Water panel brings expert in Middle East conflict to Missoula

Water panel brings expert in Middle East conflict to Missoula

News Type: State, Regional, Federal Source: Missoulian
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Behind many of the world’s violent crises lies a common factor: water.

“It was John F. Kennedy who said he or she who can crack the solution for water scarcity should win a dual Nobel Prize — worthy of both the peace and science prizes,” said Hussein A. Amery of the Colorado School of Mines and author of “Arab Water Security: Threats and Opportunities in the Gulf States.” “He said this in early 1960s, when the world population was 3 billion. The world now has 7.5 billion people and we’re still struggling with the same challenge.”

Amery will lead a panel discussion arranged by the Montana World Affairs Council on Thursday evening. Titled “Water as Gold: Global Water Issues from the Middle East to Montana,” the panel includes hydrologist Nick Silverman, University of Montana Central and Southwest Asian Studies Center Director Mehrdad Kia and Blackfoot Challenge Executive Director Charles Curtin.

A five-year drought that devastated Syria’s farming industry helped spark the civil war that erupted there in 2011 and now embroils the United States, Russia, Turkey, Kurdish independence fighters, ISIS and numerous other combatants in a humanitarian disaster. Amery said that was only one example of how water scarcity primes places for trouble.

“Hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas packed up and left for urban centers, looking for opportunities in places which had high unemployment to start with,” Amery said. “That created a pressure cooker situation that tipped the scales.”

Changing rain and growing conditions driven by a warming climate underlie many of these situations, Amery said. But people cause even more preventable problems, such as mismanagement of upstream dams, or toxic waste spills that make fresh water unavailable or unusable.

And roughly 70 percent of the globe’s fresh water gets used for human food production. Amery said that means even small improvements in water use — such as modernizing irrigation systems — can have big results. Such changes have already been bearing fruit in Montana’s Blackfoot and Clark Fork river drainages, where farmers have converted to more efficient pivot sprinkler systems for their fields.

Amery’s visit is co-sponsored by Stockman Bank and the Qatar Foundation. Bob Seidenschwarz of the Montana World Affairs Council said the group was aware of the complicated debate over Qatar’s international relations, which include a commercial blockade by Saudi Arabia over the role of Iran in the Middle East, hosting the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament and providing the United States with a major military base.

“We’re not making any political judgment about Qatar,” Seidenschwarz said. “We are here to present viewpoints and perspective, so the citizens of Missoula can make decisions and pursue their own education and understanding.”