›June 15, 2015 // By Wilson Center Staff
Millions of people across the Middle East face drought, scarce drinking water supplies, and poor sanitation due to civil wars and conflict. Meanwhile, resource constraints and foreign military interventions risk more severe humanitarian disasters.
Last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) celebrated 150 years of their mission to “protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence.” Though this mission hasn’t changed in the past century-and-a-half, the nature of conflict and crisis response has. [Video Below]
During the Gezi Park protests last month in Istanbul, Turks and Kurds dismissed historical mistrust and banded together against Prime Minister Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism. Some have suggested the newly unifying cause has strengthened momentum for a long-standing solution to Kurdish autonomy and rights in Turkey. Still it may be water that the fate of Kurdish ambitions is most tied to, rather than officials in Ankara or protestors in Istanbul.
Emmanuel Karagiannis: Mediterranean Oil and Gas Discoveries Could Change Regional Alignments, Global Energy Equation›
“The discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean comes at a time when world demand for energy is growing rapidly and many are questioning the reliability of supplies from North Africa and the Middle East,” said Emmanuel Karagiannis, assistant professor of Russian and post-Soviet politics at the University of Macedonia, in an interview at the Wilson Center.The newly-discovered fields contain about 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas reserves, 25 trillion of which are located within Israeli territorial waters. “That’s twice the reserves Libya has,” according to Karagiannis. The remaining fields have been claimed by the Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Syria, and Lebanon.
Europe currently depends on Russia for most of its gas supplies, so the new fields could provide an “important alternative source for European economies,” said Karagiannis.
The discovery also has the potential to increase stability in the region by serving as an incentive for nations to work together. “For example, Israel and Cyprus have come closer to each other in many respects, including military cooperation,” Karagiannis said. Greece and Israel have also strengthened their relationship, in part due to the historical relationship between Cyprus and Greece but also because the latter could serve as an energy hub to transport gas throughout Europe, he said. “In effect Israel, Greece, and Cyprus could form a new axis of stability in the region.”
“Turkey can also play a significant part in the business of transporting energy resources to Europe,” Karagiannis said, but Syria and Lebanon, the two other countries that lie adjacent to the newly discovered gas reserves, are less likely to benefit in the near future from the find, given their current political circumstances. “It’s very difficult to imagine their participation in the regional energy projects,” he said. Lebanon has tried and failed to sell offshore exploratory licenses twice due to its lack of a state petroleum administration, while the current uprising against President Bashar al-Assad is preventing any progress in Syria.
In part as a result of these political challenges, the gas fields also have the potential to generate conflict in the region. There will be a divide between “haves and have-nots,” explained Karagiannis. According to a report by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, “piping Israeli gas to the RoC [Republic of Cyprus] and then onto Turkey, which could be the gateway to the European market, is unlikely due to current tensions between Ankara, the RoC, and Tel Aviv.” Since the discovery of the fields, “Turkey has already issued military threats against Cyprus in order to stop the gas exploration process that is currently taking place in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone,” Karagiannis said. The Israeli government issued a response to the threat, stating that they are committed to protecting energy infrastructure in the region.
The first new natural gas field in the region is expected to begin full-scale production this year, with two additional fields coming on-line over the next six years.
Keenan Dillard is a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and an intern with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.
Sources: Institute for National Strategic Studies, Noble Energy Inc., Turkish Weekly, U.S. Geological Survey.
›Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), established by the UN to monitor progress towards this goal, has twice concluded (in 2008 and 2010) that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are in good shape to meet this target. However, a new article in Development and Change, “The Politics of Assessment: Water and Sanitation MDGs in the Middle East,” by Neda Zawahri, Jeannie Sowers, and Erika Weinthal, argues that the JMP’s “reliance on classifying ‘improved’ and ‘unimproved’ water and sanitation infrastructure, through infrequent household surveys, has produced misleading assessments that fail to capture the extensive water quality and sanitation problems plaguing the MENA.”
The authors compared the findings of the JMP with a variety of data sources – participatory assessments, reports from other UN agencies, donor projects, domestic ministries and agencies, and academic research – and found major contradictions between the progress reported by the JMP and the situation on the ground. In one example, the authors write that “while the JMP considers piped household water as an improvement in water coverage, it fails to differentiate between ‘full’ coverage and ‘partial’ coverage, that is, household water supplies available only a few hours a week.” And the authors point out that according to UN-Habitat, “the availability of piped water does not necessarily translate into safe drinking water, as water may become contaminated before it reaches the tap.”
As a result of the weakness of the indicators used by the JMP, household surveys conducted by the JMP in the MENA region “[do] not adequately capture the quality of drinking water,” the authors write, and efforts to address this inadequacy through more comprehensive testing of municipal water samples were deemed “too complex to be routinely employed through the world” and “prohibitively expensive.”
“International organizations and national leaderships in the MENA lack substantial incentives to adopt more accurate assessments for safe water and sanitation,” Zawahri et al. conclude. The need to generate comparable data across time and space has trumped the importance of “gauging access, quality, and affordability of water and sanitation.”
›October 13, 2011 // By Richard Cincotta
From a demographic perspective, the global distribution of intrastate conflicts is not what it used to be. During the latter half of the 20th century, the states with the most youthful populations (median age of 25.0 years or less) were consistently the most at risk of being engaged in civil or ethnoreligious conflict (circumstances where either ethnic or religious factors, or both, come into play). However, this tight relationship has loosened over the past decade, with the propensity of conflict rising significantly for countries with intermediate age structures (median age 25.1 to 35.0 years) and actually dipping for those with youthful age structures (see Figure 1 below).
›Middle East at the Crossroads” series takes a look at the most challenging population, health, environment, and security issues facing the region.
It doesn’t take much to get Israel and Lebanon at each other’s throats these days, given that the two neighbors engaged in a significant war in 2006. That conflict remains an open wound, as the two sides remain technically at war to this day. Periodic cross-border flare-ups — most recently over the cutting down of a tree on their shared border, which left one Israeli and three Lebanese dead — show neither side has to be pushed far to trigger an outbreak of violence.
In recent months, a new wrinkle — and a new source of potential conflict — has been added to bilateral relations, with the discovery of significant natural gas reserves under Mediterranean waters off both countries’ coasts. The find has sparked a scramble from Beirut and Jerusalem, as the two energy-hungry nations look to capitalize on the deposits and exploit the reserves. For both Israel and Lebanon, developing the natural gas potential of this swath of the eastern Mediterranean could augment energy supply, and even pave the way to a greener energy future. But fears of a military stand-off over the resource lurk just around the corner, given that much of the extractable natural gas in question lies under contested waters.
Maritime Border Undefined
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the recoverable amount of natural gas reserves, which lie in an area known as the Levant Basin Province, to be 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf). While not a huge find by global standards — the world consumed 110 tcf of natural gas in 2008 — the discovery is a potential game-changer in terms of the energy security of both Israel and Lebanon. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2007 Israel produced only four percent of the total energy it consumed, while Lebanon generated just three percent of the energy it used. With the natural gas bonanza, not only would the two countries become more self-sufficient in meeting their own domestic energy needs, there is also speculation they could even one day become natural gas exporters.
The question that is only now beginning to be addressed is who controls what. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, every coastal country has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that extends 200 miles off its shoreline. But in certain bodies of water, EEZ territorial claims have overlapped, with one of those areas disputed being the Mediterranean.
At this point, much of the known reserves appear to lie firmly in Israeli territorial waters, one of the reasons Israel has outpaced Lebanon in moving to drill for the resource. But Lebanese leaders — long concerned about the prospect of Israel infringing upon Lebanon’s sovereignty — have sounded the alarm, claiming that a substantial amount of the reserves may lie in Lebanese territorial waters. Further complicating matters is the fact that the two countries’ maritime border has remained unfixed since the end of the 2006 war, meaning that each country could have a legitimate claim that the other is trespassing on its sovereign territory in pursuit of the gas.
Hinting at a Physical Confrontation
The stakes appear high. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Ali Hamdan, an assistant to Lebanese Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, issued a strong-worded statement on potential Israeli drilling in disputed waters. “Lebanon fears that Israel, based on its history of occupying our lands and stealing our water, will drill in Lebanon’s waters and steal its natural resources,” Hamdan asserted. “Lebanon strongly warns Israel from drilling its natural gas. It will not tolerate violations of its sovereignty.”
In recent weeks, the Lebanese government has also taken steps to secure what it can, announcing plans to start doling out contracts for underwater exploration of the Levant Basin Province’s natural gas and oil reserves. Beirut is also putting together documents outlining what it considers to be the actual Israeli-Lebanese maritime border, which it plans to submit to the UN Security Council for consideration.
For its part, Israel has pledged that it will be drilling for natural gas only in waters under its control. At the same time, however, the country has refused to back down to Lebanese threats against its natural gas development activities and infrastructure, warning that it will not hesitate to meet force with force. The posturing reveals how strategically important the exploitation of the gas reserves is for both countries. With Lebanon’s population expected to grow by some 400,000 between 2010 and 2025, and Israel’s population projected to grow by 1.8 million in the same time period, there is an acute awareness in both Beirut and Jerusalem that energy demand will be rising in the near future.
A “Bridge Fuel” to a Cleaner Energy Future?
Despite the very real conflict potential of the new natural gas find, the presence of significant reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has also been the cause for limited optimism. In addition to helping ease the oil- and coal-dependence of Israel, Lebanon, and their neighbors, the heightened integration of natural gas into the region’s energy infrastructure may help substantially cut down on carbon emissions, since natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel. (In 2008, Israel and Lebanon pumped 70.21 metric tons and 14.37 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, respectively, owing largely to their heavy reliance on coal and petroleum.)
Natural gas is also a versatile energy source for electricity production that can be used by the region’s households, businesses, and factories alike. As a result, not only could natural gas’s rising profile in Israel and Lebanon’s respective energy portfolios help improve air quality, it could also accelerate the development of low-polluting, natural gas–fueled automobiles and public transit.
But even given such environmental benefits, the environmental picture is not all rosy. The underwater extraction of natural gas poses potentially severe risks to the maritime environment, one of the reasons that Israelis living in the northern part of the country have steadfastly opposed any potential drilling. (Another source of local residents’ concern has been that the physical infrastructure needed to harvest, store, and later distribute natural gas overland could prove a highly attractive target for Hezbollah-linked militants based in Lebanon.)
In the end, drilling for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean by both Israel and Lebanon will undoubtedly move forward. The real question is whether given the controversy already unleashed by the Levant Basin Province reserves, Israel and Lebanon will eventually find it in their own enlightened self-interests to strike an accord on developing the region’s natural gas — or instead unleash missiles to protect what they consider rightfully theirs.
Sources: Center for American Progress, Earth Times, National Public Radio, New York Times, Population Reference Bureau, U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Post, Yalibnan.com.
Photo Credit: “UNIFIL Vessel Patrols Lebanese Coast,” courtesy of flickr user United Nations Photo.
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