Middle East Conflict
Middle East (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
The geographical region of the world known as the Middle East encompasses countries and climatic zones of several continents, including parts of western Asia and the north and northeast coasts of Africa. Its marine boundaries are shared by the Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, and Red seas, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. The sovereign polities that make up the Middle East include but are not limited to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
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Desertification (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Desertification has increased in a number of places in the Middle East as a result of the combination of climatic change and poor human management of resources, including deforestation (which may be done in ignorance, out of desperation, or even deliberately owing to political instability, as in the burning of pine forests in the Levant as acts of terrorism and war) and wind erosion of soil caused by overgrazing of livestock. Based on satellite date collected between 1979 and 2005, some climate change in the region has been verified as natural, especially where possible expansion of the Tropics by 1 degree of latitude over twenty-five years—about 129 kilometers (80 miles)—resulted in increasing droughts and widespread fires and desertification owing to jet stream movements toward both poles, making places such as the northern Middle East susceptible to even dryer conditions.
It is unknown how much of the increased desertification is human-induced or the result of natural climatic variation. It is well known that the planting of pine forests in Israel from the 1960’s onward not only resulted in several hundred million pine trees in large forested tracts, mostly Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) and Turkish pine (Pinus brutia), but also increased rainfall from orographic precipitation where normally rising windborne water vapor from Mediterranean evaporation was cooled by the forests. Precipitation from...
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Water Rights (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Because of the region’s aridity, many states of the Middle East are dependent on imported water. Some, including Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, and Israel, are dependent on external suppliers for more than 50 percent of their water, and many of the states in the Middle East import more than 25 percent of all the water they use.
Disputes over water rights in the Middle East are often acrimonious. Some watersheds, such as that of the Jordan River, are shared by multiple stakeholders whose diplomatic relationships have always been strained even without considerations of who owns the water rights or disputes over how to partition water supplies—whether by population, rainfall, commercial agricultural needs, or other political constraints.
Since 1990 war in the region has also had impacts on the hydrology of the Tigris-Euphrates basin. In Iraq alone in 1990, the Gulf War resulted in great damage to the water-supply system, and this was compounded in 2003 during the Iraq War, when the Shatt al Arab waterways near Basra in the south of Iraq were a major military target. Iraqi hydrology was subsequently destabilized by continued insurgencies and regional strife between Shia and Sunni factions and terrorism. From 1990 onward in Iraq eight major dams were destroyed or their watersheds polluted, and more than twenty-eight municipal water management facilities were destroyed. The hydrological infrastructure of Iraq...
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Solar Power (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Much of the energy used in the Middle East depends on the petroleum that is abundant in the region, but because this fossil-fuel resource is finite in supply and is also a significant source of pollution, great incentives exist for Middle Eastern nations to reduce this dependence. Because the Middle East has many cloudless days per year, the region has substantial potential for the development of solar power. In January, 2010, during the launching of a major national initiative for solar power development, Saudi Arabia’s petroleum and mineral resources minister, Ali Al-Naimi, stated that the nation plans to export as much solar energy to the world in the future as it has exported oil in the past.
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Desalination (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Because the Middle East is so dependent on imported water, removing salt from seawater has been an important priority in the region for decades. The task of increasing supplies of fresh water through desalination is complicated by two major environmental issues: the high salinity of the water available for desalination and the large amounts of energy needed to operate desalination plants. Because they are surrounded by evaporitic basins where most of the water is lost to vapor before it can become precipitation, the bodies of water adjacent to Middle Eastern nations are among the highest salt-bearing waters in the world, with an average salinity of 41,000 ppm (parts per million) in the Red Sea and 38,000 ppm in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, meaning that salt content is about 4.1 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively. Fossil fuels are often used to generate the electricity needed to run desalination plants, but because the burning of these fuels contributes to pollution, attempts are ongoing to implement the use of wind or solar energy in such plants.
The Middle East produces 75 percent of global water desalination. In 2010 Saudi Arabia—the world’s largest producer of desalinated water—was operating thirty desalination plants supplying 70 percent of national drinking-water needs for a population of some 29 million. Israel is also a high-tech leader in desalination, producing a volume of 100 million cubic meters (3.5...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Allan, J. A. The Middle East Water Question: Hydropolitics and the Global Economy. London: I. B. Tauris, 2001.
Braverman, Irus. Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Fu, Qiang, et al. “Enhanced Mid-latitude Tropospheric Warming in Satellite Measurements.” Science 312 (May 26, 2006): 1179.
Ghafour, P. K. Abdul . “Solar Energy Initiative Launched.” Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia), January 25, 2010.
Issar, Arie S., and Mattanyah Zohar. Climate Change: Environment and Civilization in the Middle East. New York: Springer, 2004.
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Middle East Conflict
Background (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The Middle East comprises the sovereign states of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as those states along the Persian Gulf north of the Indian Ocean. Political definitions of the Middle East normally include the states of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran and the quasi-state territories of Palestine. These nations often act as a geopolitical bloc, because many of them are unified by their interests in the global oil market and their largely Muslim populations. The region is more than 92 percent Muslim, and it contains over 60 percent of known global oil reserves, as well as over 40 percent of natural gas reserves.
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Petroleum Production (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Middle Eastern oil reserves from both conventional and unconventional sources combined are estimated at over 750 billion barrels. In 2008, the Middle East supplied over 60 percent of all global oil production. Middle Eastern oil reserves may be divided into three categories, in a formula known as 3P: what is provable, what is probable, and what is possible. These are all based on measurable analytic estimates and hypotheses or directly known from instruments used in petroleum exploration.
Saudi Arabia is arguably the most progressive state in the Middle East in the sense that it has declared a long-term goal of preparing for a future without oil. This plan requires Saudi Arabian society to be restructured to find alternative sources of economic wealth and diversification to replace lost oil revenues. The Saudis seek to become self-sufficient in their ability to provide themselves with food and water, among other resources. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia remains the largest oil producer in the world, producing over 10 million barrels per day, 12 percent of global output.
Climate change represents a significant threat to the peoples and nations of the Middle East. Warming in the region would be likely to spread desertification, and the already marginal vegetation cover would become even more threatened. Ironically, much of the regional Middle Eastern economy is overwhelmingly dependent on oil production, which is seen as...
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Water Desalination (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The peoples of the arid Middle East have been working for decades on increasing freshwater supplies by developingdesalination technology. The Middle East accounts for 75 percent of global water desalination. Saudi Arabia—the world’s largest producer of desalinated water—has thirty desalination plants that supply 70 percent of national drinking water needs for a 2009 population of 29 million people, although this population is increasing. The Red Sea facility at Shoaiba, for example, a multiflash distillation operation, uses intense hot steam from a local power plant to boil out the salts from water. Its estimated freshwater production is 150 million cubic meters for 2009 and 3 billion cubic meters by 2012.
Israel is also a high-tech leader in desalination, with a volume of 100 million cubic meters of freshwater produced in 2006 at the Israeli Ashkelon desalination facility alone, which uses seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) technology. This facility, the world’s largest SWRO operation, provides 13 percent of Israel’s domestic water needs. Overall, the world’s largest multiflash distillation operation is at Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates, which produces 300 million cubic meters of freshwater per year from the Persian Gulf.
If the Middle East could increase its collective water desalination efforts by 1,000 percent, it could theoretically produce enough freshwater to alter the region’s climate....
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Water Rights (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Gudea of Lagash, ruler of Neo-Sumeria circa 2100 b.c.e., made a statement four millennia ago that may resonate during the twenty-first century: “He who controls water controls life.” This statement is increasingly true in the Middle East, where marginal water sources are increasingly sources of conflict and the United Nations is encountering increasing difficulties in mediating disputes.
Sovereign Middle Eastern states involved in water rights disputes include Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, where mountain ranges of the Amana and Hermon Mountains and the Golan Heights lie in the territories of multiple countries. The Amana Mountains are primarily in Lebanon, but their Mediterranean coastal rain shadow extends to Syria. The Hermon Mountain massif is shared between Syria and Israel. The contested Golan Heights are shared between Israel and Syria.
TheJordan River watershed, issuing from the Sea of Galilee, has become a highly charged geopolitical battleground: Jordan has long claimed that the technologically adept Israel supports its agricultural needs by siphoning off at least 70 percent of the watershed above the Jordanian border, leaving little water for Jordan’s own agriculture and reducing its potential self-sustenance while increasing its need to import food. If climate change renders the Middle East increasingly arid, water rights will become an even more acrimonious issue, potentially further destabilizing...
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Potential Reforestation (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Portions of the eastern Mediterranean landscapes of the Levant now composing Israel were covered in antiquity by dense forests that were lost over time. Palynological studies of remnant pollen verify that this ancient hill forest comprised oak and other hardwoods, among other species. Photographs from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries show, however, that the coastal hills were completely denuded of trees in an arid landscape. Systematic, extensive planting of thousands of hardy pine trees, mostly fast-growing Aleppo pines acclimated to aridity, began in Israel in the 1950’s.
Meteorological records kept since 1948 show that the annual average Israeli rainfall in the 1950’s was around 25 to 30 centimeters. As the new pine forests matured, they cooled the surrounding air and mitigated surface temperatures, drastically altering rainfall. Moisture-laden air off the Mediterranean had previously risen over these hot hills and kept going, since the dew point was too high to cause precipitation. With cooler temperatures from forest cover, there was marked increase in orographic precipitation at lower elevations, as the dew point lowered significantly. Thus, rainfall in Israel increased dramatically over the fifty years between 1950 and 2000, reaching around 1 meter annually. This reforestation practice is thus now known to be effective and could potentially change microclimates all over the Middle East,...
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Solar Energy (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Middle Eastern states such as Saudi Arabia and Israel are pioneering solar energy research and experimental projects. The amount of sunlight in the Middle East exceeds that of most other global regions, so solar energy has an extremely high potential there. Near Ashdod and in the Negev area, for example, where 330 sunny days per year are normal, Israel has planned or is building some of the world’s most progressive solar energy facilities, with many hectares of solar collectors placed on solar “farms,” some using rotating dishes made from mirrors. One Negev site alone is expected to cover 400 hectares when completed in 2012.
Rotating-mirror solar collection can harness 75 percent of incoming sunlight, which is about five times the proportion harvestable using traditional solar panels. The technology also reduces the quantity of photovoltaic cells needed by a factor of about one thousand. Israel is planning to produce about 65 percent of its energy by such means within twenty years. Saudi Arabia also has comparable technology and goals, embodied in its Saudi Solar Village Project, where model solar villages have solar units that use Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight. This renewable solar energy source has great potential to reduce dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels and also to power desalination for agricultural needs.
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Context (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The Middle East is not only a geographic but also a geopolitical bloc that often operates on ideological commonalities reinforced by shared language, culture, and religion. It is predominantly Arabic in language and Islamic in culture. Additionally, its shared climate zone is overwhelmingly arid, bordering on desert, with overall annual precipitation under 20.8 centimeters. Only Lebanon and parts of Syria exceed this annual precipitation average and usually by only a small margin.
The arid Middle East as a geographic and geopolitical unit will be highly influenced by any increased global warming, because it is already under climatic stress. That the region contains a majority of the world’s known petroleum reserves only complicates this economic and climatic problem, because its economic health is likely to diminish as a result of decreased global reliance on fossil fuels.
Although models by which one can infer climatic relationships are becoming increasingly sophisticated, one of the most difficult tasks ahead may be to differentiate between correlation and causation in global warming, especially given the increasing fossil fuel carbon footprint. The Middle East, with its enormous but nonrenewable energy reserves, is vital to the future of anthropogenic climate change.
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Atlas of Israel: Cartography, Physical and Human Geography. New York: Macmillan, 1985. Documents and maps all geophysical data available in Israel from over forty years of quantitative measurements from meteorology, oceanography, demography, and other parameters.
BP [British Petroleum]. Statistical Review of World Energy, June, 2008. London: Author, 2008. Reveals that regional and global oil production fell during 2008 for the first time since 2002, mostly as a result of changing crude oil costs tied to economically driven conservation.
Hyne, Norman J. Nontechnical Guide to Petroleum Geology, Exploration, Drilling, and Production. 2d ed. Tulsa, Okla.: PennWell, 2001. Explains key concepts of geology and applied engineering relevant to the petroleum industry globally; provides useful statistics on Middle Eastern oil production.
“Middle Eastern Oil Consumption Shows Strong Growth.” Bahrain Tribune, April 9, 2009. Reports that global consumption of Middle Eastern oil rose to 6.2 million barrels per day in 2007, representing a 4.4 percent increase over 2006 consumption. Examines this growth from the perspectives of both GHG emissions and Middle Eastern economic health.
“Saudi Arabia’s Prince Nayef: A Rising but Enigmatic Prince.” The Economist 391, no. 8625 (April 4-10, 2009): 53. Suggests potential trends in current Saudi Arabian succession for the royal...
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