FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

US Water Wars in the Middle East

by

Water is to the twenty-first century what oil was to the twentieth century: the commodity that determines the wealth and stability of nations.

People who think that the West’s interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria are only about oil are mistaken. Broadly speaking, Western interest in the Middle East is becoming increasingly about a commodity more precious than oil, namely water.

According to the U.S.-based Center for Public Integrity, Western nations stand to make up to a US$1 trillion from privatizing, purifying and distributing water in a region where water often sells for far more than oil.

Although over two thirds of our planet is water, we face an acute shortage. This scarcity flies in the face of our natural assumptions. The problem is that 97 percent is salt water. Great for fish, not so good for humans. Of the world’s fresh water, only one percent is available for drinking, with the remaining two percent trapped in glaciers and ice.

Put differently: if all the water on earth was represented by an 11-litre jug, the freshwater would fill a single cup, and we can only access the last drop.

Nature has decreed that the supply of water is fixed; all the while, demand is rising as the world’s population increases and enriches itself. By 2030, climate change, population growth, pollution and urbanization will compound, such that the demand for water globally is estimated to outstrip supply by forty percent.

Increasingly, for water to be useful, it needs to be mined, processed, packaged, and transported, just like gold, coal, gas or oil. Unlike oil, there are no substitutes, alternatives or stopgaps for water.

There have been three waves of resource-driven imperialism in the modern era.

A quest for gold fueled the first wave. Old-fashioned colonialists, regal and unembarrassed, rode in on horseback, brutally took control of American territories, sent in ostrich-plumed governors, minted coins with the Queen’s head on them, and gazed proudly over natives toiling away in perilous mine-shafts. An unprecedented kidnapping of millions of Africans ensued, so as to replace the indigenous Americans that had initially been exterminated by their European conquerors. This coincided with white pioneers brutally conquering Southern Africa, also in search of gold.

The second wave of imperialism has been driven by an unquenchable, post-industrial thirst for oil.

Modern petro-imperialism, the key aspect of which is the U.S. military’s transformation into a global oil-protection armed force, puts up a democratic facade, emphasizes freedom of the seas (or pipeline routes), and seeks to secure, protect, drill, and ship oil, not to administer everyday affairs. Nevertheless, the means by which the U.S. is centering its foreign policy around oil is hardly new in spirit, albeit unprecedented in scope.

The third wave of imperialist wars is currently being fought over nature’s most valuable commodity: water. Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, CIA analysts reported on a prediction of a new theater of war: hydrological warfare, “in which rivers, lakes and aquifers become national security assets to be fought over, or controlled”. These predictions became realized in quick succession, beginning with the recent wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria. It is now clear that the age of hydro-imperialism is upon us.

On April 17, 2003, in Iraq, the American company Bechtel received a no-bid reconstruction contract from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for US$100 billion; thus, making it the largest Iraq reconstruction contract. Therefore, the most lucrative Iraq reconstruction contract was not used to repair oil facilities, build schools and hospitals, or to repair bombarded infrastructure: it was used to source, process, and distribute water.

The secretive, opaque and no-bid nature of the water contract award process is made even worse by one incredible fact. Bechtel has botched many of its previous projects.

In California, Bechtel installed one of the nuclear power plant reactors backwards. In Boston, what promised to be a US$2.5 billion job for an infamous “Big Dig” project became the most expensive in U.S. history costing US$14.6 billion. The tunnel project was plagued by charges of poor execution, corruption, criminal arrests, and even four deaths.

In Bolivia, Bechtel’s record is one of privatizing water by inflating prices by 35 percent.  The inflation caused public riots, in which several people died. Bechtel was ousted from the country and tried to sue the Bolivian government for canceling their contract.

Since the turn of the century, Iraq was the first casualty of hydro-imperialism, and Colonel Gaddafi’s assassination marked the second. Libya sits atop a natural resource more valuable than oil: the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, which is a vast underground reserve of fresh water, estimated to be the largest in the world. Mr. Gaddafi had invested $25 billion into the aquifer, which had the potential to turn a country that is 95 percent desert into an arable oasis. As it now stands, France’s global mega-water companies: Suez, Ondeo, and Saur, control almost half of the world’s $400 billion water market. They are poised to rake in billions of dollars from Libya’s eighth wonder of the world.

Mr. Gaddafi had intended the scheme to be designed by Libyans, constructed by Libyans, for the benefit of the Libyan population. Now it is being redesigned by Frenchmen and women at inflated costs, constructed by French contractors, largely for the benefit of French shareholders. Libyan taxpayers will undoubtably be stuck with the bill and higher water bills.

The most recent case of hydro-imperialism is the war in Syria. Israel has been leading a Western campaign to support Syrian rebels; in part, because its leaders assert that the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, poses an existential threat to Israel on the issue of water. Mr. Assad has vowed to reclaim the Golan Heights – a strip of land that Israel captured from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967. The Golan Heights provides a staggering 40 percent of Israel’s fresh water.

“Syrian control of half of our water poses more of a threat than Iran with one bomb”, once remarked ex-Israeli intelligence head, Meir Dagan.

Mr. Assad has also been reticent to privatize the water industry and expose the population to predatory pricing, thereby preventing the West from tapping into a multi-billion dollar revenue stream.

Mr. Assad`s refusal to play ball on water privatization and his choice to play hardball over the Golan Heights meant that the Syrian President, like Mr. Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi before him, is an obstacle to the West`s hydro-imperialist agenda.

Control of nature`s most precious and increasingly valuable commodity will, for any nation, spell the difference between greatness and decline. Mr. Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi and a defiant Mr. Assad know that all too well.

Garikai Chengu is a scholar at Harvard University.

 

 

 

 

 

Garikai Chengu is a scholar at Harvard University. Contact him on garikai.chengu@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail