A study in contrasts.

A parched Syria turned to war, scholar says, and Egypt may be next

In 2007, after years of population growth and institutional economic stagnation, several dry years descended on Syria. Farmers began to leave their villages and head toward the capital. From 2007-2008, Sofer said, over 160 villages in Syria were abandoned and some 250,000 farmers – Sofer calls them “climate refugees” – relocated to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities.

The capital, like many of its peer cities in the Middle East, was unable to handle that influx of people. Residents dug 25,000 illegal wells in and around Damascus, pushing the water table ever lower and the salinity of the water ever higher.

This, along with over one million refugees from the Iraq war and, among other challenges, borders that contain a dizzying array of religions and ethnicities, set the stage for the civil war.

Tellingly, it broke out in the regions most parched — “in Daraa [in the south] and in Kamishli in the northeast,” Sofer said. “Those are two of the driest places in the country.”

Professor Eyal Zisser, one of Israel’s top scholars of Syria, agreed that the drought played a significant role in the onset of the war. “Without doubt it is part of the issue,” he said. Zisser did not believe that water was the central issue that inflamed Syria but rather “the match that set the field of thorns on fire.”

Now compare and contrast how Israel has conquered its water shortage:

Not through violence and conquest, but through innovation, How Israel beat the drought:

Until a couple of years ago, Israeli radio and TV regularly featured commercials warning that the country was “drying out.”

In one of the most powerful TV ad campaigns, celebrities including singer Ninet Tayeb, model Bar Refaeli and actor Moshe Ivgy highlighted the “years of drought” and the “falling level of the Kinneret.” As they spoke plaintively to camera, their features started to crack and peel — like the country — for lack of moisture….

But for Israel, for the foreseeable future, [Israel Water Authority head Alexander] Kushnir says, the water crisis is over. And not because this happens to have been one of the wettest winters in years. Rather, he says, an insistent refusal to let the country be constrained by insufficient natural water sources — a refusal that dates back to David Ben-Gurion’s decision to build the National Water Carrier in the 1950s, the most significant infrastructure investment of Israel’s early years — led Israel first into large-scale water recycling, and over the past decade into major desalination projects. The result, as of early 2013, is that the Water Authority feels it can say with confidence that Israel has beaten the drought….

“Use any superlatives you like,” urges Kushnir, to describe the fact that, today, “over 80% of our purified sewage goes back into agricultural use. The next best in the OECD is Spain with 17-18%. It’s so justified energy-wise, and environmentally as well.”…

The solution was desalination, on a major scale — the third phase in a water revolution that had begun with the water carrier and continued with recycling….

“We’re not the world’s biggest desalinators,” notes Kushnir, “but no one has made the shift so fast to a situation where half of its water needs are filled from ‘artificial’ sources. And it means we are now ready for the next decade, without dramatic dependence on rainfall fluctuations.”

Israel now is on the verge of becoming a water exporter:

Set to begin operating as soon as next month, Israel Desalination Enterprises’ Sorek Desalination Plant will provide up to 26,000 cubic meters – or nearly 7 million gallons – of potable water to Israelis every hour. When it’s at full capacity, it will be the largest desalination plant of its kind in the world.

“If we didn’t do this, we would be sitting at home complaining that we didn’t have water,” said Raphael Semiat, a member of the Israel Desalination Society and professor at Israel’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. “We won’t be dependent on what the rain brings us. This will give a chance for the aquifers to fill up.” …

Giora Shaham, a former long-term planner at Israel’s Water Authority and a critic of Israel’s current desalination policy, said that factories like Sorek could be a waste because if there is adequate rainfall the desalination plants will produce more water than Israel needs at a cost that is too high. Then, surplus water may be wasted, or international bodies like the United Nations could pressure Israel to distribute it for free to unfriendly neighboring countries, Shaham said.

Too much water in the Middle East?  That’s a good problem to have.

And it is a problem brought about by a culture of innovation, which is one of the reasons why Israel wins.

Related post from the archives: Mitt Romney “outrages” Palestinians by pointing out the obvious.