (3), and Egypt (3).

Yemen (2012-2040)

The current population is expected to jump from estimates in 2010 at 8.5 to 30.7 million by 2015. The Yemen Times reports that the worst case scenario in 2015 will be water shortage that will lead to large scale migration putting immense pressure on communities. Yemen Portal states by 2025 the capital city of Yemen, Sana’a, will run out of water. White House chief counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, acknowledged that water shortage will be a major concern for stability and U.S. policy with Yemen in the next 40 years.

Only two locations cited: Yemen (8) and Sana’a (3).

Iraq (2010-2012)

Iraq’s population is estimated to jump from 23.22 million in 2000 to 57.93 million in 2050. Early 2010 marked a major decline in negative sentiment regarding water shortages linked to progress being made in parts of Iraq. In late 2010, discussion of raising ethnic tensions were linked to water shortages. In May, 2011 the Iraqi government claimed that Syria and Turkey are withholding water from the Euphrates river causing shortages in the country. Overall, the development of Iraqi government, aided by coalition forces, to address water shortages have been beneficial for the Iraqi people. 2012 marks the year furthest forward that Iraqi media has referenced water shortages.

The top cited countries referenced in order are: Syria (4), Turkey (4), United States (2), and Kurdistan (2).

Key Findings & Summary

Provided the information collected from Recorded Future’s database, the author is able to provide some level of threat assessment based off water shortages. This will be broken down into individual states with a short outline of the internal and/or external threats attributed to water shortages.

Israel (very high interstate/ low intrastate)

Intrastate security issues will be low considering Israel has the financial and technical capacity to provide its own water supplies. However, outside actors may support perceived Israeli occupation of Gaza and the Arab population and support attacks on Israel. Support may intensify for organizations like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas becoming an interstate threat though the threat may be in the form of asymmetric warfare by some non-state actors.

Egypt (medium interstate/ medium intrastate)

Interstate conflict with states unwilling to negotiate future demands on access to the Nile river water will be the biggest threat to Egypt’s security. Ethiopia cited as key state may pose a serious threat to regional security as Egypt looks to remain a key player. The Arab Spring has brought with it a new government in the Muslim Brotherhood, but media sources discuss that instead of the previous military dominated regime the new government will now be held accountable for living standards.

Yemen (medium interstate / very high intrastate)

The current and future debate is focused more on an intrastate security issue. Talk about using dialogue-based tribal traditions for mediation and arbitration in local communities. The current use of water has focused more on the production of the profitable drug crop, qat, than crops for Yemen’s own stability. As instability becomes a major factor in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) could become a growing concern as they are able to inject their rhetoric into poor living standards and new found safe havens.

Iraq (Medium interstate / medium intrastate)

Iraq is currently able to provide the required water needed for its population. Media reports have noted that external actors have affected water supply into the country, and that ethnic tensions are linked with shortages. If the government is able to provide sustainable levels Iraq appears to be better off than the other three states.

Which of these states do you think is at greatest risk for unrest due to water shortages? Could there be a scenario during the next several years where we see armed conflict over water between these or other countries in the region? Share your thoughts in the comments!