Providing references and discussion on selected Middle Eastern environmental issues

Palms: Amman, JordanEnvironmental issues in the Middle East have received relatively little attention, compared to those of regions such as the Americas, Africa, or Asia. Yet the environment in this region is no less worthy of attention. Middle Eastern environmental issues are often forgotten in the midst of the volatile politics and economic stagnation of the region. This is a serious oversight, since environmental problems very often underlie the political conflicts in this area. Other substantial impediments in most Middle Eastern countries include the relative lack of scientific information on the biodiversity of the region, and the difficulty of sharing relevant research findings between Middle Eastern countries.

We look behind the headlines for underlying environmental issues that contribute to or even drive the political events we all read or hear about every day. Such issues include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over groundwater beneath the West Bank and Gaza, sewage dumping from Israeli settlements onto surrounding Palestinian land, Turkish dam construction on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Saddam Hussein's ongoing destruction of the Mesopotamian marshes of southern Iraq, and the resulting decline in marine shrimp populations in the waters of Kuwait.

Since environmental issues in the Middle East are often intertwined with social and political conditions, we sometimes offer relevant political commentary or editorial opinions related to these issues. For example, one can hardly discuss, for instance, marshland drainage in Iraq or much of the environmental damage in Palestine, out of the context of the embattled, repressive -- and often nasty --political climate prevailing in those regions.

We therefore are alert to and encourage any developments that promise new and exciting prospects for democracy in the Middle East. The United Nations Development Programme's 2002 Arab Human Development Report, released in June 2002, cites the lack of political freedom in the Middle East as being one of three major factors that keep the region and its people from reaching their full potential. One section of this report outlines some of the issues that the citizens of Arab states need to address in order to effectively deal with environmental problems within their own countries. In another article, reprinted in the August 15, 2002 International Herald Tribune, the 1998 Nobel Prize Laureate for Economics, Amartya Sen, suggested that sustainable environmental development and increasing democratic freedoms should be considered as two aspects of the same issue. He said, "Not only are these freedoms important in themselves, but public discussion, often stifled under authoritarian regimes, may be pivotally important for better understanding of the importance of environmental preservation." The other two major factors cited by the 2002 Arab Human Development Report as being critical to better prospects for the region -- increasing educational opportunities and greater freedom for women -- should, if implemented, create yet more opportunities for informed, freer, actively participating citizens to understand and resolve the environmental issues of the Middle East.

Our approach will be to select from a relatively few specific environmental issues and present them in detail, rather than to be a comprehensive listing of many issues. We will also provide some basic geographical and ecological information on each Middle Eastern country, and include links to some environmentally-related Middle Eastern web sites.

We are also seeking informed opinion on ecological issues by experts who live in or are familiar with the Middle East, and invite them to contribute articles, commentary, and discussion to this web site. We would also appreciate any photos anyone might have of Middle Eastern landscapes showing representative landforms or vegetation of particular regions, representing both undisturbed and disturbed habitat. We would like to add these photos to this site and will give credit to the photographers who contribute them. This is in part your online journal -- how we develop depends partly on what you, the readers, would like to contribute.

You can access specific information on each nation or environmental issue by selecting its name from the list below.

Concerned about the state of knowledge, science, and education in the Middle East? Read the new
Arab Human Development Report 2003, released October 19, 2003.

Overview of the region: page under development
Potential for Water Wars in the 21st Century: Erwin E. Klaas

The Mesopotamian Marshes of Southern Iraq
Saddam Hussein's destruction of the Mesopotamian marshes (list of links)
Political Commentary on Iraq (more links)
Iraq: Other Environmental Issues

The Marsh Arabs' Story: Introduction by Stuart M. Leiderman
Presentations by Rend Rahim Francke, Yousef al-Khoei, and Laith Kubba
The Poor Condition and High Hopes of University Life in Basrah Today: Hamid K. Ahmed
Photos by Ra'id al-Samerra'i
The Marshes of Southern Iraq and the Marsh Arabs: Ecocide and Genocide: Hamid K. Ahmed Added February 5, 2004
HelpIraqEducation Weblog: Steffen W. Schmidt Added January 13, 2004

Added February 12, 2004

Qa al-Azraq: The Azraq Oasis page under development
Environmental and nature links

(West Bank and Gaza Strip) Added February 12, 2004

The Ecology of Occupation page under development
Palestine: Environmental and Nature Links Added January 13, 2004
Includes Palestine Wildlife Society and USAID Wadi Gaza Restoration Project

Added February 12, 2004

Added February 12, 2004

Updated February 12, 2004
Environmental and nature links

Royce J. Bitzer, Ph.D.

Department of Entomology
113A Insectary Building
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa 50011 U.S.A.
(515) 294-8663


This site was launched on October 30, 2002, in the interest of broadening understanding of the ecology and important environmental issues of the Middle East. The site was most recently updated on February 12, 2004.