Regional Cooperation Series

This Policy Paper is part of the Middle East Institute's Regional Cooperation Series. Throughout 2016, MEI will be releasing several policy papers by renowned scholars and experts exploring possibilities to foster regional cooperation across an array of sectors. The purpose is to highlight the myriad benefits and opportunities associated with regional cooperation, and the high costs of the continued business-as-usual model of competition and intense rivalry.


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is regarded as one of the most water-challenged regions in the world. The destabilizing impact of its resource constraints is compounded by the fact that some 60 percent of the region’s water flows across international borders, generating and exacerbating political tensions between states. Water insecurity will increase in the MENA region if the current situation of minimal water cooperation persists under the disabling conditions of political volatility, economic disintegration, institutional failure, and environmental degradation. Experiences from around the world demonstrate that countries that have achieved regional water cooperation have prospered together and kept the threat of conflict a remote possibility. It is time for the countries in the Middle East to realize that there is no alternative to sustainable water cooperation.

Key Findings

  • Water management is an important instrument for the prevention of conflict
  • If MENA countries continue to pursue uncoordinated water-based development policies, the region may face severe food shortages by 2030-2040
  • Historical examples show that there is a close relationship between peace and water cooperation and vice versa
  • MENA has yet to witness a full-scale war over water, but it has proven to be a multiplier of factors causing conflict
  • Lesson to be learned from Syria’s civil war, where the severe drought for 2006-2010 had a catalytic effect

Read the full Policy Paper here. 

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