Friday, January 16, 2009

The case of Gaza: water scarcity and conflict

Environmental Scarcity And Violent Conflict

This case study is a few years old but unfortunately it is still relevant in regards to the current socio-economic and political conflict we see playing out in this region. The Middle East is traditionally a water scarce area with the Palestinian people in Gaza sharing the brunt of that scarcity. This is due to pollution, agriculture, overpopulation, and salinity of the the limited water supply due to seawater encroachments and other chemicals into the Mediterranean Coastal Acquifer and other water sources up the Mediterranean coast. It is also due to the inequitable distribution of this resource by the Israeli government in this area, which I believe is one of the catalysts for this ongoing conflict.

In all of the back and forth rancor of both sides regarding this it appears that this socio-economic and humanitarian reason has been overlooked. What the people of Gaza need is WATER. Water they can use to farm again. Water to sustain their lives and those of their children. This is why I believe that in order to see any kind of peace in this region Palestinians and Israelis along with other countries in this region (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan) must come to an agreement to truly share the limited water resources of this area equitably, especially in light of the effects of climate change (drought) added to this mix. Look at any area of the world in any country that is water deprived for any long period of time and you will see war. You will see terrorism. You will see protest.

I do not think it is as simple or black and white to see this only as a battle against Islamic extremism. It would be naive to think that Israel and other countries in this region do not know how precious water is and will be in the coming years. It is even more precious than oil. This then goes beyond the politics and religion of it to the humanitarian core of who we are and our ability to see people as human beings despite our differences. And where water is concerned that is imperative.

Water is a complex issue here and one I actually believed could bring peace to this region as it has traditionally brought people together in a common cause rather than tearing them apart. However, in this case water appears to be the precipitator of conflict as the Palestinians need it and the Israelis want it as they look to a growing population as well. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank both lie on two of the largest acquifers in this region, so again, that does not bode well for peace with parties unwilling to see water as a human right beyond just a commodity.

I will be posting more information on water scarcity in Gaza/Israel and this region as I come upon it. I wanted to address this because to me this is important in understanding some of the root causes for conflict in this region. And to also state that without water, food, land, or freedom, you could blow every member of Hamas off the face of the Earth and terrorism will remain. It is the root causes that we must address now in order to have any chance of salvaging any sort of peaceful existence for the people of Gaza and Israel.
From the link:

"In August of 1993, Israel did indeed "off-load" Gaza, ceding partial power to a Palestinian administration. Amid much ceremony on the White House lawn, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasir Arafat shared a reluctant handshake as U.S. president Bill Clinton bid them "shalom, salaam, peace." However, the transition to Palestinian self-government in Gaza has proved anything but peaceful. As of mid-1995, Israeli security forces continued to clash with Palestinians on the edges of the autonomous areas; within Gaza, confrontations between the new Palestinian administration and its Islamic opposition have sometimes turned violent; and Islamic militants have launched suicide bomb attacks against Israeli targets in an attempt to derail the peace talks. In the two years since the "Gaza-Jericho first" accord, hundreds have been killed in continuing violence.3

The Western media usually explain this conflict as a result of the spread of fanatical Islamic fundamentalism in the Territories. Yet this focus often distorts rather than clarifies the roots of violence, by giving insufficient consideration to underlying political, economic, and ecological conditions.

In the case of Gaza, years of occupation and resistance have interacted with severe resource scarcities to produce a dismal socioeconomic environment, which has raised the probability of seemingly "irrational" violence. Where opportunities for peaceful expression of deep grievances appear inadequate and living conditions are desperately poor, violent self-sacrifice may take on its own peculiar logic. As Mustafa al-Masri, a psychiatrist at Gaza's only community mental health program, says: "In the hopelessness and helplessness of this world, there is the bright promise of the next life."4

While the links between environmental scarcity and conflict in Gaza are complex, it is clear that over the years water scarcity has worsened socioeconomic conditions. These conditions, in turn, have contributed to the grievances behind ongoing violence against Israel and tensions among Palestinians in Gaza. To describe this relationship, we provide an overview of Gaza's recent political history and then analyze the current state of water scarcity and its impact on economic and political stability.

We must note, however, that our analysis has been hindered by a critical shortage of good data.5 Any information on water is politically sensitive. No figure on population, water supply, or consumption stands uncontested. The situation is further complicated by the fact that resources and population in Gaza are administered by several authorities, including the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), the Israeli military government, and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA took over the administration of Gaza's agricultural water supply in May 1994. The Gaza Agricultural Department, while staffed with experienced Palestinian water professionals, had been deprived of resources, staff, equipment, and training throughout the occupation.6 The lack of sufficient institutions for water management under the PA further limits the availability of accurate data. Despite data problems, however, few deny that the water situation in Gaza is now desperate."

Entry also posted here:
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