Water Politics in the Middle East

Retired Four-star General Anthony Zinni of the United States Marine Corps explained how his experiences in the Middle East lead him to understand one of the great underlying and often overlooked factors in the tumultuous region, water politics.

There are many other well-known issues that contribute to disagreements in the Middle East, but Zinni says that “the other problems get more attention.” As a result, people tend to forget how crucial it is for these states to maintain the ability to supply their people with sufficient water. Only two countries in the entire Middle East, Turkey and Iran, are self-sufficient in terms of water. All other countries depend on water imported from other places. About two-thirds of the Arab states depend on water from non-Arab states, adding to the tension when water issues arise.

Zinni proceeded to explain that there are many problems which contribute to the shortage of water resources. Included among these is the fact that many of the irrigation systems in that part of the world are poorly engineered. There is also a lack of conservation, almost no commercialization of water, poor and disjointed upstream management of the water, pollution of existing water resources, and poor water distribution systems currently in place.

Zinni went on to point out that “everything is connected,” and as such, these existing problems build on each other and contribute to many other growing issues, such as the loss of arable land from poor management and conservation. In addition mass migrations and greater urbanization put a higher and often impossible strain on the cities to provide even more water for their populace.

In order to remedy the situation, Zinni explained that long-term solutions need to be found for this pressing issue. In order to improve the situation, he suggested that the Middle East cooperate as a region in this effort and must decide how to use their existing resources together to manage the water systems properly and share ideas of how to improve on the current system. He also suggested that there ought to be more work put into technology development and technology sharing, such as creating and maintaining microecosystems to help with sustainability and more emphasis on recycling.

Zinni also thinks that more education and awareness on the situation could help vastly improve the problems. The former general said that his time in the military has taught him how to be a good steward of the environment. As a result he is quite determined to use this knowledge to help the water politics crisis in the Middle East.

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