While one of the most pressing political and social issues facing the Arab world rarely makes headlines, it is an issue that some political analysts believe could lead to the next great confrontation in the region. Rapidly expanding Arab populations are making water far more precious than oil.
From a historic perspective, the modern Arab world was built on the back of oil.
Since the first oil well gushed in Bahrain in 1932, countries have argued over boundaries and borders in hopes of gaining a piece of land that might produce instant wealth.
But during a decades-long process, borders have been set, oil fields have been mapped, and accurate estimates have been made of oil reserves in the region. Now, many political analysts are saying the next source of possible conflict in the region will likely be water. That is because many countries in the Arab world are becoming increasingly concerned about how they will continue to supply water to rapidly expanding populations and industries, not to mention agriculture, which consumes up to 85 percent of the water in the Middle East.
For example, the greatest source of water in the region comes from the Nile River, which runs for more than 6,600 kilometers, flowing through nine Arab and African countries. But, while the amount of water produced by the Nile has remained the same for thousands of years, the populations along its path are expected to almost double over the next 20 years.
In 1955, three Middle Eastern states, including Bahrain, Jordan, and Kuwait were listed by international agencies as water-scarce countries. By 1990, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Somalia, Tunisia and Israel/Palestine were added to the list. U.N. studies anticipate another seven Middle Eastern countries will be added to the list by 2025 including Egypt, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Syria, and Ethiopia.