Morning Brief

Why water management might become a linchpin for security and peacebuilding in the Middle East?

Equal access to water resources might bring cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbours or turn them apart.
Published by
Central Office
on May 24, 2022
on May 24, 2022
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Image of limited Palestinian access to drinking water

In the Middle East, water is not only a limited natural resource but, given its scarcity, can become a powerful geopolitical tool, one that can bound nations together or turn them apart (Cammett, 2015, pp. 226-227). Internally, water is the foundation of a domestic policy of re-energizing the agricultural sector as many countries in the region started to emphasize the need for food self-sufficiency (Cammett, 2015, p. 208). Externally, water has become a sensitive issue in peacebuilding as more regional and bilateral agreements have begun to include in their preamble a protocol on the fair share of regional water resources as seen by the 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan and the 1995 Oslo II Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Cammett, 2015, pp. 226-227) (PODCAST, `Water, Peace, and the Middle East`).

In the Middle East, oil and water are economically correlated with strong political implications. Let`s start from this: most of the Middle East is scarce in water but abundant in other natural resources such as oil (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq) and gas (Qatar, Iran) (MacQueen, 2018, p. 171) (MacQueen, 2018, pp. 182-183). These natural resources abundance made these states become over reliant on oil or gas, pushing them towards a `resources curse` or the` Dutch disease` when the economic development of a specific sector (here oil and gas industries) brings a decline in other sectors (like the manufacturing sector or agriculture) (Cammett, 2015, p. 202) (MacQueen, 2018, p. 184). The agriculture sector is a case in point. After the considerable food gap of the 1970s when food demand exceeded supply following an increase in per capita GDP caused by both a population boom and oil rents increase, between 1980s-1990s the regional governments looked forward to narrowing the gap and preventing future such scenarios by investing in agriculture production and programs dedicated to increasing the domestic supply (Cammett, 2015, pp. 201-203). For these governments, the excess of food demand unbalanced by a domestic supply caused by years of lacking investments in agriculture and investment tax policies in this sector, made their nations dependent on foreign food imports, and therefore vulnerable to political (political-motivated economic coercion) and economic (price volatility on the market) shocks (Cammett, 2015, pp. 201-203) (Cammett, 2015, p. 205). This is where the economic importance of water is emphasized. Following the Egyptian model and recognizing the scarcity of water and its importance in boosting the domestic agriculture production to reduce imports, the states in the Middle East have invested in irrigation systems to increase water efficiency on the assertion that more can be achieved with less water (Cammett, 2015, p. 205) (Cammett, 2015, p. 222) (Mo Li, 2020). This made water an important geoeconomics and geopolitical tool in international affairs, even more so as many countries depend on the water supply that is not located within their national territories, but inside the sovereign space of another (Cammett, 2015, p. 218) (Cammett, 2015, p. 226). Given its importance in agriculture and food self-sufficiency strategies, water may be regarded as a national security issue. Being perceived as such, water became present within the terms of many peace processes, as was the case with the 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan and the 1995 Oslo II agreement which established the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC) as part of a new emphasis on the importance of water security in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a more equitable water distribution (Cammett, 2015, pp. 226-227) (PODCAST, `Water, Peace, and the Middle East`).

The scarcity and economic value of water in the Middle East create a matrix of interconnected issues. Because it is a limited natural resource, water has been distributed more towards urban households for consumption and away from the agriculture sector (Cammett, 2015, pp. 222-223). This creates a trade-off with both a political and economic impact. Politically, this water management strategy alienates the farmers, an important social group in future elections (Cammett, 2015, pp. 222-223). Economically, distributing water resources more to household consumption and less to agriculture will decrease domestic agriculture production, increase imports and therefore the risks of being over reliant on foreign supply, while distributing the financial resources towards complex irrigation systems (Cammett, 2015, pp. 222-223) (Cammett, 2015, p. 208) (Cammett, 2015, p. 205) (Cammett, 2015, pp. 201-203). Therefore, water became a national security issue without which no peace process can be concluded. But, as both environmental and political activists would like to point out, it is not sufficient only to address its importance in international treaties but bring more equity than the already established Israel-dominated Israeli-Palestinian JWC and go beyond the Israeli-Jordanian water agreement that for decades has not responded to the environmental disaster of the Jordan river (PODCAST, `Water, Peace, and the Middle East`).



Bromberg, G. (2019, 22 december). Water, peace and the Middle east: Part 1. In: what about water? with Jay Famiglietti. Earth Sciences. Geraadpleegd op 6 december 2021,

Bromberg, G. (2019, 22 december). Water, peace and the Middle east: Part 2 In: what about water? with Jay Famiglietti. Earth Sciences. Geraadpleegd op 6 december 2021, van

Cammett, M., Diwan, I., Richards, A., & Waterbury, J. (2015). A Political Economy of the Middle East (4th ed.). Routledge.

Li Mo, Yaowen Xu, Qiang Fu, Vijay P. Singh, Dong Liu, Tianxiao Li, Efficient irrigation water allocation and its impact on agricultural sustainability and water scarcity under uncertainty, Journal of Hydrology, volume 586, July 2020, (Links to an external site.)

Macqueen, Benjamin, An Introduction to Middle East Politics, CHAPTER 6: Oil, Economy, and Development in the Middle East, Sage Publications Ltd, second edition, 2018.

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