Clear Gold: Water and Conflict in the Middle East

Clear Gold: Water and Conflict in the Middle East

The most likely source of political and social unrest in the Middle East over the next 20 years is not warfare or military coups -- it's water. Military threats get all the press, but water is the real game-changer.

It is no secret that the Middle East is water-starved. Of the 15 most water-poor countries in the world, 10 are in the Middle East. When King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud first brought geologists to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, they were there to look for water, not oil. What they found changed the kingdom, and changed the region.

Over the 20th century, wealth -- and water -- changed living patterns in the region dramatically. Populations flooded into cities from the countryside, abandoning grazing and subsistence agriculture. Vegetables began to make a regular appearance in daily diets, and meat consumption grew. Populations grew, too. Governments began to talk about food security, and established elaborate schemes to become self-sufficient in dietary staples such as wheat and dairy products. In time, farming accounted for upwards of 80 percent -- and in some cases, more than 90 percent -- of water use in desert countries.

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