Climate Change Could Wreak Havoc in Mideast


Imagine a situation where the sea levels in Egypt rise so substantially that Alexandria, the Nile River bank and parts of the Suez Canal become completely inundated.

In addition to producing millions of casualties and creating a massive refugee crisis, the floodwaters would wreak havoc upon the nation's economy, which depends upon agriculture.

Such strife could also affect Egypt's relationship with Israel, or even jeopardize peace and stability throughout the region.

According to Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of an organization called Friends of the Earth Middle East, such possibilities are quite real.

In fact, as he and Yeshayahu Bar-Or — chief scientist at the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection — argued, there are many ways in which climate change could potentially threaten the Israeli state.

The presentation, given last week at the Jewish Community Services building, was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the National Environmental Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based education group.

In his remarks, Bar-Or focused on climate-change implications within Israel and, in particular, on the country's already scant water resources.

As Bar-Or explained, Israel gets most of its water from two large groundwater aquifers — one that runs along the Mediterranean coastline, and another that sits underneath the West Bank-Jerusalem area.

But with computer models predicting an increase in extreme weather patterns (more floods and dry spells), Israel's ability to maintain a steady water supply could be hampered. "This would create a severe headache for water planners," said Bar-Or.

Still, Israel would likely fare better under environmental duress than other Middle Eastern states. Bar-Or said that Israel can afford to desalinate water, even though it costs about five times more than using natural sources. He also noted that Israel's economy would emerge relatively unscathed by losses in agricultural production, since only 2 percent of its GDP comes from that sector.

Yet the Palestinian territories have neither of these advantages, pointed out Bromberg.

"Marginal living conditions would only be exacerbated by climate change," he explained. "It's a scenario that highlights a failed state in the making."

Climate change could also instigate problems between countries in the Middle East, continued the speaker.

For example, Jordan and Israel maintain a water-sharing agreement, where each nation must deliver a specified amount to its neighbor.

If resources become depleted, tension could ensue.

"That is a very high potential cause for further animosity and, God forbid, wars between countries," said Bromberg.

The speaker even drew a connection between climate change and terrorism, arguing that by causing internal strife, weather-related elements could leave the Mideast more suspectible to fundamentalist teachings.

"It's giving extremist groups the ability to utilize poverty and internal instability in order to bring people on board to terrorist acts," he explained.

Such "what-if's" illustrate why climate change should be viewed as a threat to not only the environment, but to global peace in general.

"There is a mutual interest to act now," said Bromberg. "There are so many political costs."


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