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Water Wars or
Water Agreements?
There has been widespread debate on whether water will give rise to con-
flicts, in much the same way as wars about oil plagued the 20th century, but
it could also be the starting point for cooperation.
Many experts favour the first option, arguing Arab-Israeli conflict. A large number of Jewish
that water itself and supply systems are in- settlements in Palestine’s Occupied Territories
creasingly likely to be both military objectives were specifically chosen because they were sit-
and weapons of war as human populations uated over groundwater reserves.

Under the
grow and global climate change makes water terms of the Oslo Accords 80 per cent of West
availability “more problematic and uncertain”, Bank water was allocated to Israel.

By some
as Peter H Gleick puts it.
The former Soviet estimates a further deterioration in freshwater
leader Mikhail Gorbachev believes water has al- availability could cause increasing friction in an
ready been the source of conflict, claiming that arid region with galloping population growth. It
21 recent armed conflicts, 18 of which involved is difficult to pin-point the role water plays in
Israel, have hinged on water.

Middle East conflicts. But one reason why nego-
tiations between Syria and Israel are so tough
But some disagree, stressing the importance is the latter’s reluctance to give up control over
of international cooperation on the division of the water-rich Golan Heights, a part of Syria Is-
water resources. Aaron Wolf maintains that, rael has occupied since the 1967 war and the
“No war has ever been fought over water,” add- source of one-third of Israel’s water supply. Is-
ing: “The historic reality has been quite differ- rael needs so much water that plans to import
ent from what the water wars literature would up to 500 million cubic metres of freshwater
have one believe. In modern history, only seven from Turkey are back on the agenda.

minor skirmishes have been waged over inter-
national waters – invariably other interrelated Some old and new initiatives to bring water to
issues also factor in. Conversely, over 3 600 the region include the scheme to build a con-
treaties have been signed historically over dif- duit between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. The
ferent aspects of international waters”.

projected “Peace Canal”, running from Turkey to
could supply hydroelectric power and
Yet many experts fear that water stress could drinking water, thanks to desalinization plants.

exacerbate existing conflicts. Future wars in
the Middle East could hinge on water scarcity Israel and its Arab neighbours are not the only
instead of oil, as has been the case until now. Ac- ones who have disagreed over water resourc-
cess to water sources has been a factor in the es. Syria and Iraq nearly went to war when
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