SHARED PROBLEMS:

SHORTAGE OF WATER AND INCREASED POPULATION

by Shirley W. Madany


Some wonderful things have been happening in the Middle East. The Washington Agreement between Yitshak Rabin of Israel and King Hussein of Jordan, which followed the earlier famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat in the same city, has given the world real signs of hope. The slow working out of each peaceful step, such as the opening of the border between Jordan and Israel in the Aqaba region is cause for hope. While we are thankful for this reconciliation, we must be aware that there are some very real problems which must be faced by all parties in the Middle East, regardless of whether they are Israelis or Arabs; Muslims, Christians or Jews.

Water resources in the entire Middle Eastern area are dangerously low. This affects future food supply. When this problem is coupled with the steady growth of the population of the area, it gives rise to serious concern. There will soon be another meeting of the Cairo Conference on Development. This UN sponsored gathering of experts dealing with problems relating to development, is meeting with great opposition from fundamentalist Muslims who consider that because the agenda includes population control it must be anti-Islamic. (1994)

Notes on an earlier Cairo Conference, in l990, which we had copied from HUNA LONDON, the Arabic monthly magazine of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), prompted us to write on this dual subject.

The article in HUNA LONDON considered the entire Arab world. It stated that by the year 2000, the population will have reached 290 million of whom l05 million will be under 15. Two million new jobs are needed every year between l990 - l995 and 2 1/2 million between 1995 and the year 2000, which is a tremendous challenge for a non-industrial area. The author also commented that for such jobs to be initiated they require more than economic know-how. He said that "creativity takes place only in an atmosphere of democracy and freedom." Since the area is going through some tremendous upheavals due to the rise and rapid spread of Islamic fundamentalism, one cannot but wonder about the prospects for true freedom and democracy in the Arab world!

Another forgotten problem. The Mediterranean, which borders the Arab world both in the east and the south, has become the most polluted sea in the world with l2 million tons of pollutants per year being dumped into it. Anyone doing a tour of that area will remember the dreadful condition of the sea at the port of Izmir, Turkey (the Smyrna of the Bible).

But the most urgent challenge which faces all the countries of the Arab world is the diminishing water resources of the area. It is obvious that North Africa has hardly any major rivers. When we come to Egypt and the Sudan they do have the tremendous Nile river but its waters are no longer adequate for all the countries which are within its basin. Looking at the Asiatic part of the Middle East, it is a well known fact that the Jordan river can no longer meet the needs of Jordan, Israel and the nascent Palestinian state which is about to be born in the West Bank and Gaza. To the north, the Orontes and the Litani rivers flow through Syria and Lebanon. The first one finally entering the southern part of Turkey. In the summer of 1975 we were in the area and found the river to be only a trickle, when it reached Aleppo, Syria.. The most important rivers in the area are the Euphrates and the Tigris which rise in Turkey, flow through Syria and then enter Iraq. Turkey has some giant projects to harness these two rivers and irrigate huge areas of its eastern provinces. As an example of the growing needs of the entire Middle East, both Syria and Iraq were shocked not long ago when the Euphrates stopped flowing for one entire month in order to fill the newly built Ataturk Dam in Turkey!

Yes, we can rejoice at this beginning of a reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis which will free both parties to work on such challenges. But these are not the only urgent requirements of the area. Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians are in desperate need of hearing the claims of the historic Christian faith. How wonderful it is that those who brought the gospel to the area over l50 years ago brought with them the robust Reformed heritage so that the roots of evangelical Christianity were planted in a vigorous and dynamic way. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the work of the pioneers was not continued in the 20th century, mostly due to the triumph of modernism in the mainline sending churches.

At present, while there are several evangelical groups who are seeking to influence that part of the world with the claims of Christ, most of them do not have the same background, tradition and resources which caused pioneers to go to the Middle East and make such giant contributions to the area. Some of these contributions--such as education culminating in the American University of Beirut (formerly known as the Syrian Protestant College), and in the field of health with the renowned AUB Hospital, not to mention similar institutions in Cairo and throughout the Middle East; are coming to light in recent publications. Two unique books which have just come to hand are THE ARABISTS: The Romance of an American Elite by Robert D. Kaplan and AMERICAN MISSIONS IN SYRIA: A Study of American Missionary Contribution to Arab Nationalism in l9th Century Syria by Adnan Abu-Ghazaleh. Two quotes from the latter's book. In talking about Cornelius Van Dyck, whose mastery of the Arabic language was a constant marvel to all around him and whose name continues to be remembered for his work in the printing of the Arabic Bible, Abu-Ghazaleh said: "Cornelius Van Dyck, (l8l8-l895) on the other hand, represents the contribution of a foreigner, who managed to acquire an astonishing proficiency in the Arabic tongue, which enabled him to speak and write it with the ease of a cultured Arab.....As far as the power of example went, his was the most valuable and effective single influence ever exerted by a foreigner in the cultural development of the country."

It is our hope and prayer that evangelicals who have a burden for Muslims, will see the need for a more consistent theological tradition as they seek to present the Gospel to the followers of Muhammad. The appearance of David Wells' book NO "PLACE FOR TRUTH: or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?" is an indication that several young evangelicals are no longer satisfied with that brand of Evangelicalism which emerged out of the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the early 20s. They realize that there is a great value and strength in a total appropriation of the reformation heritage which has been preserved for us in the great creeds and catechisms of the reformed churches as well as in the work of its representative theologians down to our present day. It is only as we recapture the vision of the pioneers and embrace their great heritage that we can look forward to a real impact on the masses of the Arabic speaking people of North Africa and the Middle East.


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