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Will Nile water go to Israel? North Sinai pipelines and the politics of scarcity.

The vital importance of the Nile to Egypt, the river's furthest downstream state, is widely accepted and well documented. Throughout recent history Egypt has exerted the greatest degree of control over the Nile both politically and physically. Egypt's dominance over the Nile is a function of the influence of colonial agreements, the shifting, yet timely alliance and support from global superpowers, and the power of Egypt relative to the instability of the upstream states. As a result, Egypt has been able to make unilateral decisions regarding out-of-basin use of Nile water.

Unfortunately, some of these decisions have put into question the responsibility and justice of Egypt's stewardship of Nile waters. Indeed, under the pressure of a burgeoning population, the Egyptian government has for two decades embarked on a misguided program of diverting billions of cubic meters(1) of precious Nile water out of basin and into land reclamation Land reclamation is either of two distinct practices. One involves creating new land from sea- or riverbeds, the other refers to restoring an area to a more natural state (such as after pollution or salination have made it unusable).  and development projects in the Sinai desert.

One of the most costly and politically and economically dubious of these efforts is a huge land reclamation project in the North Sinai desert called the North Sinai Agricultural Development Project (NSADP NSADP Northern Sinai Agricultural Development Program (Egypt)
NSADP National German Workers Party (Germany) 
). The North Sinai development is currently estimated to cost about $1.5 billion (about 5 billion Egyptian pounds) and is going forward despite the warnings of its own environmental impact study. Since 1987 this project has been diverting Nile water to agricultural development plots west of the Suez Canal Suez Canal, Arab. Qanat as Suways, waterway of Egypt extending from Port Said to Port Tawfiq (near Suez) and connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez and thence with the Red Sea. The canal is somewhat more than 100 mi (160 km) long. .

However, in an even more dangerous and politically sensitive development, for the first time, plans are in place and work has already begun to facilitate the diversion of Nile water to the North Sinai desert east of the Suez Canal by means of tunnels underneath the Canal. The project was given dramatic confirmation in November 1996 when Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, addressing Arab journalists in Cairo, announced the opening of a third tunnel underneath the Suez Canal.(2) In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that, "[I]n October [1997], Nile water will ... begin flowing through the Peace Canal ... and will irrigate ir·ri·gate
To wash out a cavity or wound with a fluid.
 6,000,000 acres in the [North] Sinai desert."(3)

The last leg of the project will bring Nile water just south of the North Sinai town of El Arish, only 40 km away from the border of the Gaza Strip Gaza Strip (gäz`ə), (2003 est. pop. 1,330,000) rectangular coastal area, c.140 sq mi (370 sq km), SW Asia, on the Mediterranean Sea adjoining Egypt and Israel, in what was formerly SW Palestine.  at Rafah. Most alarming to many in the region are the rumors that the project will ultimately bring Nile water to Israel. As a matter of fact, a similar project was envisioned as early as 1974 by Israeli water expert, Elisha Kally, as a way of satisfying Israeli water needs (see map).


Opposition to such a venture would doubtless be fierce. In 1981, Subhi Kahhalen, an Egyptian journalist, summarized two of the main objections to sending water from the Nile to Israel. Kahhlen wrote that the Nile is an "international waterway and Egypt cannot dispose of its waters unilaterally without the agreement of its partners: Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire." Most of these states, he noted, "have already expressed reservations" about the proposal, "viewing it as violation of international law."

Secondly, he argued that the more important obstacle:

would be the Egyptian people. The

Egyptians consider the Nile a sacred water,

the source of all life and is

obvious that these people will not submit

to their rulers if it becomes clear that the

waters from their sacred Nile are actually

being brought to the enemies of the Arabs

and of Islam, the occupiers of Arab lands

and the dispersers of the people of

Palestine... This may perhaps prove to be

the straw that breaks the camel's back.(4)

Kahhalen explained how Egypt and Israel intend to overcome the political repercussions repercussions nplrépercussions fpl

repercussions nplAuswirkungen pl 
 of sending Nile water to Israel:

To guarantee that Egypt would not simply

turn off the faucet, Israeli engineers

suggested that the diverted Nile waters

also supply the Arabs of Gaza, the Negev

and the West Bank, making them, in effect,

Israeli hostages, since Egypt would be

disinclined to cut their water off. The

Israelis had termed this the "Yeor plan" and

had already prepared its cost estimates and

technical details and studied its political

implications many years before Sadat's visit

to Israel. Was Sadat in fact announcing the

beginning of this Israeli scheme when he

declared, on December 17, 1979, that work

has begun on the "Peace Canal," which was to pass under

the Suez Canal to Sinai and then to the


A contract for the sub-Suez Canal siphon siphon (sī`fən, –fŏn), tube through which a liquid is lifted over an elevation by the pressure of the atmosphere and is then emptied at a lower level.  was signed in October 1993 with an Italian company and is scheduled for completion in 1997. The project will be financed by loans from the Kuwait fund for Arab economic development.(6)

Typically the government of Egypt defends these Nile water diversion projects as a necessary means of reclaiming scarce agricultural land and providing for its growing population. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 researcher Sandra Postel Sandra Postel is the director and founder of the Global Water Policy Project. She is a world expert on fresh water issues and related ecosystems. From 1988 to 1994 she served as the Vice President for Research at the Worldwatch Institute. , the government attempts "to reclaim an additional 60,000 hectares of desert each year in order to expand crop production."(7) Postel's figures are in line with those of the Economist Intelligence Unit The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is part of The Economist Group. It is a research and advisory company providing country, industry and management analysis worldwide and incorporates the former Business International Corporation, a U.S.  which points out that Egypt is on an environmental treadmill: "Some one million feddan (one feddan = 1.15 acres) have been reclamated from the desert over the past two decades, but the area under cultivation has, nevertheless, remained more or less constant as agricultural land is lost to encroaching urbanization under the pressure of population growth.(8)

It is not clear exactly how much Nile water would go to Israel in the initial stages. The original Israeli idea from the 1970s was to convince Egypt to divert I percent of Nile water to Israel.(9) Presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 this would mean 1 percent of the 55.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) that Egypt is allotted under its 1959 treaty with the Sudan -- which would amount to 550 million cubic meters (mcm) -- about one-quarter of Israel's annual consumption in 1993. Geographer Aaron T. Wolf estimates that 365 mcm is the amount that would go to Israel if the project were consummated.(10) Stephan Libiszewski, a Switzerland-based researcher, suggests that the amount that would go to Israel from the Nile would be as low as 100 mcm if the project went forward.(11)

Ironically the North Sinai is gifted with plenty of underground water. According to Bahay Essawi, an Egyptian geologist who once worked for the Water Resources Ministry, there is enough water in the Sinai from yearly rainfall to supply double the population there without building expensive pipelines. Essawi's idea is that instead of diverting precious Nile water, the underground water of the North Sinai could be tapped and coordinated with a scheme to construct relatively cheap dams to capture winter rainfall. This alternative would be much more cost effective and environmentally friendly Environmentally friendly, also referred to as nature friendly, is a term used to refer to goods and services considered to inflict minimal harm on the environment.[1]  and it could ultimately support as many as a million inhabitants.(12)

The Nile diversion project (NSADP) has been opposed by experts both within and outside Egypt on several grounds. Indeed, according to the Egyptian government's own suppressed environmental impact assessment, diverting Nile water to the North Sinai is problematic. First of all, the project -- also called the El Salaam Canal: the peace canal -- is already diverting water and scarce funding away from Egyptian farmers in the Nile basin who require more water and more infrastructure development. Moreover, projections of population increases and water requirements show alarming pressures on the ever diminishing per capita [Latin, By the heads or polls.] A term used in the Descent and Distribution of the estate of one who dies without a will. It means to share and share alike according to the number of individuals.  supply of land and water for personal, agricultural and industrial use. In the Mideast and North Africa "per capita water availability dropped to 330,000 gallons last year [1996], by far the lowest in the world, fron 872,000 gallons in 1960, according to the World Bank.(13) Because of Egypt's present and future water needs, experts argue that there isn't any "extra" Nile water available for diversion to the Sinai -- much less to Israel. In addition, there is a serious threat that global warming global warming, the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth's lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.  over the next 20 to 40 years will reduce Nile water flows by as much as 25 percent.(14) If these projections prove accurate -- and the scientific community seems to have reached a consensus on the validity of these warnings -- the region is likely to experience profound environmental and political change with serious security implications.


Ethiopia and the Sudan have already reacted with alarm to published reports that there are plans to divert Nile water to Israel. Ethiopia provides Egypt with 86 percent of its Nile water and is desperately in need of water development projects on its own territory in order to feed its growing population of more than 62 million (In 1960 Egypt's population was under 30 million). From the point of view of the Nile's main riparians, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, the great danger of sharing Nile water with Israel is that, however small the initial amount may be, and even if nominally the water were for Palestinian use, once Israel begins to take water from the Nile it may then contend, under international law, for larger shares in future.

Tensions in the region are already very high. In June 1995, President Mubarak escaped an assassination Assassination
See also Murder.


Fanatical Moslem sect that smoked hashish and murdered Crusaders (11th—12th centuries). [Islamic Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 52]


conspirator and assassin of Julius Caesar. [Br.
 attempt in Addis Ababa Addis Ababa (ăd`ĭs ăb`əbə) [Amharic,=new flower], city (1994 pop. 2,112,737), capital of Ethiopia. It is situated at c.8,000 ft (2,440 m) on a well-watered plateau surrounded by hills and mountains. , Ethiopia, where he was to attend a summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity Organization of African Unity (OAU), former international organization, established 1963 at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 37 independent African nations to promote unity and development; defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of members; eradicate all forms of . Mubarak immediately accused the Sudan of responsibility for the attack. Shortly afterwards, in early July, Egypt took control of a disputed Sudanese-Egyptian border area known as the Halaib, plunging relations to a new low with the regime of Hassan al-Turabi and Omar al-Bashir General of the Army Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir (Arabic: عمر حسن احمد البشير, born January 1 1944) is a Sudanese military leader, politician, and current president of Sudan. .

Following the assassination attempt, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa bluntly warned Sudan's Islamic leader Hassan al-Turabi not "to play with fire" after reports quoted him as threatening to cut Egypt's water quota. Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif Mohamed Safwat El Sherif is an Egyptian politician. He is the speaker of the Egyptian Shura Council. He is one of the founder members of the National Democratic Party of Egypt (1977) and is currently the Seretary General of the party. He holds a B.A.  said Egypt "rejects the hollow threats [on water] from the Sudanese regime. Any [Sudanese] wrongdoing or infringement will be met with full force and firmness." Water Resources Minister Abdel-Hadi Radi said an agreement setting Nile water shares was a "red line that can never be crossed."(15)

Mubarak himself expressed hope that "they do not think of developing or escalating the action between us and them," adding that he had remained silent in the face of many Sudanese provocations in the past. "It is finished," he said. "I will not stay quiet .... I do not want to hurt the Sudanese if they are helpless, but I say, and the world hears me, that if they continue with this stance and take other measures, then I have many measures of my own."(16)


Zionist interest in the possibility of diverting Nile water across the Sinai desert began decades before the establishment of the State of Israel. As early as 1903, Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, visited Egypt and authorized a technical report on the transfer of Nile water across the Suez Canal. The project had to be dropped soon afterwards when British and Egyptian authorities turned him down.(17)

More recently, Dr. Elisha Kally, from 1964 to 1976 the head of the Long-Range Planning Group of TAHAL, the Israeli water planning agency, published a study in 1974 in which he argued for the feasibility of Nile water going to Gaza. He has repeated his arguments in subsequent reports and in his books The Struggle for Water (2nd ed. 1978) and Water in Peace (1989). His 1986 paper includes a map which shows the El Salaam Canal beginning near the mouth of the Nile, crossing the Suez Canal (through an underground tunnel), heading east across the North Sinai desert past El Arish and reaching Gaza and the Israeli National Water Carrier.

In his 1991/92 paper, "Options for Solving the Palestinian Water Problem in the Context of Regional Peace," Kally writes: "The Nile is the preferred foreign source for supplying the Gaza Strip with water because of physical and political reasons. It is, however, a less obvious choice for supplying the West Bank. For the West Bank, the Yarmuk [River on the border of Jordan, Syria, and Israel] and perhaps the Litani [River in Lebanon], are preferable sources."

The history of public statements by the Egyptians on diverting Nile water to Israel goes back to 1978, when President Anwar Sadat, in connection with the peace initiative which concluded with the Camp David accords of 1979, declared in Haifa to the Israeli public that he would transfer Nile water to the Negev. Shortly afterward, in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Sadat promised that Nile water would go to Jerusalem: Sadat wrote:

As we embark on the comprehensive

resolution of the Palestine issue, we shall

make these waters a contribution from the

Egyptian people and in the name of the

hundred millions of Muslims, a monument

to the peace accord. The Nile waters will

become Zamzam wells to all believers

[Zamzam is the well that supplies water to

the Muslim holy shrine Kaaba at Mecca].

These waters will be an evidence that we

are promoters of peace, life and prosperity.

At the same time, an article published on January 16, 1979, in the Cairo weekly October under the heading "The New Zamzam Project," informed the Egyptian public that Nile waters would reach Jerusalem. A few days later, Sadat mentioned the project again in a letter addressed to King Hassan II of Morocco King Hassan II (Arabic: الحسن الثاني; July 9, 1929–July 23, 1999) was King of Morocco from 1961 until his death in 1999. , who had pleaded with him to return to the Arab coalition. Sadat wrote, "I have gone to the utmost extreme with the Israeli Prime Minister,....As an incentive, I proposed supplying Israel with a part of Egypt's share of the Nile water to be used in reclaiming the Negev with the condition that the Jerusalem and West Bank issues be solved." Prime Minister Begin wrote back explaining that if getting Nile water meant making concessions on Jerusalem he wasn't interested: "The transfer of Nile water to the Negev is a magnificent idea and truly a monumental vision, but we have to differentiate between a cultural and historical value...Let us separate the two subjects: Jerusalem is an issue and Nile water to the Negev is another issue."(18)

Why would Sadat make public declarations to send Nile waters to Israel in the face of powerful regional and national objections? Sadat may have been responding to Israeli pressure. In the 1970s Israel sent arms and advisers to the Ethiopian governments of Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam Mengistu Haile Mariam (mĕnggīs`t hī`lē mär`ēəm), 1937–, military ruler of Ethiopia (1974–91).  to aid in their battles with Somalia over the Ogaden region and also to support their internal battle with the Eritrean rebels. Israeli aid to Ethiopia may have been a signal that Sadat couldn't ignore.

In the Mubarak era, observers point to published reports that Israeli experts were helping Ethiopia to plan 40 dams along the Blue Nile. Stephen Lonergan, a Canada-based researcher reported in 1990 that "Egypt has complained of Israeli water engineers working in Ethiopia and Sudan, designing new irrigation irrigation, in agriculture, artificial watering of the land. Although used chiefly in regions with annual rainfall of less than 20 in. (51 cm), it is also used in wetter areas to grow certain crops, e.g., rice.  systems which would reduce the flow of the Nile, Egypt's only source of fresh water."(19) In 1994, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir complained about a visit to Israel by the leader of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA SPLA Sudan People's Liberation Army
SPLA Secretory Phospholipase A
SPLA Service Provider License Agreement (Microsoft)
SPLA Southern Private Landlords Association (UK) 
). President Al Bashir claimed that Israel had its eyes on the untapped natural resources in Southern Sudan and on the sources of the Nile as an effective leverage over Egypt.(20)


In 1989 the Israelis were apparently forced to withdraw their hydrologists and surveyors from Ethiopia in the face of threats of war in the Egyptian people's assembly People's Assembly refers to various legislative bodies:
  • Albania – People's Assembly
  • Algeria – National People's Assembly
  • Burma – People's Assembly
  • Egypt – People's Assembly of Egypt
  • North Korea – Supreme People's Assembly
. The Israeli experts were looking into the possibility of building a dam on the Blue Nile.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 1991 Egypt agreed to abandon the Nile diversion project to the North Sinai (NSADP) due to the concerns of the World Bank and donor countries about financial and environmental difficulties. Nevertheless, in spite of a negative environmental impact assessment which strongly recommended that it should not go forward, the plan was reactivated in 1992. Both the Egyptian government and the World Bank ignored the environmental study and it was kept a secret.(21)

One theory as to the revitalization of the project comes from Salah Bediwi, a journalist and a respected agriculture expert jailed briefly in October 1993 by the Egyptian government on charges of "endangering the national interest" and "humiliating hu·mil·i·ate  
tr.v. hu·mil·i·at·ed, hu·mil·i·at·ing, hu·mil·i·ates
To lower the pride, dignity, or self-respect of. See Synonyms at degrade.
 the president." Charges were presumably brought against him because of his opposition to Egypt's Nile diversion projects. In a book published in Egypt, Bediwi charges that USAID USAID United States Agency for International Development
USAID Agencia de los Estados Unidos para el Desarrollo Internacional (Spanish) 
 -- at Israel's behest apparently -- had a role in resurrecting the NSADP.

In his book Bediwi reprints a January 1989 letter from Israel's minister of agriculture, Abraham Katz-Oz, to "the President" of USAID, thanking him for U.S. "cooperation in the Arid Land Development Project, presently being implemented in the Negev of Israel and in Egypt." The project, the Israeli minister wrote, "will have a strong impact ... on the strengthening of international cooperation in desert development in general and peace between Israel and Egypt in particular."

In August 1993 the governor of North Sinai, Gen. Mounier Shash, surprised observers when he indicated that the El-Salaam Canal would extend past the Al-Arish valley, 40 km from the Egyptian-Israeli border. In an interview published in Al Ahram, the general asserted that the El-Salaam Canal would reach Rafah (the border town at the Gaza Strip).

Yet another hint of Israeli intentions and the viability of the project came indirectly from the PLO PLO
Palestine Liberation Organization

PLO Palestine Liberation Organization

Noun 1. PLO
. According to an article in the influential Cario weekly Ros Al-Yousef (October 1993), the PLO submitted a proposal to Israel to unify the Egyptian and the Palestinian parts of Rafah and establish "bilateral projects." Some speculate that "bilateral projects" is a reference to connecting the El Salaam Canal to Rafah's water supply. According to the article, Israel has agreed to the proposal.

With the end of the Cold War and the dawn of "peace in the Middle East," Egypt may be feeling an even greater need to earn generous American subsidies by doing the bidding of the greater power. And the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  may have felt a greater freedom to make demands of Egypt on behalf of the Israelis in the wake of peace agreements signed by the Jordanian government and the Palestinian Authority Palestinian Authority (PA) or Palestinian National Authority, interim self-government body responsible for areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Palestinian control.  from 1993 to 1997.


The concept of transferring water from the Nile delta Coordinates:

The Nile Delta (Arabic:دلتا النيل) is the delta formed in Northern Egypt where the Nile River spreads
 to North Sinai reclamation projects is based on the erroneous idea that in the winter the Egyptians "dump" two to three billion cubic meters of unused Nile water into the Mediterranean. The truth is that Egypt is already suffering from a severe lack of land and water for irrigation and other uses. Every available drop of water from the Nile is now being used. The so-called "extra" winter water is required for navigational and electrical generational purposes. According to some sources, Egypt is already taking about 2 billion cubic meters more than its 1959 treaty allotment with the Sudan of 55.5 bcms. When added to its 2 bcms of underground water and 4 bcms of recycled drainage water, Egypt barely manages to keep up with its 1995 needs of 64.5 bcms (projected figures). Furthermore, according to one estimate, Egypt will need 79 bcms of water by the year 2000 if it is merely to keep up with its (1986) per capita figure of .02 feddan of cultivated land.(22)

Other projections of shortfalls of Egyptian water requirements are similarly grim. For example, the USAID Bureau for the Near East, in its 1993 "Water Resources Action Plan for the Near East," states that "Egypt, which already uses more than its share of Nile waters, is projected to experience a deficit of from 16 to 30 percent by the end of the century." Also, the World Bank predicts in a 1993 report that Egypt will face water shortages ranging from 2-6 percent to 22-27 percent, depending on climatic cycles.

Reductions to Egypt's supply of water from the Nile could also come from development pressures in Ethiopia. According to Sandra Postel, "it is only a matter of time before Ethiopia begins to tap these waters [the headwaters of the Nile]. Indeed, in early 1990, Egypt was reported to have temporarily blocked an African Development Bank loan to Ethiopia for a project that Cairo feared would reduce downstream supplies. As Egypt's water security becomes increasingly jeopardized by new projects in Ethiopia, tensions between the two countries are sure to build."(23) By early 1996, World Bank observers found that farmers in Sudan and Ethiopia were building increasing numbers of small earthen dams (3-7 meters) on the tributaries of the Nile taking about 2-3 mcm/yr out of the river. The 1959 treaty allows for the building of such small dams.(24) If the trend increases significantly, it could amount to a serious diminution of Nile water reaching Egypt.

RUINOUS ru·in·ous  
1. Causing or apt to cause ruin; destructive.

2. Falling to ruin; dilapidated or decayed.


For the most part, Egypt's desert reclamation attempts have been environmental and technical failures. Typically these Nile diversion projects are very expensive and the economic returns are minimal. Moreover, investments currently spent on desert reclamation could be put to better use in the fertile delta area. Sorely needed are drainage systems to save the lands that are currently being lost to salinization and to the rise of the underground water table (a side effect of the Aswan High Dam Aswan High Dam

Dam across the Nile River, north of Aswan, Egypt. Built 4 mi (6 km) upstream from the earlier Aswan Dam (1902), it is 364 ft (111 m) high and 12,562 ft (3,830 m) long. Differences with Gamal Abdel Nasser led the U.S.
). Also, agricultural investment is required in already reclaimed lands to install new irrigation technologies that use less water.

A characteristic problem with these projects is that many of those who are sent to farm in the desert are given no special training. Usually they are recent graduates with no agricultural experience, and they use the old method of flooding the land with water, instead of drip irrigation

Main article: Irrigation
Drip irrigation, also known as trickle irrigation or microirrigation is an irrigation method that minimizes the use of water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants,
. Since much of the land is desert, water is wasted as it seeps more rapidly underground due to the larger size of the sand particles.


In her widely cited article, "Redefining Security," Jessica T. Mathews(25) endorses "broadening [the] definition of national security to include resource, environmental and demographic issues." Pointing to the interrelated impact of population growth and resource scarcity, she forecasts a bleak future of "[h]uman suffering and turmoil," conditions ripe for "authoritarian government," and "refugees... spreading the environmental stress that originally forced them from their homes."(26)

In "Environmental Security," Richard Matthew(27) states that a vast amount of literature, generated partly in response to the 1994 Cairo Conference Cairo Conference, Nov. 22–26, 1943, World War II meeting of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of China at Cairo, Egypt. , reflects a disagreement generally associated with the long-standing debate between Paul Ehrlich, who regards population growth as the principal problem facing humankind(28) and Barry Commoner Barry Commoner (born May 28 1917) is an American biologist, college professor, and eco-socialist. He ran for president of the United States in the 1980 U.S. presidential election on the Citizens Party ticket.

Commoner was born in Brooklyn.
, who contends that the real problem lies in inefficient and unjust economic practices.(29)

The case of the Nile basin is an excellent example of the impact of population growth, resource scarcity human suffering and turmoil, authoritarian governance, the creation of refugees, the spread of environmental stress and inefficient and unjust economic practices. Although it is impossible to predict the particulars of future internal or external conflict, Egypt's rapidly growing population -- currently more than 63 million (1996) and growing at a rate of 2.0 percent a year -- is dangerously pressing against the natural limits of land and water. Current diminishing per capita resource trends are a prescription for increasing social and political tensions. As Thomas Homer-Dixon writes, "environmental scarcity can be an important force behind changes in the politics and economics governing resource use. Scarcity can cause powerful actors to strengthen an inequitable distribution of resources in their favor."(30) Increasing signs of internal frictions in Egypt, especially over the last two decades, may be due in part to the general perception of increasing inequities of resource distribution and the inability of the state to provide economic opportunity for its growing population.


Leading Israeli spokespeople and government officials have typically not been shy about emphasizing their country's need to develop more and more water resources. In "The Living Waters," a chapter in his 1993 book, The New Middle East, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, stressed the need for rapid increases in Israel's water supplies. According to him, Israel cannot wait 20 years for a proposed pipeline from Turkey to bring millions of cubic meters of water to Israel.(31) In his chapter on water, Peres stressed the demographic timebomb of Arab population growth, especially in Syria and Egypt,(32) though he made no mention of Israel's policy of encouraging large numbers of Jewish immigrants to Israel, nor does he address the drain on area water resources due to Israel's population growth. Instead he writes smoothly of addressing Israel's water needs by transferring water "from areas of plenty to areas of need..." He observes that "the best sources [of water] are always located outside the boundaries of countries that need it most ...," and that therefore the best solution would be "an international pipeline to bring water from country to country."(33) Perhaps he is hinting that since a pipeline from Turkey to Israel will take too long to develop, the Egyptian pipeline would be more efficient.

Israeli schemes for bringing Nile water to Israel must be seen in the context of Israel's thirst for, and appropriation of, Arab water. Arguably 50 percent of the water that Israel uses comes from water in Arab lands that would otherwise be used by the Arabs themselves.(34) Israeli per capita water consumption is a multiple of Palestinian consumption-anywhere from three to ten or fifteen times as high.(35) In the Golan Heights Golan Heights, strategic upland region (2003 est. pop. 10,500), c.500 sq mi (1,250 sq km), SW Syria. It borders S Lebanon, NE Israel, and NW Jordan. It takes its name from the ancient city of Golan and was known as Gaulanitis in New Testament times.  in 1984, the Israelis began to meter and tax Syrian Druze rainwater tanks used for irrigation and forbade further construction of water collection tanks by Druze villagers.(36) Presumably the Israelis wished to prevent diminished flow into the headwaters of the Jordan River Jordan River

River, Middle East. It rises on the Syria-Lebanon border, flows through Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), and then receives its main tributary, the Yarmuk River.
 which they take virtually all for themselves.

In spite of the positive publicity that Israel has received for its water sharing agreements with Jordan and with the Palestinians, Israel's share of area waters as a result of their agreements with the Arabs will be reduced marginally if at all, while the Arabs' share will be increased by only a relatively tiny amount.(37) For the Palestinians, additions to the water supply will be barely sufficient to cover minimal personal needs but not nearly enough for any kind of meaningful economic development.(38)

Israel's determination to maintain and perhaps to expand its current share of water resources raises questions about the implications for future interstate and interethnic tensions. In February 1996, in connection with proposed negotiations with Syria over the Golan Heights, Israel's foreign minister, Ehud Barak, said that he would not give "a drop of water" to the Syrians.(39) It's possible that Israeli designs on Syrian and Lebanese water was one of the silent but underlying elements in the Israeli decision to bombard bom·bard  
tr.v. bom·bard·ed, bom·bard·ing, bom·bards
1. To attack with bombs, shells, or missiles.

2. To assail persistently, as with requests. See Synonyms at attack, barrage2.

 the civilian population of Southern Lebanon for 16 days in April 1996, a repetition of the week-long air, naval and artillery barrage of July 1993. In addition to causing an estimated $500 million damage to Lebanese infrastructure, the United Nations reported that in the 1996 bombardment, the Israelis damaged two water reservoirs and 91 water tanks. Given the intense Israeli interest in water, it is possible that many of these water installations were deliberately targeted with a view to increasing Israeli water flows from southern Lebanese sources.

Syrian-Israeli relations seem to have been set back by the advent of the Netanyahu government. Shortly after the April 1996 elections the Israeli media began to speculate openly about war with Syria.(40) In February 1997, on the occasion of his trip to Washington, D.C., Prime Minister Netanyahu took the opportunity to reiterate his government's unwillingness to return the Golan Heights to Syria because of "security" considerations. For its part, the Syrian government announced that it would refuse to reopen negotiations with Israel unless the Netanyahu government honored commitments made by the previous Labor led government. By mid-August 1997, the Netanyahu government oversaw the steepest deterioration in relations with Ararfat's Palestinian Authority since the signing of the Oslo Accords
See also:

The Oslo Accords, officially called the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or Declaration of Principles (DOP
 in September 1993. And in Lebanon, the cease-fire in place since April 1996 and the subsequent agreement by the parties not to attack civilians had broken down.

Despite such ominous signs, government officials and the media tend to highlight whatever gains they can point to in the ongoing "peace process." At bottom, however, ever-increasing per capita demands on resources such as land and water are likely to yield ever-increasing political tensions. Apparent gains on the diplomatic front tend to mask the continuation of the bitter ethnic conflict set in motion by the advent of Zionist immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important.  to the Middle East more than 100 years ago.

Perhaps something may be made of the notice paid to Joel Cohen's recent book, How Many People Can Earth Support?(41) Media attention might be viewed as a sign that academics and policy makers are taking more seriously the fundamental issue of too many people chasing too few resources. In such a world, Darwin's law seems to obtain: only the strong and the fortunate survive.

(1) Cherif Cordahi, "Egypt-Water: Too Little to go Around, Too Precious to Waste," InterPress Services (IPS), June 20, 1995.

(2) The British Broadcasting Corporation (company) British Broadcasting Corporation - (BBC) The non-commercial UK organisation that commissions, produces and broadcasts television and radio programmes.

The BBC commissioned the "BBC Micro" from Acorn Computers for use in a television series about using computers.
, November 22, 1996, quoting the Mena News Agency, Cairo, in Arabic, November 20, 1996. Mubarak called the opening the previous day of the third tunnel underneath the Suez Canal a "historic moment to launch a new demographic map and usher Egypt into the 21st century." It is not immediately clear why a third tunnel would be necessary since each tunnel carries sufficient water for the proposed development sites in the North Sinai. A second tunnel might be used as a backup, but the construction of a third tunnel increases fears that it might be used to move water to the Gaza Strip area and thus to Israel.

(3) Amy Dockser Marcus, "Egypt Faces Problem It Has Long Dreaded: Less Control of the Nile," The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 1997, p. 1.

(4) Subhi Kahhalen, "The water problem in Israel and its repercussions on the Arab-Israeli conflict," IPS, Beirut, paper #9(E), 1981, p. 50.

(5) Ibid., p. 49.

(6) Middle Fast Economic Digest, October 22, 1993, p. 12.

(7) Sandra Postel, "A Water Ethic," Talking Leaves, pp. 23-25. Spring 1996.

(8) The Economist Intelligence Unit, Egypt: Country Profile 1990-91, p. 22.

(9) Abdel-Rahman Tamimi, "Water: A Factor for Conflict or Peace in the Middle East," Israeli-Palestinian Research Project: Working Paper Series No. 20, Jerusalem, 1991/92, p.3.

(10) Aaron T. Wolf, "Hydropolitics along the Jordan River: Scarce Water and its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict" (United Nations University Press, Tokyo, 1995), p. 57.

(11) Stephen Libiszewski, "Water Disputes in the Jordan Basin Region and their Role in the Resolution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict," Environment and Conflicts Project, Occasional Paper No. 13, August 1995, Zurich, Switzerland, p. 57.

(12) Cordahi, op. cit., note 1.

(13) Amy Dockser Marcus, op. Cit., note 3. The Wall Street Journal echos warnings of the scarcity of Nile water. "But there isn't enough Nile water to complete the irrigation plans of Ethiopia and Egypt, let alone the other nations that share it." The article quotes Dale Wittington, a University of North Carolina North Carolina, state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N). Facts and Figures

Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop.
 water expert speaking at a 1997 conference in Addia Ababa warning that Ethiopia and Egypt "are set `on a collision course that both may have difficulty changing.'" Marcus, op. cit., note 3.

(12) Steven Lonergan, "Climate Warming, Water Resources and Geopolitical ge·o·pol·i·tics  
n. (used with a sing. verb)
1. The study of the relationship among politics and geography, demography, and economics, especially with respect to the foreign policy of a nation.

 Conflict: A Study of Nations Dependent on the Nile, Litani and Jordan River Systems," Canada, 1991.

(15) Bahaa El-Koussy, "Sudan briefs Arab League on tensions." UPI UPI
United Press International
, July 3, 1995, Monday, BC cycle. (16) Mideast Mirror, "Something is being cooked up." June 29, 1995, Section: Egypt-Sudan; Vol. 09, No. 123.

(17) Bashir Sherif she·rif also sha·rif  
1. A descendant of the prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima.

2. The chief magistrate of Mecca in Ottoman times.

3. A Moroccan prince or ruler.
 Albarghothy, "The Israeli Ambitions in the Waters of Palestine and Neighboring Arab Countries," Amman: Al-Galil Publishing House, [in Arabic], 1986.

(18) Ibid.

(19) "Executive Summary," Climate warming, water resources and geopolitical conflict: A study of nations dependent on the Nile. National Defence Dept., Ottawa, Operational Research and Analysis Establishment (ORAE), paper #55, 1990.

(20) InterPress Services, April 14, 1994.

(21) The Economist Intelligence Unit, "Egypt: EIU EIU Economist Intelligence Unit
EIU Eastern Illinois University
EIU Even If Used
EIU Experimental Interaction Unit
EIU Engine Interface Unit
EIU Ethernet Interface Unit
EIU Electronic Interface Unit
EIU External Interface Unit
 Country Profile 1992-93," 1993, pp. 20-21.

(22) Albarghothy, op. cit., note 14. The figure of .02 feddans has apparently since been reduced by increasing population to .015 feddans per capita.

(21) Sandra Postel, "The Politics of Water," Worldwatch, July-August, 1995.

(24) Personal communication from Thomas Naff in November 1996 based on his interviews with World Bank and U.S. government officials. The Wall Street Journal found that Ethiopia "has already completed work on more than 200 dams that use 624 million cubic yards of Nile water a year." Marcus, op. cit., note 3.

(25) Jessica T. Mathews, "Redefining Security." Foreign Affairs, 1989, 68:162-177.

(26) Ibid., p. 168.

(27) Richard Matthew, "Environmental Security: Demystifying the Concept, Clarifying the Stakes." American Association for the Advancement of Science, Woodrow Wilson Center for Environmental Change and Security Project Report, Issue 1 (Spring 1995).

(28) Paul R. Ehrlich For the Nobel Prize winning Immunologist, see .
Paul Ralph Ehrlich (born May 29 1932 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is currently the Bing Professor of Population Studies in the department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. He received his Ph.D.
, The Population Bomb (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Ballantine, 1968), Paul R. Ehrlich, and Anne H. Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990).

(29) Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology (New York: Bantam, 1971).

(30) Thomas Homer-Dixon, "Strategies for Studying Causation in Complex Ecological-Political Systems," Journal of Environment and Development, Vol. 5, No. 2, June 1996, p. 137.

(31) Shimon Peres, The New Middle East (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), p. 130.

(32) Ibid., pp. 124-127.

(33) Ibid., p. 129

(34) See Ronald Bleier, "Israel's Theft of Arab Water: An Obstacle to Peace," Middle East Labor Bulletin, Vol 4, No. 4, Spring 1994, pp.3-4ff.

(35) See Joe Stork stork, common name for members of a family of long-legged wading birds. The storks are related to the herons and ibises and are found in most of the warmer parts of the world. , "Water and Israel's Occupation," Middle East Report, July-August 1983, p. 21; and Sharif Elmusa, "Dividing the Common Palestinian-Israeli Waters: An International Water Law Approach," Journal of Palestine Studies The Journal of Palestine Studies was established in 1971. It is published and distributed by University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine Studies. The current editor is Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University. , No. 87, Spring 1993.

(36) Virginia Tilley, Destroyed Villages of the Golan Heights, Pamphlet, Settlement Watch, 1992, p. 6.

(37) See Libiszewski, op. cit., note 10, p. 73. Libiszewski agrees that at least for "the very short term" Jordan will get a minimal amount of new water. See also Frederick C. Hof, "The Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers in the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty," Middle East Policy, Vol III, Number 4, April 1995, pp. 47-56. Hof confirms that in the near term Jordan will get very little new water and both writers agree that larger amounts for Jordan are dependent on external funding for joint water projects.

(38) Stephen Langfur, "Oslo-2 and the Water Question," Challenge (Jerusalem), November-December 1995, pp. 4-7.

(39) Ehud Barak quoted in Jerusalem Post, February 17, 1996.

(40) See for example Ehud Ya'ari, "The Talk of War," Ma'ariv, June 28, 1996, reprinted in From the Hebrew Press, Monthly Translations and Commentaries from Israel, by Dr. Israel Shahak, Supplement, September 1996, pp. 7-8; and Aluf Ben, "The War [with Syria] Is Already in Our Living Rooms," Ha'aretz, October 25, 1996.

(41) Joel Cohen cohen
 or kohen

(Hebrew: “priest”) Jewish priest descended from Zadok (a descendant of Aaron), priest at the First Temple of Jerusalem. The biblical priesthood was hereditary and male.
, How Many People Can Earth Support? (New York: Norton, 1996).

Ronald Bleier ( teaches high school in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
 and edits The Demographic, Environmental and Security Issues Project (DESIP DESIP Demographic, Environmental, and Security Issues Project ), an on-line information service.
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Date:Sep 1, 1997
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