Mideast Water Crisis Brings Misery, Uncertainty

Posted on January 7, 2010



The Middle East is facing its worst water crisis in decades. For three summers, the annual rains have failed to come. Farmland has dried up across the region in Iraq, Syria, southeast Turkey and Lebanon.

While oil was the resource that defined the last century, water and its scarcity may define this one.

Experts say the climate is warming in the Fertile Crescent, the area of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, contributing to the water shortage and helping to create a new phenomenon — water refugees.

This winter, rain has barely settled into the hard, cracked farmland in northern Syria. There was a time when the fields were green most of the year, but the summer droughts have taken a toll. Farther east is the Badia, a vast rangeland, where thousands of people tend herds of sheep.

Addami is a traditional village where the houses are white domes of baked clay. This summer, Addami was completely abandoned during the driest months.

“There was no water and too much sand,” says villager Nofa Hamid, 51, who has been tending sheep since she was a child. “It got into everything, even the kitchen.”

“It was crazy; the sand was everywhere this summer,” she says.

Life has never been easy in Addami. But Ismar Mohammed, a 43-year-old shepherd wrapped in a black wool robe against the cold, says he was wealthy by local standards as the owner of the area’s largest herd.

He had to drive his flock more than 150 miles for water. With no luck and no grass, he had to buy feed for his 275 sheep, and that meant he had to sell some of them to feed the rest.

“No question, I had to do this otherwise they would die, and I had to feed my kids. Before the drought, I used to have 400 head,” he says.

“No question, we were doing fine, just except for this drought, which is affecting us very badly,” he says.”

‘Perfect Storm’ Creates Water Refugees

More than 160 villages are abandoned now in Syria alone. According to a United Nations report on the drought, 800,000 people have lost their livelihood. Hundreds of thousands left once-fertile land that turned to dust and pitched tents near the big cities, looking for any kind of work.