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November 17, 1869: The Suez Canal, a crucial communication and transportation link between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, opens in Egypt.

Designed to give European powers better access to Middle Eastern, East Asian, and South Asian markets, the Suez Canal is built by France (using Egyptian workers) over 10 years. The French later sell the Canal to the British, who control it for 84 years before Egypt nationalizes it. It is wide enough to accommodate most ships and, at 120 miles long, is the longest canal in the world without locks.


1902: Egypt's Aswan Dam, built by the British, opens.

The original Aswan Dam, or Aswan Low Dam, is built by the British. In 1970, it will be determined that the Aswan Low Dam is neither large enough nor strong enough to control extreme flooding, and a second High dam will be built.


May 1908: Oil is discovered in Persia (Iran).

British adventurer William Knox D'Arcy strikes oil in 1908, seven years after obtaining drilling rights to the land from the Persian government. In 1909, D'Arcy joins with Burmah Oil to form the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909. By 1917, the British government, which owns 51 percent of the company, is the most influential power in Persia. Britain uses the company's reserves during World War I.


1918-1919: Famine devastates the Persian (Iranian) people.

As much as a quarter of the population living in the north of Iran dies in a famine. The devastating effect of a world war and a period of severe drought and widespread crop failure are the primary contributing factors to the famine.


1923: Oil is discovered in Iraq.

The first oil strike floods the countryside with oil for 10 days before workers can bring it under control. The well produces 80,000 barrels of oil a day. In 1934, the first oil pipeline connects Iraq with Tripoli in Lebanon. A second line to Haifa, Palestine, opens in January 1935.


1930s-1950s: Oil exploration begins in the desert, and later offshore, of what is now the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Only 150,000 people, many of them nomadic Bedouins, inhabit the land that will comprise the UAE. With no roads, schools, hospitals, or factories, these people experience one of the lowest standards of living in the developing world until oil is discovered in the region.


1930: The pearl market collapses, leaving Qatar's economy in ruins.

The world pearl market collapses with the Japanese invention of cultured pearls, devastating the already weak pre-oil economy of Qatar. Although present-day Qatar enjoys a high standard of living, the sparsely populated region was one of the poorest in the Arab world before the discovery of oil, with an economy almost entirely reliant on the pearl industry.


1949: Qatar begins to produce and export oil.

Oil is produced and exported for the first time, 10 years after its initial discovery. Offshore oil production begins in 1964.


1953: The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is founded.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is founded to promote sustainable development of the land. SPNI sponsors tours, research, educational activities, and public campaigns for environmental protection and historic preservation.

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July 26, 1956: Egypt nationalizes the Suez Canal.

Most likely in response to the U.S. decision to revoke its foreign aid pledge to help build the Aswan High Dam project, Nasser decides to nationalize the Suez Canal. Its toll revenues provide a significant source of needed income. This angers Britain and France, the former owners of the canal.

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October 31-November 7, 1956: Suez Crisis: Israel, Britain, and France attack Egypt after the Egyptian president Nassar nationalizes the Suez Canal.

Britain and France conspire to recapture the canal they once owned, with Israeli assistance. Israel invades Sinai, and Britain and France "intervene" and occupy the canal zone. They withdraw under U.S. and Soviet pressure, unsuccessful in their attempt.

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1959: Oil is discovered in Libya.

The oil boom provides Libya with newfound financial independence, transforming a country with one of the lowest standards of living into one full of opportunities, with growing employment and plans for improved housing, health care, and education. Investing much of its oil profits in other parts of the economy, Libya expands its industry, mining, and agricultural base, irrigating new areas of the desert. Most of the large farms, which are owned by the government, produce foods that were formerly imported, including corn, wheat, and citrus fruits, as well as cattle, sheep, and poultry.

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1959: The first big oil reserve is discovered just off the coast of Abu Dhabi (now part of the United Arab Emirates).

Oil is first discovered off of Abu Dhabi in 1959. Just a year later, oil is also found in Abu Dhabi's desert. Dubai, Sharjah, and Ras al-Khaimah follow with discoveries of their own over the next several years. Abu Dhabi, once known as a fishing village, is today the richest of all the emirates. Dubai, originally known for its pearl trade, is the second richest.

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September 10-14, 1960: Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela form OPEC, a federation of oil-producing nations.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) forms as a group of developing oil-producing countries seeking to enter the international oil market. Its objective today is to coordinate oil policies and to secure fair prices for its member countries (which now number 13) and dependable supply to its customer nations.

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1962: Abu Dhabi begins to export petroleum.

Massive amounts of money flow into Abu Dhabi (now part of UAE) when it begins to export petroleum. Because the small local population cannot meet the need for planned construction projects (e.g., of hospitals, roads, schools), foreign workers are hired by the hundreds of thousands.

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1964: Conflict over access to fresh water from the Jordan River pits Israel against its Arab neighbors.

The countries sharing the basin of the Jordan River have extremely limited sources of fresh water, and water rights have been one of the leading sources of conflict in this troubled region. In 1964, Israel's National Water Carrier system, a complex of canals, pipelines, and tunnels built to convey water to the coastal plain of Israel and the Negev Desert, began diverting water from the Jordan River Basin. This diversion led to the Arab Summit of 1964, where a plan was developed to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River into Syria and Jordan -- preventing Jordan River water from reaching Israel. As the activities of the Headwater Diversion Plan began to take shape from 1965-67, Israel attacked construction sites. These incidents regarding water issues led up to the outbreak of the Six-Day War in June 1967.


1970: The Aswan High Dam is built in Egypt, controlling the Nile's annual flood but changing the river's ecosystem.

A second, or "High," Aswan Dam is built with Soviet assistance to replace the older, less effective Aswan "Low" Dam. The dam has stopped the river's annual floods by trapping its waters in a reservoir and slowly releasing it during the dry season. This allows farmers along the Nile to plant year round. Unfortunately, the dam also traps the river's fertile silt, forcing the use of artificial fertilizers by farmers and causing pollution. Other effects of the dam are riverbank erosion and high levels of soil salinity.

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1971: Natural gas is discovered in northeast Qatar.

The North Gas Field is among the top five largest natural gas reserves in the world.


1972: Saudi Arabia negotiates for control of 25 percent of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco).

Until the early '70s, Aramco is owned by California Arabian Standard Oil Company (Casoc), Texaco, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (later renamed Exxon), and Socony-Vacuum (now Mobil Oil Company). In 1968 the Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources had publicly broached the idea of Saudi participation in Aramco, and after long negotiations, it is agreed that the Saudi government will buy 25 percent of the company. Over the next 16 years, Aramco will be converted to a totally Saudi-owned company called Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco).


June 1972: Iraq becomes the first Arab country to nationalize a Western oil corporation.

Prior to 1972, U.S. and British companies held a three-quarter share in Iraq's oil production. Soviet petroleum experts help Iraq develop its oil industry to the extent that Baghdad ends its reliance on Western companies; the Soviets also help Iraq nationalize the Iraq Petroleum Company. In the ensuing years, Iraq rapidly increases its oil output, becoming the world's second largest exporter of oil by 1979.


1973: Jordan's government prohibits fishing and hunting without a license.

In addition to the prohibition on fishing and hunting without a license, Jordanian law also prohibits its citizens from cutting trees, shrubs, and plants. The steps are taken as part of a focus on conservation of the environment.


November 1973: Saudi Arabia leads an oil boycott against the U.S. and other Western countries.

A supporter of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War against Israel, Saudi Arabia still harbors resentment when the Yom Kippur War (October War) erupts. In retaliation for U.S. support of Israel, Saudi Arabia participates in a 1973 Arab oil boycott of the U.S. and other Western nations. The price of oil quadruples, dramatically increasing Saudi Arabia's wealth and political influence.

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1982: Oman launches programs designed to combat pollution and prevent other environmental catastrophes.

During the 1980s in Oman, oil and tar from passing ships cover the country's beaches, pollution endangers many of its migratory birds, and corals are being damaged by anchors, fishing nets, and other equipment. One plan to eliminate oil spills focuses on building an area where tankers can safely discharge their ballast.


1983: The UAE government outlaws the shooting and hunting of birds, gazelles, and hares.

Hunting and rapid land development, which threaten critical habitat, have driven many animals in the UAE to the point of extinction over a very short time.


Mid-1980s: Yemen and Saudi Arabia clash over the discovery of oil in the Empty Quarter.

Oil reserves are discovered in the Empty Quarter, a vast desert that extends over much of Northern Yemen and southeastern Saudi Arabia. Conflicting claims to the potentially valuable land cause conflict, largely because there is no defined boundary between the two countries.


1986: Commercial extraction of Yemen's natural oil reserves begin.

Earnings from oil production and refinement will result in significant contributions to the Yemeni economy over the next decade. Talks of the reunification of Northern and Southern Yemen accelerate.


1991: Smoke from burning oil wells in Iraq causes severe health and environmental problems throughout the Middle East.

The entire Middle East region, even those countries not directly involved in the fighting, suffers a toll from the Gulf War. Weather patterns are disrupted, black rain (from oil residues and acids) destroys crops, and the number of respiratory ailments soars.

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1992: Heavy soil erosion prompts two Turkish businessmen to raise public awareness of environmental issues.

Businessmen Hayrettin Karaca and Nihat Gokyigit establish the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA) in 1992. Because 45 percent of Turkey's work force is involved in agriculture and nearly 80 percent of total land area is threatened by soil erosion in particular, this is considered a major concern in Turkey.

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1994: Saudi production of desalinated water reaches cities in the center of the kingdom.

Because of its lack of fresh water resources, Saudi Arabia develops a process to remove salt from sea water (desalination) to serve the water needs of its people. Saudi Arabia currently produces more desalinated water than any other country in the world. This water is used both for drinking water and agricultural irrigation. In 1994, the production capacity for desalinated water had reached 714,218,000 gallons per day -- enough water to cover the needs of the cities on the eastern and western coasts as well as some cities inland. By 2000, the capital city of Riyadh would receive desalinated water from the Gulf, 500 kilometers away.

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November 1994: The Atat¸rk Dam opens in Turkey.

The Atat¸rk Dam is one of 22 planned dams and 19 planned hydroelectric plants on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. The overall project costs exceed $34 billion and result in the displacement of largely Kurdish populations.

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1995: Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos emphasizes economic reform in his country.

Oman has less oil than other Gulf states, and its reserves are running low. Additionally, its deficit is climbing. Sultan Qaboos is trying to diversify Oman's economy in part by reducing its dependence on oil and encouraging its private sector to be more competitive and efficient.

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June 22, 1995: Oman and the U.S. each pledge $3 million to build a Middle East Desalination Research Center in Oman.

The shortage of fresh water is a growing problem for Oman and other Gulf states. Many states get fresh water by desalination, the process of purifying salt water. Oman, which has built dams to collect rainwater that runs down mountains, continues to look for other ways to collect more fresh water.

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October 1995: Qatar is the first Gulf nation to open economic relations with Israel.

Qatar becomes the first Gulf nation to have economic relations with Israel, supplying Tel Aviv with natural gas.


1998-1999: A drought reduces water levels in Israel's Lake Kinneret to dangerously low levels.

Lake Kinneret contains most of Israel's water supply. As a desert region, Israel and the rest of the Middle East engage in ongoing negotiations about water supplies, water partnerships, and water technologies.


1998-2002: Years of severe drought create a food crisis in Afghanistan.

Crop and livestock losses threaten more than three million Afghans with starvation. A way of life is also in jeopardy: Eighty-five percent of the population of Afghanistan depends directly on agriculture for employment, but most households will soon be left without breeding stock or work animals. The current food shortage is compounded by two decades of civil instability.

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February 4-May 30, 1998: Two of the poorest and most isolated provinces in Afghanistan are rocked by two earthquakes just three months apart.

Two major quakes measuring 6.1 and 6.9 on the Richter scale originate from nearly the same site in the northeast provinces of Takhar and Badakshan. Landslides level homes and villages, trapping many under rubble and leaving thousands of terrified survivors clinging to exposed mountainsides. An estimated 10,000 people are killed and 45,000 left homeless.

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August 17, 1999: Nearly 18,000 die when two major earthquakes hit western Turkey.

The August earthquake, registering 7.8 on the Richter scale, is centered near the city of Izmit, in densely populated western Turkey. In addition to the 18,000 deaths, another 27,000 people are injured. Damage extends to 340,000 houses and businesses. The quake is believed to have pushed Anatolia four feet closer to Europe. On November 12, another 760 are killed and 5,000 injured when a second large earthquake, measuring 7.2, hits Duzce. The total damage for the two quakes is estimated at between $10 billion and $25 billion.

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July 28, 2000: The leader of Afghanistan's Taliban regime bans the growing of opium poppy.

Before the beginning of the November planting season, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, bans poppy growing in Afghanistan. He augments the ban with a religious edict declaring the crop to be contrary to the tenets of Islam. According to the United Nations, in 2000 Afghanistan produced nearly 4,000 tons of opium, about 75 percent of the world's supply.

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August 2000: Natural gas is discovered off the coast of Israel.

Should the recently discovered reserves of natural gas off of Israel's coast prove large, tapping them could reduce the country's immense dependence on foreign suppliers of energy, as could Israeli research into solar and wind power. Currently, for political reasons, Israel's energy demand is met by suppliers outside of the Arab world.


January 28, 2001: Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan sign an agreement on a $1 billion gas pipeline project.

The project promises to build two pipelines to transport Egyptian natural gas to Middle East partners and to European markets.


March 1, 2001: The Hawar Islands are awarded to Bahrain over Qatar's objections.

The International Court of Justice settles a five-year-old dispute between neighboring countries Bahrain and Qatar over territorial rights to the Hawar Islands and adjoining natural-gas fields in the Gulf of Bahrain.


April 9-11, 2001: An international commission gathers in Lebanon to discuss sustainable development.

The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) convenes a Thematic Round Table in Beirut to discuss regional concerns about sustainable development, fresh water supplies, land use, poverty, standards of living, and technology. The commission representatives prepare for the "Rio + 10" World Summit on Sustainable Development.


June 2001: Israel divests Merhav, the largest joint Arab-Israeli commercial venture to date.

The Israeli company Merhav announces that it has sold its 20 percent share in the Middle East Oil Refinery Ltd. (MIDOR) to the National Bank of Egypt, ending what had been the largest Arab-Israeli joint commercial venture to date.


May 2002: Locusts invade Afghanistan's northern plains, threatening crop production.

The lack of an effective control program has allowed hundreds of millions of locusts to threaten nearly 70 percent of the crops in parts of northern Afghanistan, the country's most productive agricultural area. Several million rural households are potentially affected by the swarm. Insecticides and traditional trench traps are being used to combat the insects.

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