A glass half-full in the Holy Land

Posted on Feb 18 2014 - 8:20am by Orion Wilcox

Thinking about the causes of the Middle East’s seemingly perpetual state of conflict usually brings to mind a familiar array of buzzwords including sectarianism, religious fundamentalism, and petro-dollar dictatorship. In the past few years a new catch phrase has begun to take over the discussion: water scarcity. There is no doubt that the region faces an H20 crisis, the causes of which are multifaceted. Political tension, antiquated infrastructure and a rapidly growing population have all played a role in sucking the parched region even dryer. To make things worse, pollution and a changing climate has diminished already insufficient reserves.

At least one columnist believes that in the face of this crisis, the Arab states salvation may lie in their most abhorred enemy, Israel. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Seth Siegel argues that Israel can lead the way to a sustainable solution to the impending water crisis and perhaps achieve the chimera of Middle East peace in the process. According to Siegel, Israel “shares the same problems of climate and desertification as its neighbors, but it has mastered the management of water resources, such that it can endure periodic droughts while supporting a growing population. Its water management can not only be a model but can even reduce regional tensions.”

While there is no doubt that Israel is an innovative country when it comes to water issues, Siegel’s argument ignores a number of facts. Israel, currently occupying the West Bank and Gaza, has adopted a set of policies that deprive Palestinians of water rights and directly exacerbate the water crises of neighboring countries such as Jordan and Egypt. The National Water Carrier, an Israeli project completed in 1964, diverts seventy-five percent of the Jordan River for Israeli use, while Israeli policies ban Palestinians from using the river which forms the entire Eastern border of the West Bank.

According to the World Health Organization, the minimum daily standard for water consumption per person is one hundred liters. Palestinians currently consume around eighty liters per day, while Israelis use over two-hundred and fifty liters and Israeli settlers consume nearly six-hundred liters per person daily. In addition to innovation and genuinely smart water usage practices, another reason why Israel has been able to succeed in “turning the desert green” is that it is egregiously stealing water from its neighbors.

Solving the Middle East water crisis will require political will, technological innovation and changes in lifestyle by all the parties involved. Surely the Arab states can learn from Israel in many of these areas. That being said it is difficult to listen to someone extol the importance of the proper use of your water resources while they steal it by the gallon right out of your faucet.

Orion Wilcox is a senior economics major from Bay St. Louis.