We visit classrooms, host events for students, and conduct professional development workshops for teachers about water in global contexts and the global water crisis. Please get in contact with the Middle East Studies Center if you need further information. The following teaching resources provide both a global perspective on water and a regional perspective focused on the Middle East.

Educational Resources:

Teaching About Water Scarcity in the Middle East and Worldwide

On June 4, 2019 the Middle East Studies Center conducted sessions on water scarcity and the role of water in the Middle East for the annual teacher seminar offered by the area studies centers of the Office of International Affairs. Dr. Faisal Rifai, Executive Director of the Euphrates Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC), and retired Professor of Hydraulic Engineering, Aleppo University, presented on environmental, cultural, political dimensions of water management and transboundary water issues.  The resources below started from that presentation and the related book, “Euphrates Tigris Water Issues: An Introduction.

Map of the Tigris and Euphrates River Basin

Map of the Tigris and Euphrates River Basin. No machine-readable author provided. Kmusser assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 2.5 (]

There is a stereotype the the Middle East is all desert and that’s why there’s scarcity, but countries like Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt have rivers and lakes to supply their water. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers originate in the Taurus mountains of southeastern Turkey where they are fed with alpine snows, lakes and rains. From there they diverge and run south through the arid plains of Syria and Iraq before converging again and flowing into the Persian Gulf, with some contribution from tributaries originating in Iran. The Tigris runs for 1,850 kilometers, or 1,150 miles, whereas the Euphrates river runs for 2,800 kilometers, or 1,740 miles. The Tigris-Euphrates river basin covers an area of some 35,600 square kilometers, or 13,700 square miles, and comprises the riparian countries of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. “Riparian” simply means that they are situated on the banks of the aforementioned rivers.

The Karacaöen Reservoir in the Taurus mountains of Turkey.
Image of Karacaöen Reservoir.
Duesentrieb 17 November 2006. CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons
The Middle East conducted an intensive industrialization effort starting with the end of World War One and the Mandate System implemented by European countries in the region. Oil was also being discovered all over region at that time and the development of an energy production economy (often in coordination with European countries and/or the U.S.).  Water infrastructure, and the building of dams in particular, central to that effort and the creation of national boundaries created tensions between the countries of the Middle East, and crises for many of the people in the Middle East which remain to this day. This page will provide resources for teaching about how global issues of industrial pollution, energy production, and water shortages affect the Middle East in particular. We also posit that in studying how these issues play out in the Middle East, solutions to these problems may be found which possess global application potential.
We recommend exploring Aquastat for further information and research on water in the Middle East and the world. The main the uses of water for daily life are:
  • drinking, cooking (needs to be pure)
  • housekeeping (bathing, laundry, dishes, etc)
  • agriculture (food we eat every day)
  • electricity generation (some percent of the electricity consumed is generated by dams)
  • recreation (sports, boating, swimming)
  • industry (stuff we consume, food and otherwise)
Conversation-Starter Video (5 minutes): Are We Running Out of Water?
Discussion question: What popped out at you?
A Global Look at Freshwater Video (3.5 minutes)

Discussion questions: Where is the freshwater in the world? Does the Middle East have enough freshwater? Do we have enough freshwater?

Water and the Global Ecosystem

The the cycle of evaporation and precipitation which causes freshwater sources to be replenished is critical for your students to understand as they begin their inquiries into the global water crisis.There are useful visuals here for teaching this foundational knowledge. As they research methods for water conservation and use management they should also understand the concept of an aquifer. In Yemen, ancient aquifers, sometimes referred to as “fossil water” are being tapped due to extreme water scarcity. Those poses the threat of permanent desertification.
Key Concepts: Freshwater, Water Cycle, Recharging Aquifers

Where do we get the water we need for daily life?

As learners do research on global water issues and their potential solutions it’s essential not to lose sight of the constraints on water resources, and the question “Where do we get the water we need for daily life?” While traditional “grey infrastructure” (i.e., dams, sewer systems, sanitation plants, etc) may get a bad rap (and “green infrastructure” is a central concept for sustainable water management), the most basic water resource management can also do damage to the environment. Any time we use water faster than in can replenish itself we risk making rivers go dry and killing wildlife.
*Parts of the Middle East experience monsoons.
Learning Activity:Water Scarcity in the Middle East
What news on water in the Middle East.
Use the site: syntax in google to search countries’ web sites for news on water.
Start with basic searches then scaffold to more sophisticated searches: water, desalination, green infrastructure
Look for the way people are _________ that impacts water resources and wildlife.
“Land use”
What local solutions did you find? Do we have a similar issue in the U.S.? What do you see as the primary obstacles for “here” and “there.”
Approach: Use key concepts and topics above as analytical lenses. Show students how important critical thinking is for solving global issues: whenever the lens is pointed there, look for local activity related to it, then point the same lenses at the U.S. This prevents a deficit definition of the Other and and at the same time romanticized notions about their culture.

Water Pollution:

Teaching Materials:

USGS Water Cycle Diagram (Elementary/Kids)

The Water Cycle for Schools and Kids. Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS. Source: Public domain.

The Water Cycle (Natural water cycle)
Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS. Source: Public domain.
How much water comes from snow (Western U.S.), by Matthew Sturm:

Water Resources Textbook

Introduction to Water Resources

A Regional and Historical Perspective on Water: The Middle East

Article on “Understanding the Middle East Through Water

World Religions and River Civilizations: Handout

Classroom Materials on Water Pollution:

River Pollution in India, Documentary and Learning Activities 

Suggested Readings and Bibliographies:

Suggested readings list.

Water Supply Bibliography

Effect of Climatic Change on Water Bibliography