The Strauss Center’s Middle East Initiative explores the nexus of water, energy, and human security in the Middle East. Water and energy resources are increasingly at the center of a range of security dynamics in the Middle East. Water and energy infrastructure have become critical strategic and tactical assets for new conflict actors, helping shape recent conflict trajectories. In the ongoing conflict, for example, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized oil assets that provided, at high points, an estimated daily profit of $2 million to fund its operations, and it has used its control of hydroelectric dams as a means of threatening the population with flooding and limiting access to drinking water and agricultural irrigation.

Water and energy resources are also at the center of broader regional security issues, with the lack of a multilateral water-sharing agreement in the Tigris-Euphrates basin allowing regional political tensions to fester over unilateral water development projects. With increasing variability in the water supply, these countries also face near-term threats to their populations’ livelihood security in the form of reduced drought resilience and increased water and food stress. Neighboring Jordan is a critical partner to Tigris-Euphrates basin countries and a primary recipient of refugees from conflict in those countries, all while facing substantial biophysical and infrastructure constraints from depleting groundwater resources, greater variability in water from the Jordan River basin, and insufficient energy generation to meet demand. Electricity supply is a perennial constraint in all countries in the region and, while there have been two attempts at regional interconnectivity, these have failed due to conflicts and altering political alliances.

The water-energy-security nexus is clear: treating and distributing water requires electricity, and producing electricity requires water. The lack of one or both can hamper economic growth, alienate people from their governing institutions, and increase the potential for social and political instability within and between states. Yet incomplete water and energy data, contradictory claims across countries, and ongoing conflict in the region preclude sound national planning and regional cooperation in many parts of the Middle East. New data collection and analyses are needed to understand the exact scope and location of resource stress, the implications for livelihoods and state security, and the required elements for stability in the face of growing resource stress in the region.

The Strauss Center’s Middle East Initiative seeks to develop a framework for analyzing the intersection of water and energy security in the Middle East and, in doing so, provide new data and analysis to support strategies that seek to promote human security, interstate cooperation, and stability in the region.

The initiative is currently conducting a pilot project on Iraq and Jordan as two countries that are critical to water, energy, and security dynamics in the region. The core objectives of the pilot project include:

  • Collecting and mapping water and energy resources and infrastructure, their current operating and delivery state in both countries, and their relation to varied socioeconomic, ethnoreligious, and other population groups in both countries;
  • Documenting where development and humanitarian needs lie along this water-energy nexus in both countries; and
  • Informing strategies to meet the needs of indigenous and refugee populations proximate to these assets, with a particular focus on assessing sustainable water-energy solutions that respond to both immediate and longer-term water and energy needs in both countries.

The initiative is led by the Strauss Center's State Fragility Initiative Director Ashley Moran. For more information, please feel free to contact Ashley at amoran@austin.utexas.edu.

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