It’s like a futuristic film with hoards of evil masses of people, poverty-stricken, living off the land, while the rich and wealthy continue to lord it, served to their hearts content and just raking it in, while the others hardly get enough to eat and drink. Yes, the resources of the planet are finite for the moment. Yes, those resources belong to the same people and yes the lands are worked for the benefit of the dollar-hungry few, while the money-poor subsist on what scraps get thrown to them. But, it might look like the future, but the present certainly resembles very much the long-forgotten past. We haven’t come very far since the days of feudalism, have we? There is still a power-crazed lord of the manor there that is just a business tycoon under another name. There are still the poor vassals that eke out their existence and wait in expectant eagerness for the bones to get tossed to them as the lord and his ladies walk off into the ramparts of the castle. This time it’s the water and the agricultural lands that are the much-sought after means of wealth. They bring down governments these days and oust leaders.
Water and Agriculture are already the cause of many a dispute in the world and even more so in the Middle East, in the Near East and in Africa. Take the example of ex-President Mohamed Morsi and his fall from power. The Ethiopians decided to spend $3 billion on the building of a hydraulic damn to siphon off the Nile. In May 2013, Morsi convened a meeting to discuss the project and it quickly turned into a fiasco with the media as it was transmitted live (by mistake or on purpose) on national television. The meeting went from decision-making discussions to threats of declaring war and to bribery of senior Ethiopian officials, via the destruction of the dam itself by Egyptian forces. Just a few weeks later, Morsi had fallen from power.
Water is everything from economic survival to territorial appropriation. It’s the cause of the downfall of governments and the revolt of the masses in countries that saw the ousting of their leaders during the Arab Springs. No country in the region was in a position to assume agricultural independence and each country has suffered from the increased dependence on water. There were food crises that hit those nations in 2007 as the Western world was being hit by their own financial crisis. The governments of countries in the regions massively invested in agriculture to keep the barking dogs at bay. But, that did nothing but increase the financial pressure on the economy and brought about hyperinflation. The governments were to some extent the cause of their own strife.
- Saudi Arabia pays out a billion dollars per month for imported food.
- Egypt forked out $3 billion for wheat alone in 2010.
- The countries of the Gulf import some 90% of their food today.
- Food prices got out of control in the lead up to the Arab Springs when the United Nations published figures showing that price indexes rose from 2009’s level of 157 to over 230 in 2011.
- Wheat increased over that same period by 30%.
According to the Pierre Blanc from the CIHEAM research laboratory (International Center for Agronomy Studies, France), the future will be worse as agricultural lands are transformed into deserts. Climate change coupled with demographic transitions (increasing numbers of people are huddled together on small pieces of land – in Egypt 95% of the population lives on 5% of the land, for example) in countries in the water-poor regions of the world will lead to increased hydraulic demand that will not be met by available supplies today. While the regions remain politically unstable, the volatility of governments and policies will only mean that it will pave the way for increased disputes over the sharing of resources. Recent discoveries of oil reserves and gas along the Mediterranean coastline between Egypt, Israel Lebanon and Syria as well as Turkey and Cyprus will mean that those countries (as well as other nations in the Western world) will be vying for a place to exploit those reserves to a maximum.
- Egypt has until now supplied 50% of Israel’s energy needs.
- But that may change in the future with the discovery of Tamar and Leviathan gas reserves.
- Tamar (282 billion m3) would allow Israel to ensure its energy needs for the next 25 years.
- Leviathan (540 billion m3) would be a surplus that would enable Israel to rake in a great deal of money.
- 60% of Leviathan will be used for domestic consumption in Israel, while 40% will be exported to other countries.
- The other countries along the coastline seem to have equally promising amounts of gas and petrol in areas under their exclusive economic control.
Where there are resources that we want, there is a fight for power; that struggle turns into political upheaval and change. Too much testosterone will be flying around there yet again and everyone will be playing out their role of the alpha male to dominate the others.