Running dry

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Aug 25 08:40:27 MDT 2002

NY Times, Aug. 25, 2002

In Race to Tap the Euphrates, the Upper Hand Is Upstream

TELL AL-SAMEN, Syria -- The Euphrates River is close by, but the water
does not reach Abdelrazak al-Aween. Here at the heart of the fertile
crescent, he stares at dry fields.

The Syrian government has promised water for Mr. Aween's tiny village.
But upstream, in Turkey, and downstream, in Iraq, similar promises are
being made. They add up to more water than the Euphrates holds.

So instead of irrigating his cotton and sugar beets, Mr. Aween must
siphon drinking and washing water from a ditch 40 minutes away by
tractor ride. Just across the border, meanwhile, Ahmet Demir, a Turkish
farmer, stands ankle deep in mud, his crops soaking up all the water
they need.

It was here in ancient Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago, that the
last all-out war over water was fought, between rival city-states in
what is now southern Iraq. Now, across a widening swath of the world,
more and more people are vying for less and less water, in conflicts
more rancorous by the day.

 From the searing plains of Mesopotamia to the steadily expanding
deserts of northern China to the cotton fields of northwest Texas, the
struggle for water is igniting social, economic and political tensions.

The World Bank has said dwindling water supplies will be a major factor
inhibiting economic growth, a subject being discussed at a weeklong
international conference in South Africa starting Monday about balancing
use of the world's resources against its economic needs.

Global warming, some experts suspect, may be adding to the strain.
Droughts may be extended in already dry regions, including parts of the
United States, even as wetter areas tend toward calamitous downpours and
floods like those ravaging Europe and Asia this summer. In general, the
world's climate may be more prone to extremes, with too much water in
some areas and far too little in others.

Both the United Nations and the National Intelligence Council, an
advisory group to the Central Intelligence Agency, have warned that the
competition for water is likely to worsen. "As countries press against
the limits of available water between now and 2015, the possibility of
conflict will increase," the National Intelligence Council warned in a
report last year.

By 2015, according to estimates from the United Nations and the United
States government, at least 40 percent of the world's population, or
about three billion people, will live in countries where it is difficult
or impossible to get enough water to satisfy basic needs.

"The signs of unsustainability are widespread and spreading," said
Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project in Amherst,
Mass. "If we're to have any hope of satisfying the food and water needs
of the world's people in the years ahead, we will need a fundamental
shift in how we use and manage water."

An inescapable fact about the world's water supply is that it is finite.
Less than 1 percent of it is fresh water that can be used for drinking
or agriculture, and demand for that water is rising.

Over the last 70 years, the world's population has tripled while water
demand has increased sixfold, causing increasing strain especially in
heavily populated areas where water is distant, is being depleted or is
simply too polluted to use.

Already, a little more than half of the world's available fresh water is
being used each year, according to one rough but generally accepted
estimate. That fraction could climb to 74 percent by 2025 based on
population growth alone, and would hit 90 percent if people everywhere
used as much water as the average American, one of the world's most
gluttonous water consumers.

Water tables are falling on every continent, and experts warn that the
situation is expected to worsen significantly in years to come. On top
of the shortages that already exist, the outlook adds to the tensions
and uncertainty for countries that share water sources, like Turkey and
Syria, where Mr. Aween is among those still waiting and hoping for the
Euphrates to be brought to his door.



Louis Proyect

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