Transboundary water-governance systems are emerging to negotiate watersharing policies to promote security, stability and sustainability. Yet transboundary water disputes occur within most major shared water systems, and weak riparians are often coerced to agree to water-sharing policies that adversely affect them. This chapter examines strategies to promote cooperation in seemingly intractable water conflicts. For example, the chapter analyzes power asymmetry and the complex relations between strong and weak riparians in the Nile River system, in which water stress perennially tests the commitment to cooperation. The larger quantitative analysis examines the strategies weak riparians use to assert leverage in the international river basin, and the success of those strategies in achieving cooperation versus conflict.
The decision to resolve water disputes through negotiated settlements or to escalate the disputes into violent conflict is a complicated and contentious calculation. Water-based explanations of conflict and cooperation need to incorporate economy, ecology, technology, security, politics and policy. The multiple conflicting uses and competing users makes hydropolitics “one of the most urgent, complex, and contentious issues that the developing countries and the international community will have to face and resolve in the next century,” as Arun Elhance articulates (1999, 4). Although there are successful water-sharing arrangements and more instances of cooperation than violent conflict (Wolf 1998), the institutionalized cooperative management of international water basins is still extremely rare (Elhance 2000). One substantive impediment to cooperative management is power asymmetry in hydropolitical complexes, which affects the legitimacy, complexity and feasibility of international water-sharing arrangements.
Yet despite the complexity and intensity of water stress in transboundary river systems, there are many examples of cooperation in seemingly intractable water conflicts. The case of the Nile system is compelling because the level of water stress seems insurmountable in the context of extreme food insecurity, burgeoning populations and climate change, while riparians continue to move between times of military threats and military mobilizations on the borders near the river to times of cooperative agreements and collaborative efforts to govern the river system in the interests of political and economic stability.
This chapter examines the role of transboundary river flows in the complex and conflicted relations between states, primarily among Turkey, Syria and Iraq, with passing reference to other countries. The introduction reviews some fundamentals of transboundary surface waters in this area. A second section reviews the international legal framework for management of these water issues, but expresses considerable doubt about the practical impact of this law in this region. The chapter then analyzes the politics of water among all three countries, noting the prevalence of conflict despite some diplomatic agreements on transboundary river flows. In particular it notes the deterioration of water security from 2003 and the US invasion of Iraq, and especially from 2011 and the start of the internationalized Syrian civil war. In this time frame, water continued to be a politicized and securitized subject, and even part of violent politics. Water continued to be manipulated for strategic political purposes, often to the detriment of basic human needs. In this often violent context, efforts to consider access to safe water as a human right, effectively protected by general international law and the laws of war, faded into oblivion. The chapter concludes by asking whether declining water security in the Tigris– Euphrates basin might eventually lead to negative learning, through which major actors might learn from the errors of past policies and discover the need for improved water management in the future.
After World War I the gradual emergence of the contemporary states of Turkey, Syria and Iraq resulted in all three legally independent states being inherently interconnected on water issues. About 50 percent of the Tigris River and about 90 percent of the Euphrates River originate in Turkey. While this situation gives Turkey certain advantages in regional water disputes (only about 1 percent of its freshwater originates in foreign areas), it guarantees that Turkey will be subject to demands by others that it be sensitive to equitable water-use and humanitarian considerations in downstream countries. In other words, natural resources in this river basin show a prevalent condition and indicate the probability of disappointment for efforts at multilateral riparian management: Turkey can project more power in hydropolitics than others, making mutually agreed river management difficult or impossible (for the general pattern see Allan and Mirumachi 2010).
At least implicitly, many disciplines recognize that a changing climate with higher temperatures and altered precipitation patterns will require adaptive water-management strategies. Climate change necessitates a collective and coordinated response to water shortage, and states must yield to this reality. If these processes are not carefully calibrated to respond both to physical characteristics and to cultural norms, the path ahead will have grave implications for future generations who will experience human suffering, social and political discord and an impoverished environment. An important question for political scientists is this: will water insecurity— whether it is caused by access, allocation, degradation or scarcity— necessarily result in violent conflict between states?
The answer may depend on whom you ask and the region in question. Although research on water politics and international conflict has led to separate substantial literatures, this chapter considers them together and presents a tentative answer. I argue that, although literature in international relations (IR) is historically predisposed to focusing on war and interstate violent conflict, when it comes to arguments and research on water there is a decisive, if largely overlooked, consensus that it is cooperation rather than violent conflict that dictates interstate water relationships. The past is not always the best predictor of the future, but research on war and conflict thus far indicates that water insecurity is unlikely to result in violent conflict between states. As Aaron Wolf puts it, water may be a tool, target or victim of warfare, but up until this point it has not been the cause (2007, 4).
Nonetheless, a significant amount of scholarship in IR assumes, and sometimes asserts, that problems with access to freshwater and water insecurity will not only lead to violence within states but also result in interstate war (Setter et al. 2011). Especially for scholars who focus on certain regions where water scarcity is severe, where political tensions are significant and where there are no international institutions in place to promote cooperation, violent conflict is overdetermined. The Middle East is usually considered one of the likely hot zones where the quest for water is seen as a catalyst for future conflict either within states or between states (Dinar 2002).
Approximately 16 streams in Israel are transboundary in nature, or shared between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), and roughly two-thirds of these streams originate in Palestinian territory, flow through Israel and discharge into the Mediterranean Sea. Lack of cooperation on water management between Israel and the PA has contributed to high levels of pollution in these waterways, preventing beneficial agricultural, recreational and ecological uses. Past experience shows that effective restoration of Israel's streams requires a coordinated effort between Israelis and Palestinians. If one side invests in infrastructure to improve water quality, but the other continues to pollute, the investments will not result in meaningful improvements to the quality of the regional environment. However, to date such coordination has been minimal and cooperation is difficult.
In principle, most water experts in Israel and the PA recognize the need to adopt watershed-based approaches to water management, acknowledging that rivers, wetlands and groundwater provide important ecological services including waste assimilation, floodwater storage and erosion control. These services provide additional social and economic benefits, such as improved water resources for domestic, agricultural and recreational use. However, because water does not recognize political borders, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes the adoption of watershed-based approaches more challenging because most watersheds in this region, as indicated above, are transboundary in nature. While Israeli and Palestinian water experts have cooperated on transboundary water issues for decades, this cooperation has been mainly technical or research based. We believe that a comprehensive watershed management plan should incorporate ecological, historical, physical, economic and geographical terms agreed upon by both sides. This would serve the best interests of the watershed, regardless of present or future political issues. This chapter argues that since the majority of Israel's water resources (surface and groundwater) are transboundary, Israeli and Palestinian water policy should center on a transboundary approach to watershed management.
Drought, population growth and rapid agricultural, industrial and commercial expansion have widened the gap between water supply and demand in Israel and the PA. Israel has bridged this imbalance by developing sophisticated technologies to increase water supply through desalination and wastewater treatment and reuse, while Palestinian infrastructure, technology and investment lag behind. West Bank Palestinians experience frequent water shortages, and the treatment and reuse of wastewater are very limited.
“Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek's servants had seized.”
Introduction: Water, Conflict and the Land of Israel
The first book of the Bible is full of quarreling between the Israelite patriarchs and the surrounding communities (Audu 2013). Water was undoubtedly a critical resource for survival in an agrarian society, and apparently there was not always enough to go around. Indeed, it was lack of rains and famine that forced the children of Israel into an Egyptian exile which lasted 430 years, much of it enslaved. While a source of tension and intermittent conflicts, control of water resources appears in retrospect to have been largely amenable to reconciliation, giving rise to occasional covenants for water sharing and cooperation. In a region where recent climate change and reduced precipitation along with rapid population growth makes water scarcity more acute than ever (Mariotti 2015), is the underlying optimism of the Biblical narrative still valid?
While pervasive water scarcity does seem to have changed in the Middle East during the Holocene era, technologically, there is little that remains the same. In this context, this chapter evaluates Israel's experience in water management and its ongoing quest for water security. Although control over water resources has rarely, if ever, been the sole casus belli in modern war between nations, it has certainly exacerbated tensions (Wolf 1998). Israel along with its neighbors is often given as an example of such dynamics. Water management for most of Israel's history was driven by an underlying sense that water resources were limited and critical for survival and that ensuring their availability was a paramount policy objective. This contributed to making the country's hydrological history a particularly unique story where local water managers took a path less traveled. In many cases, solutions were pursued that at the time were altogether unexplored in other countries. Israel's ensuing water management strategy has certainly generated interest internationally. But is it sustainable?
Most retrospective chronologies of water management in Israel present the narrative essentially in a favorable light (Teschner 2013; Tal 2006a). At a time when demographic proliferation in countries surrounding Israel has compromised the regularity of water supplies and crisis-like hydrological dynamics are pervasive, Israel has largely managed to increase the reliability and quality of its water supply.
The importance of water and food security in the Middle East, the most water-short region in the world and one where food supplies are often impacted by drought, cannot be overstated. A significant proportion of the population of this region is both food insecure and water insecure— without access to enough safe and nutritious food nor an acceptable quantity and quality of water to lead healthy and active lives— and exposed to frequent droughts. Ensuring sustainable food and water security for the people of this region in the face of rising population and income, a changing climate, and growing demands for scarce water resources amid falling groundwater tables and increasing water pollution and salinization is one of the region's most urgent challenges, with significant political, environmental, social and economic implications. Indeed, prospects for peace and security in the Middle East depend to a very significant degree on water and food security.
This water and food challenge is exacerbated by and intertwined with the civil war in Syria and related conflicts and civil unrest in many other countries in the area. While not everyone agrees that water shortages and inadequate responses to a severe and long-lasting drought were among the root causes of the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, there is little doubt that the large numbers of refugees in neighboring countries have strained limited water supplies. The water and food security situations of the various countries of the region are further linked because so many countries depend on surface and underground water resources that cross international borders. Few countries in the region can fully control their water resources without engaging in cooperative approaches with other countries, which is fraught with difficulties in a region wracked by war and unrest. A major question in the region is therefore whether the quest for water and food security going forward will advance efforts toward cooperation and peace building or lead to further competition and conflict. While some observers have talked gloomily about the prospects for “water wars,” several scholars have argued persuasively that water is more often a mechanism for bringing people together to forge common solutions than a cause of war or violence.
The Arabian Peninsula is one region where the terrain, climate and available natural resources have all played an important role in shaping human– environment relations, economic development and population size. Its harsh climatic conditions have historically deterred colonial powers from attempting to control the peninsula, save for the Ottomans, who controlled a coastal strip, a route to Mecca and Medina, and the British, who captured a few port cities. In addition to the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, the vast and harsh desert that covers much of the interior of the peninsula— extending all the way to the Euphrates River— was a virtual barrier to transportation, making much of the area feel like an island (jazeera in Arabic) to its inhabitants.
While this popular image of the past still lingers, the active exploitation of the hydrocarbon wealth that started in the 1950s has been instrumental in transforming the human– environment relations as well as the socioeconomic base and political organization of the area. For instance, up until the modern development of the 1960s, the water needs of the people of Abu Dhabi were met solely from springs and shallow wells that tap groundwater resources. Water extraction and delivery methods were traditional and labor intensive. “The traditional jazra system, which uses animals to pull water from deep wells, was still in use until a few decades ago” (EAD 2014). Politically, the Gulf states formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981, a political institution that is made up of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait. This political alliance allows the mostly small countries to align many of their energy and foreign policies. In recent years, they have initiated cooperative efforts on water issues. One such effort is the 2013 agreement to jointly build a massive $7 billion desalination plant on the Arabian Sea (the Indian Ocean side), which would avoid potential contamination from either a radioactive spill from Iran's nuclear facilities or an oil spill in the Persian Gulf shipping lanes. Due to the abundance of oil and natural gas, within a few short decades the Gulf states went from pervasive poverty and from being an inconsequential region in the world to having rapidly growing, globally integrated economies that boast world-class infrastructure, and to providing the native population a high standard of living.
My overall interest is in identifying new and better ways of managing transboundary water resources. Better, in my view, means maximizing the sustainable use of water at a reasonable cost while ensuring that the urgent water needs of all water users (that is, city residents, farmers and industrial developers) are met simultaneously. This has to happen while ecosystem services are maintained. In most parts of the world, efforts inspired by Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) do not meet these objectives.
Within each country, national and state governments set water-management goals and provide the infrastructure needed to meet them. They fund these efforts with general tax revenues or rely on dedicated water tariffs and fees to do so. Government agencies try to coordinate public and private efforts to deliver water to urban dwellers, manage wastewater, provide water for food production and manage the water necessary to produce and distribute energy. They must have the capacity to get bureaucrats at multiple levels to work together, either by offering them financial incentives or by exercising the authority required to ensure compliance. In most instances, they have trouble doing both.
Managing waters that cross international boundaries is even more difficult. Nations are sovereign. While international laws call for the sharing of transboundary waters, it is sometimes difficult to force countries to comply. However, most governments comply, most of the time, with most transboundary agreements because they do not want to lose their credibility (and they do not want to be forced out of other international regimes that are important to them). This is generally referred to as “compliance without enforcement” (Chayes and Chayes 1991). The water-sharing agreements that work best are those that meet the interests of the (people in the) states involved and do not require much enforcement.
Water management within a country and water diplomacy across international borders depend on the problem-solving capabilities of the political entities involved, especially when the self-interests of the parties are not aligned. Water management (that is, operational efforts to implement laws, policies and programs that water diplomacy generates) is only effective when allocation and investment decisions are made in a timely fashion, parties who stand to be affected by decisions are engaged in monitoring the results and helping revise decisions, staff capacity is sufficient and long-term relationships (especially trust) among relevant stakeholders are maintained or enhanced.
This volume is based on papers presented at a small conference, “Water Security and Peacebuilding in the Middle East: Avenues for Cooperation,” held at the University of Nebraska in May 2014. The meeting brought together leading researchers in the multidimensional problem of water security and related public policy issues. Since our focus was on the Middle East, the scholars invited were specialists in areas ranging from Ethiopia, to Israel and Palestine, to Iraq and the Gulf States. While generally aiming to underscore the efficacy of international water agreements, institutional mechanisms designed to implement them and scientific and technological advances that could be “game changers,” the contributors nonetheless pointed to significant obstacles to cooperation and peace building. As the chapters that follow indicate, the authors are aware of the problems created by great inequalities of economic, political and military power throughout the region. And they share my view that a widened intellectual and disciplinary perspective is essential if wide and long-term shifts in attitudes toward water security are to be achieved.
The Need for a Broad Approach
In the famous opening to his work Negative Dialectics (1966), one of the foremost Western philosophers of the post– World War II era, Theodor Adorno, declared, “Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on, because the moment to realize it was missed” (Adorno, 2007, 3). By this statement he wanted to convey that, during the greatest political and human crises of the twentieth century, philosophers (among others) failed to concretize philosophy's most significant ideas regarding freedom and human possibility.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that philosophy and the humanities in general are faced with almost equally great challenges today. We are presently trapped in seemingly irreversible vectors of degradation of the planet's nonrenewable as well as renewable resources; vast economic and social inequalities; increasing urban populations and resultant economic and political pressures; and ideological and ethnic conflicts worldwide. Inadequacy and instability of water supplies worldwide must be numbered among these increasingly difficult circumstances, whether water insecurity is potentially a direct cause of armed conflict, as many have argued, or “merely” an exacerbating factor (Chellaney 2013; Wolf 1995; Abukhater 2013).
“Climate Change will require a more severe adjustment of water resources management in MENA [Middle East and North Africa] than any other region.”
Various climate-change models are predicting an increase in temperature, a decrease in precipitation and an increase in the evaporation rate for the riparian states sharing international rivers in the Middle East, such as the Jordan, Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. Experts also anticipate an increase in weather extremes, such as floods and droughts, and a decrease in the overall freshwater supplies throughout the Middle East (Evans 2009; Alpert et al. 2008; World Bank 2007b; Verner 2012; IPCC 2014). In this region of the world that is already plagued by severe freshwater shortages, any decrease or variability in supplies is likely to intensify an already stressful crisis and contribute to significant direct and indirect losses (Verner 2012). It can also exacerbate interstate and intrastate conflicts and compromise states’ ability to comply with existing treaties or protocols governing the region's international rivers.
To minimize the social, economic and political losses from the anticipated changes produced by climate variability, experts have searched for means by which society, states and the international community can build adaptive capacity to minimize their vulnerability (Adger, Arnell and Tompkins 2005; Koch, Vogel and Patel 2007). One area that will require improved adaptive capacity but that has been largely neglected by the existing literature is interstate institutions, in particular river basin commissions established to manage international rivers. Drawing on neoliberal institutionalism, an international relations theory about the role of institutions in facilitating cooperation, this chapter explores the role and resilience of Middle Eastern river basin commissions in managing the transition to the anticipated decrease in freshwater availability and the likelihood of increased tension between riparian states. Through an analysis of the design and capabilities vested in the region's existing commissions, the chapter proposes that they in fact lack adaptive capacity to manage uncertainties and address interstate disputes. To minimize the potential threat of increased regional tensions or conflict, the chapter argues that existing commissions need to be redesigned and empowered with additional capabilities.
Data for this chapter come from field research in Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Syria and Palestine in 2000, 2001 and 2012. During field research, regional newspapers were searched along with interviews with government officials, representatives of the international donor community, nongovernmental organizations and university scholars.
‘Climate Change Makes Refugees in Bangladesh – Bangladesh and Countries like It Are on the Frontline of Mass Migrations as a Result of Global Warming’ headlined Scientific American in 2009. However most of the people interviewed by author Lisa Friedman came from the southwest and had been forced to migrate due to waterlogging caused by the construction of dykes and polders (see Chapter 4) or due to cyclone Sidr.
There are no ‘climate change refugees’ in Bangladesh, because climate change has not yet had a noticeable impact and because the Bangladesh climate is so variable. There is a whole book reporting on temperature and rainfall change which finds that over 50 years there had been a slight decrease in winter temperatures in the northwest, and elsewhere there had been a slight increase. These changes are real but not yet noticeable. For example, in the northwest the year-to-year variation in the maximum winter temperature can be 2ºC or more; long-term data shows there is a decline in the maximum winter temperature in the northwest of 0.01– 0.03ºC per year, which is too small to be noticed.
Scientists and statisticians can already see the effects of climate change, but ordinary people do not, and it does not have any effect on a decision to migrate. Yet. But this country's hugely variable climate means the norm is cyclones, floods, heavy rain and droughts. As discussed in Chapter 2, climate change will have major impacts. The national census shows that 80 per cent of those who migrate to Dhaka do so to look for work or because of poverty; only 8 per cent move directly for environmental reasons (see Box 8.1). However, poverty and unemployment is often caused indirectly by environmental factors – floods and cyclones destroy houses, productive assets and jobs; when these cannot be replaced, people migrate. We use the term ‘environmental migrants’ for people who move, directly or indirectly, due to cyclone, flood, erosion and waterlogging. Bangladesh has had environmental migrants for centuries, although the number is probably rising as population growth pushes people to live in more marginal areas.
Choices made at the Paris climate change conference in December 2015 and actions after that will determine if Bangladeshis can keep their heads above water, or must flee to high ground. But the real impact of the decisions will only be felt in 50 to 100 years because the fossil fuels we use today and in the near future create ‘greenhouse gases’, which persist in the atmosphere for decades, continuing to warm the planet and having an impact on future generations.
Emission limits proposed by Bangladesh and most developing countries would cause global warming to peak in the middle of this century, followed by a slow fall in temperatures. Bangladesh could cope with those changes. But the industrialized countries, and China and India, do not accept these limits, and the Paris conference accepted voluntary limits that will allow temperatures to rise well into the twenty-second century. In Bangladesh, this would cause flooding and migration, disrupted weather patterns and more severe storms, and possible food shortages. Protecting Bangladesh from climate change will require much more ambitious commitments from the industrialized – and industrializing – nations.
Perhaps the worst problem is that elected politicians are being asked to make hard choices that will only benefit their great-grandchildren but will impose cost on presentday taxpayers. In 2015, British prime minister David Cameron made sweeping cuts to programmes to reduce greenhouse gases, arguing that cutting immediate government spending was more important, while a leading US presidential candidate did not even accept the existence of human-created climate change. For decades to come, Bangladesh will keep its head above water only if it can be part of an international coalition maintaining enough pressure on global politicians to keep their initial very limited promises, and to make further commitments to cut emissions.
Predicting the future is hard, but the past decade has seen huge amounts of scientific research and major improvements in the models used to make projections of the impact of global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has been collating the research and provides the most widely accepted and clearest scientific view on what is known – and not known – about climate change.
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