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The BBC's Paul Welsh
"These waters are a great source of tension between countries"
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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 13:10 GMT
Water wars: Part l - The Middle East
Sea of Galillee:  Water in the Middle East is scarce
Sea of Galillee: Water in the Middle East is scarce
A war over water? Government ministers and experts will be gathering in The Hague at Second World Water Forum this weekend to try to avoid it. The BBC's Paul Welsh assesses the risks. In the first of a three part series, he travels to Israel.

Fishermen haul in their nets on the Sea of Galilee. Things seem to have changed little from biblical times, but they have.

I can promise that if there is not sufficient water in our region, if there is scarcity of water, if people remain thirsty for water, then we shall doubtless face war.

Meir Ben Meir, Former Israeli Water Commissioner
These waters are a source of great tension between countries, not because they are holy, but because they are scarce.

Yitzhak Gal from the Lake Authority showed me how the waters have fallen to a critically low level.

"Five years ago, the water arrived this line," he explains.

"Today you can see the lake is lower and the shoreline is in the far."

In the summer water levels went below the danger line where it is believed that salt waters may begin to cause damage to this lake, its supplies and its ecology. Meanwhile, demand for water grows.

As Meir Ben Meir, Israel's Water Commissioner prepared for retirement, he painted a gloomy picture of possible conflict over water between Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and Syria.

"At the moment, I project the scarcity of water within 5 years," he says.

"I can promise that if there is not sufficient water in our region, if there is scarcity of water, if people remain thirsty for water, then we shall doubtless face war."

The Jordan Valley is not unique. In other ancient water systems - the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates - there is also a danger of conflict over water.

Peace talks

Palestinians use less water than the Israelis
Palestinians use less water than the Israelis
The water issue may hold up the Middle East peace talks.

Palestinians gathering water from a spring in their village use a quarter as much water as their Israeli neighbours.

Israel shows no signs of returning land with access to rivers or underground supplies.

Samiya gathers water two or three times a day and says that it is a huge burden. She even has to collect water when she is sick.

Palestinian leaders believe that to ensure peace Israel must release land and water and change the way it uses supplies.

Nabil Sha'ath, the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Planning and International Co-operation, says that the Israelis have to rethink their agricultural practices.

Samiya has to gather water even when she's sick
Samiya has to gather water even when she is ill
"They've got to change their crops, cut down on citrus, cut down on rice," explains Mr Sha'ath.

"You grow rice and cotton in the desert. They are the most water-consuming crops of all."

"If they do that, then really we have a chance to save a lot in the consumption of water."

No water to farm

Israeli farmer Tal Adler has left a huge proportion of his land unplanted this year because he knows he will not be able to water it.

Tal Adler:
Tal Adler:"I think we should supply our own food"
Supplies piped to Israeli farmers were cut by 40% last year because of drought.

Israel cut the amount it allowed to flow to its neighbours, too.

In the field next to Mr Adler's, a crop has failed.

"I don't think they know what they're talking about. I think there's a need for agriculture. We can be independent of the world to supply our food. I think we should supply our own food."

Observers says that by 2025, 48 countries will be severely short of water and half the people on earth will not have access to clean supplies.

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Water wars and peace
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