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US expert warns Middle East of water crisis

Date: 20-Jul-01
Country: SYRIA
Author: Issam Hamza

Paul Simon, author of a book entitled "Protecting the World's Water Supplies", urged leaders of Syria, Israel and other countries to meet regardless of whether peace is achieved to discuss how best they can share the region's scarce water resources.

He warned in a lecture in Damascus on Wednesday that wars in the next 15 years would be launched to control water, not oil.

"I know there are lots of obstacles...and that it is an emotional issue, but I think that violence (in the Middle East) will go up and down and will take a long time to end, but we should not wait until peace is achieved. There should be a joint regional effort to solve the problem (now)," Simon said.

He suggested adopting a comprehensive plan to share water and to establish an international court for water, saying the United States, the West and international agencies would back such plans.

Simon, who served 20 years in US Congress before retiring in 1997, said US intelligence agencies had named at least 10 areas in the world where wars over water were likely.

"Nations fight for oil, but oil, despite its importance, has substitutes...there is no alternative for water. We die quickly without water," he said.

"None of the world's leaders would hesitate to wage a war to control water resources," he added.

Simon, head of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute think tank and a professor at the Southern Illinois University, had talks with senior Syrian officials, including Environment Minister Farouq al-Adeli, on future water problems in the region.

"There are 300 million people in the world who are living in areas which face a serious shortage of water. This will increase to three billion in 2025. Per capita water supplies in the Middle East, which stands at 3,340 cubic metres (11,800 cubic feet) per year, will drop to only 667 in 2025," he said.

A Syrian official said last month that low rainfall in the last three years had forced authorities to cut off supplies of fresh water to the capital for 16 hours per day.

Simon suggested several, short-and long-term, methods to deal with the problem, including conservation, reducing waste in pipe networks, family planning and increased use of desalinated water.

Syrian Environment Minister Farouq al-Adeli, who attended the lecture, said he believed a peace deal should be reached with Israel before discussing anything else.

"Peace first. Peace Second. Peace third. Then we will discuss whether a water agreement can be reached with Israel."

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