by Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, May 8, 2015
A ranking Iranian political figure, Issa Kalantari, recently warned that past mistakes leave Iran with water supplies so insufficient that up to 70 percent, or 55 million out of 78 million Iranians, would be forced to abandon their native country for parts unknown.
Many facts buttress Kalantari’s apocalyptic prediction: Once lauded in poetry, Lake Urmia, the Middle East’s largest lake, has lost 95 percent of its water since 1996, going from 31 billion cubic meters to 1.5 billion. What the Seine is to Paris, the Zayanderud was to Isfahan — except the latter went bone-dry in 2010. Over two-thirds of Iran’s cities and towns are “on the verge of a water crisis” that could result in drinking water shortages; already, thousands of villages depend on water tankers. Unprecedented dust storms disrupt economic activity and damage health.
Lake Urmia in Iran has lost 95 percent of its water in recent decades.
Nor are Iranians alone in peril; many others in the arid Middle East may also be forced into unwanted, penurious, desperate exile. With a unique, magnificent exception, much of the Middle East is running out of water due to such maladies as population growth, short-sighted dictators, distorted economic incentives, and infrastructure-destroying warfare. Some specifics:
Egypt: Rising sea levels threaten not only to submerge the country’s coastal cities (including Alexandria, population 4 million) but also to contaminate the Nile Delta aquifer, one of the world’s largest groundwater reservoirs. The Ethiopian government finally woke to the hydraulic potential of the Blue Nile that originates in its country and is building massive dams that may severely reduce the flow of river water reaching Egypt (and Sudan).
Gaza: In what’s called a “hydrological nightmare,” seawater intrusion and the leakage of sewage has made 95 percent of the coastal aquifer unfit for human consumption.
Yemen: Oil remittances permit Yemenis to indulge more heavily than ever before in chewing qat, a leaf whose bushes absorb far more water than the food plants they replaced. Drinking water “is down to less than one quart per person per day” in many mountainous areas, reports water specialist Gerhard Lichtenthaeler. Specialist Ilan Wulfsohn writes that Sana’a “may become the first capital city in the world to run out of water.”
Three Yemenis chewing qat.
Syria: The Syrian government wasted $15 billion on failed irrigation projects in 1988-2000. Between 2002 and 2008, nearly all the 420,000 illegal wells went dry, total water resources dropped by half, as did grain output, causing 250,000 farmers to abandon their land. By 2009, water problems had cost more than 800,000 jobs. By 2010, in the hinterland of Raqqa, now the Islamic State’s capital, the New York Times reports, “Ancient irrigation systems have collapsed, underground water sources have run dry and hundreds of villages have been abandoned as farmlands turn to cracked desert and grazing animals die off.”
Iraq: Experts foresee the Euphrates …read more