Shared water resources in Western Asia

The sharing of water resources has been an influential feature affecting life, society and development in the Arabian Peninsula, the Mashrek and Mesopotamia for millennia. Historically, communities living in these arid and semi-arid regions always shared the water of rivers, springs and wadis, although this was more out of necessity than idealism. Water resources were traditionally managed at the local level, with tensions emerging between Bedouins, shepherds, pastoralists and growing urban centres. Water management and irrigation schemes – such as the underground aqueducts or falaj networks found in Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – sustained different communal needs for dozens of centuries, while the marshes of Mesopotamia, the Tigris floodplain and the Jordan River Valley were cultivated and sustained successive civilizations since earliest of times. Hillside terraces from Lebanon to Yemen meanwhile demonstrated the early integration between water and land resources management schemes and local efforts to safeguard water for productive purposes. With the expansion of empires and the changing patterns of commerce between east and west, tradesmen tried to tame the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers for navigation purposes prior to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, albeit with limited success. Following the creation of modern nation states in Western Asia starting in the first half of the 20th century, most of the region’s major rivers and many aquifer systems were found to cross political borders. However, their management did not emerge as a major problem until increasing freshwater scarcity exposed dependencies on internationally shared water resources.

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