Water… it’s the other wet stuff.
Coleridge’s ancient mariner famously intoned:
Water, water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.
Inhabitants of California are increasingly becoming aware of the perils of drought. Will their raised consciousness leads to consequential action? It remains to be seen.
Yet, California is not alone. The Middle East, Daniel Pipes reports, is fast running out of water. While we tend to focus on the petroleum that many—but certainly not all-- of the region’s nations have in plentiful supply, we ignore the fact that it is suffering a severe drought that might force tens of millions of people to migrate.
Few people pay much attention to such stories. We all should.
For example, Pipes writes:
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.
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.
The one exception to this rule: Israel.
In this as in many other situations Israel is the solution not the problem in the Middle East:
Israel provides the sole exception to this regional tale of woe. It too, as recently as the 1990s, suffered water shortages; but now, thanks to a combination of conservation, recycling, innovative agricultural techniques, and high-tech desalination, the country is awash in H2O (Israel's Water Authority: "We have all the water we need"). I find particularly striking that Israel can desalinate about 17 liters of water for one U.S. penny; and that it recycles about five times more water than does second-ranked Spain.
In other words, the looming drought-driven upheaval of populations – probably the very worst of the region's many profound problems – can be solved, with brainpower and political maturity. Desperate neighbors might think about ending their futile state of war with the world's hydraulic superpower and instead learn from it.
As the old saying goes: desperate times call for desperate measures.