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Oil and Water - Where Oil and Water Do Mix Environmental...

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Unformatted text preview: Where Oil and Water Do Mix: Environmental Scarcity and Future Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa JASON I. MORRISSE'ITE and DOUGLAS A. BORER "Many of the wars of the 20th century were about oil, but wars of the let century will be over water.” —Isamil Serageldin World Bank Vice President In the eyes of a future observer, what will characterize the political landscape of the Middle East and North Af- rica? Will the future mirror the past or, as suggested by the quote above, are significant changes on the horizon? In the past, struggles over territory, ideology, colonial- ism, nationalism, religion, and oil have defined the re- gion. While it is clear that many of those sources of conflict remain salient today, future war in the Middle East and North Africa also will be increasingly influenced by economic and demographic trends that do not bode well for the region. By 2025, world population is projected to reach eight billion.1 As a global figure, this number is troubling enough; however, over 90 percent of the pro- jected growth will take place in developing countries in which the vast majority of the population is dependent on local renewable resources. For instance, World Bank esti- mates place the present annual growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa at 1.9 percent versus a worldwide average of 1.4 percent.2 In most of these countries, these precious renewable resources are controlled by small seg- ments of the domestic political elite, leaving less and less to the majority of the population. As a result, if present population and economic trends continue, we project that many future conflicts throughout the region will be di- rectly linked to what academic researchers term "envi- ronmental scarcity" —the scarcity of renewable resources such as arable land, forests, and fresh water. The purpose of this article is twofold. In the first sec- tion, we conceptualize how environmental scarcity is linked to domestic political unrest and the subsequent cri- sis of domestic political legitimacy that may ultimately re- sult in conflict. We review the academic literature which suggests that competition over water is the key environ- mental variable that will play an increasing role in future domestic challenges to governments throughout the re- 58 gion. We then describe how these crises of domestic polit- ical legitimacy may result in both intrastate and interstate conflict. Even though the Middle East can generally be characterized as an arid climate, two great river systems, the Nile and the Tigris/Euphrates, serve to anchor the major population centers in the region. Conflict over the _ water of the Nile may someday come to pass between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia; while Turkey, Syria, and Iraq all are located along the Tigris] Euphrates watershed and compete for its resources. Further conflict over water may embroil Israel, Syria, and the Palestinians. Despite many existing predictions of war over water, we investigate the intriguing question: How have gov- ernments in the Middle East thus far avoided conflict over dwindling water supplies? In the second section of the article, we dismss the concept of “virtual water” and use this concept to illustrate the important linkages be- tween water usage and the global economy, showing how existing tangible water shortages have been amelio- rated by a combination of economic factors, which may or may not be sustainable into the future. Environmental Scarcity and Conflict: An Overview Mostafa Dolatyar and Tim Gray identify water re- sources as “the principal challenge for humanity from the early days of civilization/’4 The 1998 United Nations De- velopment Report estimates that almost a third of the 4.4 billion people currently living in the developing world have no access to clean water. The report goes on to note that the world’s population tripled in the 20th century, re sulting in a corresponding sixfold increase in the use 0 water resources. Moreover, infrastructure problems re lated to water supply abound in much of the developing world; the United Nations estimates that between 30 and 50 percent of the water presently diverted for irrigation purposes is lost through leaking pipes alone. in turn, roughly 20 countries in the developing world presently suffer from water stress (defined as having less than 1,000 cubic meters of available freshwater per capita), and 25 IUH more are expected to join that list by 2050.5 in response to these trends, the United Nations resolved in 2002 to re- duce by half the proportion of people in the developing world who are unable to reach—or afford—safe drinking water. In turn, numerous scholars in recent years have con- ceptualized water in security terms as a key strategic re- source in many regions of the world. Thomas Naff maintains that water scarcity holds significant potential for conflict in large part because it is fundamentally es- sential to life. Naff identifies six basic characteristics that distinguish water as a vital and potentially contentious resource. (1) Water is necessary for sustaining life arid has no substitute for human or animal use. (2) Both in terms of domestic and international policy, water issues are typ- ically addressed by policymakers in a piecemeal fashion rather than comprehensively. (3) Since countries typically feel compelled by security concerns to control the ground on or under which water flows, by its nature, water is also a terrain security issue. (4) Water issues are frequently perceived as zero-sum, as actors compete for the same limited water resources. (5) As a result of the competition for these limited resources, water presents a constant po- tential for conflict. (6) International law concerning water resources remains relatively "rudimentary" and "ineffec- tual."6 As these factors suggest, water is a particularly volatile strategic issue, especially when it is in severe shortage. Arguing that environmental concerns have gained prominence in the post-Cold War era, Alwyn R. Rouyer establishes a basic paradigm of contemporary environ- mental conflict. Rouyer argues that "rapid population growth, particularly in the developing world, is putting severe stress on the earth’s physical environment and thus creating a growing scarcity of renewable resources, including water, which in turn is precipitating violent civil and international conflict that will escalate in sever- ity as scarcity increases/’7 Rouyer goes on to assert that this potential conflict over scarce resources will likely be most disruptive in states with rapidly expanding popula- tions in which policymakers lack the political and eco- nomic capability to minimize environmental damage. "Almost a third of the 4.4 billion people currently living in the developing world have no access to clean water.” Security concerns linked fundamentally to environmen- tal scarcity are far from a contrivance of the post-Cold War era, however. Ulrich Kiiffner asserts that conflicts over wa- ter “have occurred between many countries in all climatic l“egions, but between countries in arid regions they ap- Pear to be unavoidable. Claims over water have led to se- l'ious tensions, to threats and counter threats, to hostilities, border clashes, and invasions."8 Moreover, as Miriam Lowi notes, "Well before the emergence of the na- 59 Article 8. Where Oil and Water Do Mlx tion-state, the arbitrary political division of a unitary river basin led to problems regarding the interests of the states and / or communities located within the basin and the manner in which conflicting interests should be re. solved.”9 Lowi fundamentally frames the issue of water scarcity in terms of a dilemma of collective action and failed cooperation—the archetypal "Tragedy of the Com- mon”—in which communal resources are abused by the greediness of individuals. In many regions of the world, the international agreements and coordinating institu- tions necessary to lower the likelihood of conflict over water are either inadequate or altogether nonexistent.10 Thomas Homer-Dixon argues that the environmental resource scarcity that potentially results in conflict, in- cluding water scarcity, fundamentally derives from one of three sources. The first, supply-induced scarcity, is caused when a resource is either degraded (for example, when cropland becomes unproductive due to overuse) or depleted (for example, when cropland is converted into suburban housing). Throughout most of the Middle East and North Africa countries, both environmental and re- source degradation and depletion are of relevant concern. For instance, many of these countries face significant de- creases in the agricultural productivity of their arable soil as a result of ongoing trends of desertification, soil ero- sion, and pollution. This problem is coupled with the con- tinued loss of croplands to urbanization, as rural dwellers move to cities in search of employment and opportunity. The second source of environmental scarcity, demand-in- duced scarcity, is caused by either an increase in per-capita consumption or by simple population growth. If the sup- ply remains constant, and demand increases by existing users consuming more, or more users each consuming the same amount, eventually scarcity will result as de- mand overtakes supply. The third type of environmental scarcity is known as structural scarcity, a phenomenon that results when resource supplies are unequally distrib- uted. In this case the "haves" in any given society gener- ally control and consume an inordinate amount of the existing supply, which results in the more numerous “have-nets" experiencing the scarcity.11 These three sources of scarcity routinely overlap and interact in two common patterns: "resource capture” and ecological marginalization. Resource capture occurs when both demand-induced and supply-induced scarci- ties interact to produce structural scarcity. In this pattern, powerful groups within society foresee future shortages and act to ensure the protection of their vested interests by using their control of state structures to capture con- trol of a valuable resource. An example of this pattern oc- curred in Mauritania (one of Algeria’s neighbors) in the 19705 and 19805 when the countries bordering the Sene- gal River built a series of dams to boost agricultural pro- duction. As a result of the new dams, the value of land adjacent to the river rapidly increased—an economic de- velopment that motivated Mauritanian Moors to aban- don their traditional vocation as cattle grazers located in ANNUAL EDITIONS the arid land in the north and, instead, to migrate south onto lands next to the river. However, black Mauritanians already occupied the land on the river’s edge. As a result, the Moorish political elite that controlled the Mauritanian government rewrote the legislation on citizenship and land rights to effectively block black Mauritanians from land ownership. By declaring blacks as non-citizens, the Islamic Moors managed to capture the land through nominally legal (structural) means. As a result, high lev- els of violence later arose between Mauritania and Sene- gal, where hundreds of thousands of the black Mauritanians had become refugees after being driven from their land.12 The second pattern, ecological marginalization, occurs when demand-induced and structural scarcities interact in a way that results in supply-induced scarcity. An ex- ample of this pattern comes from the Philippines, a coun- try whose agricultural lands traditionally have been controlled by a small group of dominant landowners who, prior to the election of former President Estrada, have controlled Filipino politics since colonial times. Pop- ulation growth in the 19605 and 19705 forced many poor peasants to settle in the marginal soils of the upland inte- rior. This more mountainous land could not sustain the lowland slash-and-burn farming practices that they brought with them. As a result, the Philippines suffered serious ecological damage in the form of water pollution, soil erosion, landslides, and changes in the hydrological cycle that led to further hardship for the peasantry as the land's capacity shrunk. As a result of their economic mar- ginalization, many upland peasants became increasingly susceptible to the revolutionary rhetoric promoted by the commtmist-led New People’s Army, or they supported the "People Power” movement that ousted US—backed Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986.13 Thus, as shown in the Philippines, social pressures cre- ated by environmental scarcity can have a direct influence on the ruling legitimacy of the state, and may cause state power to crumble. Indeed, reductions in agricultural and economic production can produce objective soda-economic hardship; however, deprivation does not necessarily pro- duce grievances against the government that result in se- rious domestic unrest or rebellion. One can look at the relative stability in famine-stricken North Korea as a poi- gnant example of a polity whose citizens have suffered widespread physical deprivation under policies of the ex- isting regime, but who are unwilling or unable to risk their lives to challenge the state. This phenomenon is partly explained by conflict theo- rists who argue that individuals and groups have feelings of "relative deprivation” when they perceive a gap be- tween what they believe they deserve and what in reality they actually have achieved.14 In other words, can a gov- ernment meet the expectations of the masses enough to avoid conflict? For example, in North Korea—a regime that tightly controls the information that its people re- ceive—many people understand that they are suffering, 60 but they may not know precisely how much they are suf- fering relative to others, such as their brethren in the South. The North Korean government indoctrinates its people to expect little other than hardship, which in turn it blames on outside enemies of the state. Thus, the people of North Korea have very low expectations, which their government has been able to meet. More important, then, is the question of whom do the people perceive as being responsible for their plight? If the answer is the people's own govemment—whether as a result of supply-in- duced, demand-induced, or structural resource scar~ city—then social discord and rebellion are more likely to result in intrastate conflict, as citizens challenge the ruling legitimacy of the state itself. If the answer is someone else's government, then interstate conflict may result. On numerous occasions, history has shown that gov~ emments whose people are suffering can remain in power for long periods of time b pointing to external sources for the people's hardship. 5 As noted above re- garding political legitimacy, perception is politically more important than any standard of objective truth. 6 When faced with a crisis of legitimacy derived from envi- ronmental resource scarcity, any political regime essen- tially has a choice of two options in dealing with the situation. The regime may choose temporarily not to re- spond to looming challenges to its authority because wa- ter-induced stress may in fact pass when sufficient heavy rainfall occurs. However, most regimes in the Middle East and North Africa have sought more proactive ways to ensure their survival. Indeed, a people might forgive its government for one drought, but if governmental ac- tion is not taken, a subsequent drought-induced crisis of legitimacy could result in significant social upheaval by an unforgiving public. Furthermore, if the government it- self is perceived to be the direct source of the scarcity— through structural arrangements, resource capture, or other means—these trends of social unrest are likely to be exacerbated. Thus, in order to survive, most states have developed policies to increase their water supplies and to address issues of environmental scarcity. The problem with doing so throughout most of the Middle East and North Africa, however, is that increasing supply in one state often creates environmental scarcity problems in an- other. If Turkey builds dams, Iraq and Syria are vulnera- ble; if Ethiopia or the Sudan builds dams, Egypt feels threatened. Thus far, interstate water problems leading to war have been avoided due to the economic interplay be— tween oil wealth and the importation of "virtual water," which will be discussed at greater length below. As noted above, resource scarcity issues centered on water are particularly prominent in the Middle East and North Africa. Ewan Anderson notes that resource geopol- itics in the Middle East “has long been dominated by one liquid—oil. However, another liquid, water, is now rec- ognized as the fundamental political weapon in the re- gion."17 Ecologically speaking, water scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa results from four primary causes: fundamentally dry climatic conditions, drought, desiccation (the degradation of land due to the drying up of the soil), and water stress (the low availability of water resulting from a growing population).18 These resource scarcity problems are exacerbated in the Middle East by such factors as poor water quality and inadequate—and, at times, purposefully discriminatory—resource plan- ning. As a result of these ecological and political trends, Nurit Kliot states, "water, not oil, threatens the renewal of military conflicts and social and economic disruptions" in the Middle East.19 In the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Alwyn Rouyer suggests that "water has become insepa- rable from land, ideology, and religious prophecy.”20 Martin Sherman echoes these sentiments in the following passage, describing specifically the Arab-Israeli conflict: In recent years, particularly since the late 19805, water has become increasingly dominant as a bone of contention between the two sides. More than one Arab leader, including those considered to be among the most moderate, such as King Hussein of Jordan and former UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, have warned ex- plicitly that water is the issue most liker to become the cause of a future Israeli-Arab war.2 "Water is a particularly volatile strategic issue, especially when it‘is in severe shortage.” While Jochen Renger contends that a conflict waged explicitly over water may not lie on the immediate hori- zon, he notes that "it is like] that water might be used as leverage during a conflict.” As a result of such geopolit- ical trends, managing these water resources in the Middle East and North Africa—and, in turn, managing the con- flict over these resources—should be considered a pri- mary concern of both scholars and policymakers. Keeping the Peace: The Importance of Virtual Water The warning signals that war over water may replace war over oil and other traditional sources of conflict are very real in recent history. Yet, for more than 25 years, de- Spite increasing demand, water has not been the primary cause of war in the Middle East and North Africa. The scenarios outlined in the section above have yet to fully address the fundamental questions of why and how gov- ernments in the region have thus far avoided major inter- state conflict over water. In order to understand the likelihood of war, we must address the foundation of the past peace, testing whether or not this foundation re- mains strong for the foreseeable future. How have the governments of the region been able to avoid the appar- ently inevitable consequences of conflict that derive from the interlinked problems of water deficits, population 61 Article 8. Where Oil and Water Do Mix growth, and weak economic performance? In this section of the article, we turn our attention to the important link- ages between water usage and the global economy, show- ing how existing water shortages have been a...
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