Tag Archives: middle east

Water Shortages in the MIddle East: Tigris and Euphrates

tigris and euphrates.  image from wikipedia

According to a study in Water Resources Research, an American scientific journal, between 2003 and 2009 the region that stretches from eastern Turkey to western Iran lost 144 cubic kilometres of fresh water.  That figure is vast. It is equivalent in volume to the Dead Sea and, according to the study’s senior author, Jay Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine, implies that the region is suffering the world’s second-fastest rate of water depletion after northern India. The water table sank by 0.3 metres (one foot) a year in 2006-09. At the point where the Euphrates crosses from Syria into Iraq, it now flows at only 70% of the rate it once did. All this in an area that already faces severe water shortages.

The study provides the first accurate estimate of all the water in the basin. National statistics are flawed and incomplete; some figures are even state secrets. But the study uses satellite data from America’s NASA which is not subject to these restrictions. These satellites not only measure surface water by photographs but, thanks to precise measurements of the effect of bodies of water on the atmosphere, can even calculate the amount of water in the aquifer below them.

The main reason for the depletion turns out to be that more water is being taken out of the underground aquifer, mainly by farmers. The rate of loss accelerated after drought hit the region in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009, in response to reduced flows of water in the rivers, Iraq’s government dug 1,000 new wells and abstracted four-fifths of all its groundwater reserves. The aquifer is not being replenished at anything like that rate, so this cannot continue for long.

The rapid depletion has implications for managing the basin, which is shared by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. All the countries have extensive dams, reservoirs and other sorts of infrastructure on both rivers which control the water’s flow. But they have no international treaty governing when and by how much they can shut the flow down.

Over the years, this has not mattered much. The countries have rubbed along, sometimes amicably, sometimes not, with downstream ones (notably Syria and Iraq) assuming there would always be enough water in the upstream reservoirs of Turkey for them all. But if the new study is any guide, that assumption may not hold for much longer.

The Tigris and Euphrates: Less fertile crescent, Economist, Mar. 9, 2013, at 42

Doctrines on Request: Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Iran

A Western intervention that some Libyans see as an attempt to grab the country’s oil;

A state of silence about the Saudi intervention in favor of the ruling family in Bahrain,

Leaving Syria pretty much to its own fate (or so it seems)…From reaction to reaction, some would not fail to see the grand strategies behind it all-

Strategic Interests First: US and the Middle East–will reform survive?

With Egypt’s military leading a hoped-for drive to democracy, President Barack Obama’s senior military adviser was heading to the Mideast on Saturday to reassure two key allies — Jordan, facing its own rumblings of civil unrest, and Israel, which sees its security at stake in a wider transformation of the Arab world.  Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was stopping first in Amman for meetings Sunday with senior Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah II. Jordan has seen five weeks of protests inspired by unrest in Tunisia and later Egypt, though the numbers of marchers has been decreasing.  Mullen was then scheduled to travel to Tel Aviv for meetings and ceremonies Sunday and Monday marking the retirement of his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Mullen had no plans to visit Egypt on this trip.

Israel is deeply worried about the prospect that Hosni Mubarak’s ouster could lead to the emergence of a government less friendly to the Jewish state. […] Both Egypt and Jordan have played leading roles, along with the U.S., in seeking a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, a key route for global oil shipments.  The U.S. has provided $1.5 billion a year to Egypt, largely in the form of military assistance, and the White House has said the possibility of changing that would depend on how the current crisis unfolds. The assistance has done more than buy tanks, planes and other weaponry for the Egyptian armed forces. It has built a tradition of close ties with the U.S. military establishment, with Egyptian officers attending American academies that emphasize the primacy of civilian control in a democracy…The reverberations from Cairo are already being felt in significant ways in other Arab countries that are key U.S. allies.

Jordan’s new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, promised Wednesday to continue political reforms demanded by protesters who forced King Abdullah II to reshuffle the Cabinet Feb 1. The changes in Amman followed protests by thousands of Jordanians who had demanded jobs, lower food costs and a change to an election law that they say gives government loyalists more seats in parliament.

U.S.-Jordanian military ties are among the strongest in the Arab world. And the revelation that a senior Jordanian intelligence officer was among the victims of a December 2009 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that also killed seven CIA employees pointed to the close and extensive cooperation on counterterrorism between U.S. and Jordanian intelligence agencies.

When he ascended to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah II vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multiparty system and the suspension of martial law, which had been in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.  But little has been done since then.

In Saudi Arabia, a traditional cornerstone of U.S. interests in the Mideast, a group of opposition activists said Thursday they asked the nation’s king for the right to form a political party in a rare challenge to the absolute power of the ruling dynasty  “You know well that big political developments and attention to freedom and human rights is currently happening in the Islamic world,” the activists said in a letter to King Abdullah, who was one of Mubarak’s staunchest supporters up until the end.

Last week, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh — a key U.S. ally in office for more than three decades — bowed to pressure from protesters and announced he would not seek re-election in 2013 and would not try to pass power to his son. Yemen, home to a branch of al-Qaida, is an important battleground in the U.S. fight against terrorists.

Excerpt, By ROBERT BURNS, Joint Chiefs chairman to reassure Jordan, Israel, Associated Press, Feb 12, 2011