Making predictions about the future is never easy, particularly when it comes to the Middle East. One prediction, which has yet to come true, has been made repeatedly by former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali since 1988: that the Middle East will at some point in the future see war break out over access to water. Ghali thought that an interstate war would occur because of disputes over the ownership of the Nile. This has yet to happen.
However, if policymakers in Baghdad do not act soon, water could well be the source of renewed strife, not between Baghdad and its neighbours, but between Iraq’s already deeply divided population. With US troops now fully withdrawn from the country, the Iraqi government will need to work harder than ever to provide basic services in order to prevent the expression of mass discontent seen elsewhere in the region over the past year.
When it comes to water, first the interim US administration in Iraq and now the government of Nouri al-Maliki, have failed to ensure regular access to clean supplies. More worryingly, they have done little, and are doing little, to make sure that future demand will be met.
If water availability in the country continues to fall and the quality of what is on offer is not increased, the government will have no one to blame but itself. Officials from international organisations say that violent incidents over water supply are on the rise. Baghdad should make sure that this situation does not continue, lest it spark the kind of conflict it endured during the mid-2000s.