Perceptions of Water in the Middle East: The Role of Religion, Politics and Technology in Concealing the Growing Water Scarcity

  • Francesca de Châtel


While water scarcity is a growing problem in most Middle Eastern countries today, the general public remains largely unaware of this reality and what it can entail for the future. It seems that unless there is tangible scarcity — as in Jordan where users receive only 24 hours of water a week — people will assume there is plenty; one only starts valuing the resource when it can no longer be taken for granted. Even when people are aware that current levels of water consumption are not sustainable, they seldom feel any personal responsibility for the situation or any compulsion to change their behavior patterns; in their eyes this responsibility lies with God or the government.

In this chapter I will identify the reasons behind the lack of public awareness and the indifference that surround issues of water scarcity. To do this, I will draw on material gathered during four years of independent field research in eleven countries in the Middle East, using information and observations from more than 100 interviews with politicians, academics, journalists, water experts, members of local communities and farmers.

I will argue that the reality of scarcity is concealed by religious, political and technological myths. These make it possible for the user to ignore the alarming reality and continue to consume water as though it were an inexhaustible resource. The absence of pricing policies in several Muslim countries, the continued political support for agriculture and waterthirsty crops like wheat, rice and cotton, combined with the false sense of security created by large-scale engineering projects all form part of this mythology of plenty.

The inevitable conclusion is that in addressing the problem of water scarcity in the Middle East, public perception of the problem and attitudes towards water should be considered just as important as solid scientific data regarding water use and abuse. Besides discussing the reasons behind the general undervaluing of water, I will also examine possible solutions, assessing the value of projects that aim to increase public awareness and give users a greater sense of responsibility for the water they consume.


water scarcity Middle East and North Africa lack of awareness raising awareness religion political ideology and water modern technology and perceptions of water availability lack of political transparency education 


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2007

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  • Francesca de Châtel

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