WATER: FOR GOOD OR EVIL?
Dr. Aris Petasis
The indisputable importance of water to human life is best described by the fact that man is made up of water by 60 percent or more, depending on age. The fact that throughout history water continues to have great spiritual power speaks volumes about the enthralling hold of water over man.
Talking to the Samaritan woman Jesus said, “...whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst.” (John 4:10-14). When Christ spoke about the ‘Living Water’, he was not referring to ordinary fresh water that flows from clean streams or springs (or from ponds or cisterns). In this case, Christ uses the term water to mean the grace of the Holy Spirit that leads to eternal life (1). Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan River to demonstrate that with baptism the old man of sin is washed away (dies), to be replaced by the clean new man. Such is the power of baptism in water that the Orthodox hymnology talks of the waters of the Jordan River reversing course and moving upstream, as Jesus touched its baptismal waters.
'Localities' of water
Water is associated with liberation as when the waters of the Red Sea, the ancient scriptures tell us, parted to allow Moses and his people to cross to the Promised Land, and then closed to block the pursuing armies. Water is associated with ethical prohibitions even in times of war when man manifests his worst nature. Throughout history one of the most universally-abided prohibitions by enemy combatants has been that of, “no to the poisoning of enemy wells” by belligerents. Water can be a source of sorrow when polluted. Particularly to people that love nature and cleanliness. I vividly remember walking by the Barada River in Damascus, sadly seeing the filth that built up from rubbish strewn into the river, empty tins, paper bags and so on polluting this once beautiful water way. I was told that government went to great lengths to educate people not to pollute but obviously with little success. A once attractive river that graced the centre of Damascus was turned into an ugly spectacle by the actions of probably a small minority of senseless people. The diminished flow of the river (the result of water over-usage) added to the gloomy picture of grime in this river.
Some countries even derive their identities from the water that flows in their mighty rivers. Throughout history Egypt has been synonymous to the Nile River, even if the origin of the Nile is not in Egypt. India and the Ganges River are synonymous as well. The Ganga (Ganges) is the most sacred river to Hindus with healing powers that drive millions to visit the river to receive its blessing. The Nile and the Ganges in many respects give substance to Egypt and India respectively. These two rivers are also synonymous to existence considering the millions of people that live on the banks of the two rivers, and depend on the rivers for their livelihood. Regrettably, the scourge of pollution is taking its toll on both these world treasures. The Ganges is by some accounts one of the five most polluted rivers in the world today despite efforts to contain the problem. Not that the Nile in Cairo fares any better!
Water is life and an indispensable tool for humans to acquire security of food supplies, development, navigation, production of energy and so on. As such it is an essential parameter for people’s physical and often spiritual quality of life. Water is essential to development and to poverty reduction; if well managed. Water is everywhere and governs every facet and every human activity. After all, humans carry with them water wherever they go!
Water exercises power of imagery on people and creates feelings that are hardly surpassed by other stimuli. I recall travelling by air from Khartoum to Cairo; the airplane followed the route of the Nile. Someone had warned me not to look at the Nile flow from above for too long, as I stood the risk of being mesmerised by the sight, and making it difficult for me escape its spell. And indeed this came to pass as I kept helplessly looking at the magic of the Nile meandering through the desert and cutting through sand just like a hot knife cuts though butter. By the time I arrived in Cairo after nearly three hours of staring at the Nile, I simply could not get out of my mind the vision of the River Nile in the desert. I admit that it took me more than a few days to recover. Another image that refuses to go away is that of the Blue and White Niles converging in Khartoum in readiness for their final destination to the Nile Delta. The confluence of the two rivers in Khartoum and the muddy waters their merging creates, brought the image in my head of God stirring with a mega-spoon the waters as these two rivers come together. A more mundane mini-image of this would be the stirring of a relatively thin soup in the kitchen.
Having visited Victoria Falls (the “smoke that thunders”) and the Zambezi River on more than one occasion (both from the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides), I continue to believe to this day what I believed on the day I first saw the Victoria Falls. Namely, that the world owes one free trip to the Victoria Falls to every living person on this earth. If the world can cut enough money from guns, it can comfortably provide everyone with a free ticket to the Victoria Falls. One visit to the Victoria Falls should perhaps be incorporated into the Human Rights Charter.
Having been born in the small village of Arodes in Paphos, Cyprus that is fortunate to have three beaches on three of its sides (south, north and west), and all within a distance of ten kilometres, I recall that in the winter months it was too cold to swim, but I would regularly ride a donkey to Lara beach (west of the village) just to sit and admire the waves and listen to the thundering sea on stormy days. With my older brother Stephanos, we used to spend endless hours sitting on the beach at Chrisochou Bay (north of our village) whistling and trying to emulate the sound of the waves and the water that gently touched the shore. These are powerful images that only water can generate in man and are hard (impossible?) to replicate. Crossing the misty waters over the Golden Bridge that spans the Golden Gate strait, the channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, is another image of water not to be forgotten.
Water through history
In ancient times, Athenian hegemony owed its power to the strength of the Athenian fleet and its control of the seas more than any other thing. Alexander’s victory at Granicus River probably marked the beginning of his ascendancy that ultimately gave him a place in world history for the past two-and-half thousand years and with more to come. The Roman Empire began to decline partly on account of losing control of the shipping lanes that made the shipment of grain from Egypt difficult. The Byzantine Empire began its descent to oblivion once its fleet was weakened and gradually abolished and as such, Constantinople lost its defences from the sea. The British Empire owes its greatness to the power of its navy and its control of the high seas: “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves! Britons never, never, never shall be slaves” go the lyrics of the first verse of “Rule, Britannia!” one of the most famed British songs. Spain expanded its domain by using its fleet, just as tiny Netherlands and Portugal also did.
During WWII the waters of the Volga River in Russia witnessed perhaps the bloodiest battle in human history where Hitler personally faced the mighty armies of Marshall Georgi Zhukov’s (Zhukov commanded thirteen armies in total in Stalingrad). Germany completely lost its expeditionary army (dead, injured or captured) in Stalingrad (now Volgograd). The winners of Stalingrad, the Soviet Union, lost up to maybe one million dead. The two belligerents were locked in battle for access and control of the vital water route of the Volga, a vital transport route between Russia and the Caspian Sea. Hitler decided to capture Stalingrad first and then the important oil fields of the Caucuses that would have supported future German war activities (2). To Hitler, the Volga waterway was an absolute must as it also denied Russia the use of the river to transport supplies to the northern part of Russia. Before WWII the waters of the Volga again played a vital role. In the Russian Civil War both belligerents fielded warships on the Volga with the Reds gaining the upper hand over the Whites and ultimately winning that terrible internecine war.
In more recent times, the aid of water was employed to help bring about regime change in Libya that ultimately plunged the country into never-ending bloodshed. Libya was relentlessly bombarded from the waters of the Mediterranean from US ships, and not from the air by the French and British air forces as the public was let to believe. The assistance of water is now being used by America in the South China Sea where the USA maintains a sizeable US fleet that is trying futilely to intimidate China and to put a restraint on China’s ascendancy in world affairs.
Water for good or evil
Water is essential and can be used to serve good or evil, depending on who has power over it. Regrettably, as water resources get scarcer and scarcer (at least in some parts of the world and particularly in the Middle East) the potential for using water for evil, increases dangerously. It is forecasted that in a few decades a large part of the world will probably be living with serious water shortages unless alternative sources are found (3). Urgent and well-thought-out measures would thus need to be taken now if the problem is to be contained, to spare humanity the conflict and grief.
Uncontrolled population growth (global population at the time of writing stands at over 7.3 billion) around the world, unwise use of water, wastage and sheer selfishness at the individual and the national level create a combustive and dangerous situation with the weak likely to pay the price. “Modernity” and affluence have uncontrollably increased the use of water (mostly) in the developed countries. Water consumption went up six-fold in the 20th century whilst population grew threefold. Materialism, wastefulness, unbridled product promotion and marketing make some people spend unstoppably on unnecessary purchases. In turn, this fuels more manufacturing to satiate greed and more unnecessary buying. Shopping therapy (that is meant to fill a great spiritual void in some people’s souls) has made it into the vocabulary of “useful phrases”. The production-buying-production cycle seems unending as unending is the resultant catastrophe of the environment.
No end in sight to future water usage. Demand for water is expected to continue increasing unabated with uneven distribution of water causing more and more problems and bringing some countries to the edge of the precipice of human tragedy. It therefore goes without saying that government, industry, mining, agriculture, civic society and so on would need to put their heads together to come up with some meaningful and viable solutions to the problem before water wars start replacing oil wars as major reason of conflict. Food security for a global population that will soon reach 8 billion people would need to be the starting point for water resources planners; not just because of ethical considerations, but also for fear of destabilization, turmoil and war.
For countries in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean water issues are already beginning to cause problems between nations, putting the region at risk and adding to existing tortuous problems (4). The Nile River is again seeing the seeds of turmoil threatening the region. For the moment, the latest agreement on the use of the Nile water between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, three of the ten riparian states of the Nile (including the Blue Nile and White Niles), has smoothed things over and one hopes this has ended the potential for future problems. The Nile River and its two feeder rivers (the White Nile and Blue Nile) are confluent in Khartoum, capital of Sudan. The Nile river and its tributaries run through 10 different countries in Africa - which have to decide amongst themselves the management of the Nile waters - though only three of these play a major role in Nile water affairs. Besides Ethiopia (that provides 86% of the Nile waters) and the Nile riparian states of Sudan and Egypt, the other seven riparian states of the two Nile tributaries are: South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
The Nile is the only source of water for Egypt (5). To defend what it saw as its legitimate right over the Nile waters, Egypt moved troops to the Sudanese borders in 1956 and threatened war. Now, a long dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt (but also Sudan) broke out when Ethiopia, at the mouth of the Blue Nile that provides most of the water of the Nile, decided to build African’s biggest hydroelectric dam; the Renaissance Dam which is expected to cost nearly $5 billion. The other two downstream Nile riparian states objected because they feel that this mega-project will affect their own water supplies. In this conflict, Ethiopia received the support of sub-Sahara riparian states Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya thus complicating the problem with countries taking sides. Ethiopia felt that the colonial era agreements of 1929 that were written by Britain were unfair and gave Sudan and Egypt more than their fair share of water and also gave Egypt the right of veto.
Turkey's water exploitation
Euphrates’ and Tigris’ three riparian states: Turkey, Syria and Iraq are already experiencing problems with the distribution of water. These conflicts could one day spill over, pushing the latter countries on the brink of serious conflict with Turkey. The unchecked damming of water by upstream Turkey, to serve its needs for irrigation and hydropower, is seen by the two downstream countries of Syria and Iraq as heavy-handed, arbitrary and callous actions by a country that is known to be violent and to use its superior military power to intimidate and rob other countries of their resources. So, here is a case of a nature’s gift to three countries being used by one of the three to exploit the other two.
One senior Turkish official even went as far as to say that Turkey will keep the water just as any country keeps oil - forgetting the difference between water mouths, confluences, riparian states, river basins, discharge and all the rest that are central to the management of river water - but not to oil. Turkey is fiercely against any UN attempts to label water as a ‘resource’ in need of international management, and more so in the case of water flowing in trans-boundary rivers. Though the Euphrates water is governed by agreements between Turkey and Syria (covering minimum average flow of water at the Syrian-Turkish border) and between Syria and Iraq (covering allocation of water between the two countries), Turkey often disregards such agreements or gives her own arbitrary interpretation of agreement terms. Turkey also often interprets international water law and its terminology in a way that fits her own long-term plans for the Euphrates and Tigris, ignoring the interests of others. True to her past behaviour, Turkey first assesses her own strength against the strength of her neighbours, and if she sees that the balance of power is in her own favour, she then starts pressuring her neighbours, or uses violence accordingly to further her own interests.
A manifestation of Turkey’s attitude towards her neighbours is her unwillingness to sign a river basin-wide agreement, knowing that Syria controls larger swaths of the river basin than Turkey. The Tigris-Euphrates eco-region includes parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan with the three riparian states sharing the basin with Iran, Kuwait and Jordan. Turkey does not want to hear about river basins and eco-regions, because this does not suit her objectives.
Turkey’s callousness has no bounds, and this is best manifested by the building of 22 dams in the eastern parts of Turkey without any regard to the needs of others. This area is largely populated by the Kurds of Turkey. The building of so many dams has damaged the ecosystem of the region, and in some cases threatens the cultural heritage of the Kurds. The building of the Ilisu Dam that is programmed to be completed soon is a case in point. Construction of the dam started some ten years back. With the Ilisu Dam, hundreds and thousands of ancient sites that are of great international value will be submerged. The waters of the reservoir promise to submerge heritage that belongs to the Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians and Christians. These are the precise groups that suffered heavily under the Turks through persecution, killing and genocide (6).
The Ilisu project is seen by many as an expression of Turkish determination to wipe out memories of the heritage of the ethnic groups it persecutes or threatens with annihilation. It is calculated that about 50 and 68 hamlets and villages belonging almost exclusively to the Kurds will be flooded affecting tens of thousands of Kurds not including around 60 villages that will see their land partially flooded. Turkey is not new to wiping out ancient heritages. In the last 40 years alone, Turkey, through the Turkish army, nearly wiped out the entire Christian civilization from the occupied northern part of Cyprus that encompasses 37% of the Republic of Cyprus. Greek ancient sites on the island will soon follow. And now Turkey has water in its fiendish plans.
The Water Pipeline to occupied Cyprus
Turkey has no limits to how she uses water to dominate and make dependent other people and states. Cyprus provides the most recent example of such behaviour. Without the consent of the Republic of Cyprus, and using the fact that Cyprus is water-stressed, Turkey completed a project to illegally bring fresh water to Cyprus for the occupied areas of Cyprus (7). The project brings water from Turkey to Cyprus beneath the Mediterranean for a distance of 80 kilometres. The total cost of the project is $538 million and is designed to have a life of fifty years. Half of this water will be for drinking purposes, and the other half for irrigation that is expected to irrigate 11,920 acres of occupied land in the Messaoria plains of Cyprus.
The project was carried out by the Turkish State Hydraulic Works (DSI). But already the DSI is facing problems with the municipalities of the occupied areas. Turkey that controls the project wants to see this privatized so that it can collect payments and invest in infrastructure in the occupied part of Cyprus and, as such, opposes the Board that the occupied municipalities have set up. Already everyone knows that the winner will be the side that maintains 40,000 Turkish occupation troops in Cyprus and dominates the Island by force, and with the tacit support of NATO (8).
Nicosia, November 2015
DR. ARIS PETASIS is a strategy consultant who has served several multinational organisations across various countries and cultures. He is a popular international speaker and debater, and a student of Russian, Greek and Egyptian history, and holds BBA, MBA, and EdD degrees, all funded through American merit-based scholarships. He is also a founding member of the International Fund Tsyolkovsky at the Moscow State Aviation University. His latest publication as editor is “Intractable Dilemmas in the Energy-Rich Eastern Mediterranean” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) which deals primarily with Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon.
(1) The Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, pp.14-29
(3) UN Environment Programme Report
(5) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32016763) 23 March 2015