“The real wild-card for political and social unrest in the Middle East over the next 20 years is not war, terrorism, or revolution – it is water,” begins the CSIS Middle East Program’s latest report, Clear Gold: Water as a Strategic Resource in the Middle East
, by Jon B. Alterman and Michael Dziuban.
The authors contend that with growing populations, groundwater depletion, not the more traditional questions about transboundary river governance, poses a “more immediate and strategically consequential challenge,” particularly because many Middle Eastern governments have deflated the true cost of water to help spur growth and garner popularity.
In the accompanying video feature above, much-troubled Yemen is outlined as one of the most at-risk countries for water-induced instability. The narrator notes that “with Yemen’s population growing fast and almost half of agricultural water going towards the narcotic leaf qat instead of food, experts think that Sanaa [the capital] could run out of water in seven years or less and the rest of the country may not be far behind.”
In an interview with Reuters in 2008, Yemeni Water and Environment Minister Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani said the country’s burgeoning water crisis is “almost inevitable because of the geography and climate of Yemen, coupled with uncontrolled population growth and very low capacity for managing resources.”
Yemen is a particularly abject example because water availability is only one contributor in a long list of domestic problems, including a large youth population, gender inequity, immigration from the Horn of Africa, corruption, ethnic tensions, and terrorism.
The narrator concludes that “Yemen is the most worrisome example but clearly not the only one.” Alterman and Dziuban also point to Jordan and Saudi Arabia as states vulnerable to groundwater depletion.
For more on the Middle East’s current and future environmental security issues, be sure to check out The New Security Beat’s “Crossroads” series, with features on Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.
Video Credit: “Clear Gold: Water as a Strategic Resource in the Middle East,” courtesy of CSIS.