Center for Strategic Communication

Water security is an increasing concern for the Middle East, a region already starting to feel the most serious effects that water insecurity. In recognition of this, Jordan hosted an international conference with a goal of to suppressing the use of water as a tool of war. Traditionally, water has been a source of cooperation rather than conflict, but more recently water has become a target of non-state actors in their unconventional methods of waging war. While this phenomenon is growing, it is not unexpected: a US intelligence community assessment predicted that water would become a target of terrorism due to its high vulnerability.

The reports for the conference were done by the Strategic Foresight Group, a think tank with a focus on water diplomacy, and were specifically researching the effects of water insecurity in the Middle East and how to resolve them. As ASP has noted, the security of water is already closely linked with other security issues for the Middle East. Water security is particularly a problem for the Middle East because the region is water scarce, governments often lack the resources or commitment to resolve water security issues, and the presence of non-state actors creates vulnerabilities since water infrastructure is easy to contaminate or disrupt but difficult to maintain.

The reports, Water and Violence: Crisis of Survival in the Middle East and The Hydro-Insecure: Crisis of Survival in the Middle East, both highlighted the particular challenges for water security and how it impacts security in the region. Like climate change, water insecurity acts as a threat multiplier and serves to make conflicts with hard security concerns more likely. A key point for this is the ongoing conflict with the Islamic State, which came about after civil unrest that was linked to a four year drought in Syria from 2006-2010. Overall, the focus of the reports was to highlight that low levels of water security are closely connected to the low levels of development which serve to create the conditions that can lead to human security issues. Food insecurity, agricultural loss, migration, and demographic shifts are all closely linked with water security.

For the Middle East, these problems are not going to be resolved without serious improvements in the efficiency of irrigation, reforming agriculture, and using pricing to better incentivize efficient water usage. As Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a is expected to run out of water, the realities of the problems water insecurity causes are becoming more pressing. Climate change is also linked to water security, as the effects of climate change make the securing water more difficult due to problems such as water salinization, drought, etc. If the “hydro-insecure” nations of the Middle East fail to take action on water security, then we can expect to see further destabilization of a region which is already fraught with conflict.

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