Climate change threatens Mideast stability: study

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Climate change could spark “environmental wars” in the Middle East over already scarce water supplies and dissuade Israel from any pullout from occupied Arab land, an international report said on Tuesday.

Young Iranian women carry jugs of water, filled at water distribution point, to their village outside Zabol in south eastern Iran, July 17, 2001. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Almost 10 years of failed peace talks between Syria and Israel have focused on water in and around the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The vital resource is also a point of conflict between Israel and Palestinians seeking a state.

Regarding the Syria-Israel dispute, the report said Israeli concerns about “food security and reduced agricultural productivity could shift the strategic calculation on whether to withdraw” from the Golan Heights, occupied in a 1967 war.

“The expectation of coming environmental wars might imply that the way to deal with shrinking resources is to increase military control over them,” said the Danish-funded study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, an independent organization headquartered in Canada.

The Golan supplies 30 percent of the water for the Lake of Galilee, Israel’s main water reservoir.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the report said sea-level rises as a result of climate change threatened to contaminate Gaza’s sole aquifer supplying 1.5 million Palestinians in the territory.

The coastal aquifer, which is shared by Israel, is the only source of fresh drinking water for Gaza, controlled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. The report said its water quality was abysmal.

In the occupied West Bank, governed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel draws more water from most aquifers shared with the territory and restricts Palestinian water use.


Climate change will diminish water resources across the Middle East, the report said.

“In a region already considered the world’s most water scarce, climate models are predicting a hotter, drier and less predictable climate,” it said

“Higher temperature and less rainfall will reduce the flow of rivers and streams, slow the rate at which aquifers recharge, progressively raise sea levels and make the entire region more arid,” said the study, which focused on the Levant, the ancient land now comprising Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The report was released this week at the Danish Institute in Old Damascus, as part of activities before a major United Nations conference in Copenhagen in December that will discuss a new treaty to deal with climate.

The study raised the specter of water shortages and climate- induced crises hitting the economies of the Levant by 2050.

The Levant’s population is forecast to grow in 40 years to 71 million people from last year’s 42 million. Temperatures in the same period are expected to rise by 2.5 to 3.7 degrees Celsius in the summer and 2 to 3.1 degrees in the winter, changing climate zones and disrupting farming.

The area is already hit by droughts, refugee problems, social tensions, unemployment reaching up to 27 percent and decades of conflict between Arabs and Israel.

“This legacy greatly complicates efforts to collaborate over shared resources, to invest in more efficient water and energy use, to share new ways to adapt to climate change and to pursue truly multilateral action,” the report said.

Even countries at peace, such as Turkey, Syria and Iraq, distrust each other when it comes to the issue, resulting in a “zero sum approach to resources, limiting and politicizing the data available on natural resources, reducing the incentives to invest in more efficient agriculture, energy and water systems and encouraging expensive, national level solutions.”

Particularly vulnerable to predicted rises in sea-levels is the Lebanese coast, which accounts for 60 percent of the economic activity in the country.

“Sea level rise will impact infrastructure, increase coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers. Lebanon’s narrow coastal strip along the Mediterranean could be susceptible to flooding and erosion as sea levels rise,” the report said.

Tourism stands to be another loser, due to damaged Red Sea corals and a shorter skiing season in Lebanon, said the study.

Editing by Charles Dick