Water in the Arab region (UNESCO water equity and the Middle East case- part 2)

The Arab region is the most water-stressed region in the world. Population growth and climate change will increase and contribute to further the groundwater depletion, loss of arable land for agricultural production, and the movement of people when water resources are insufficient to support health, welfare and livelihoods. In the entirety of the Arab region, some 51 million people, lacked a basic drinking water service in 2015.

On the 22nd of March, World Water day was celebrated with not much anticipation nor significant condescend from the Middle East and North Africa. It was a reminder rather than a celebration for these regions, as they are the most scarce ones in the world. According to the United Nations, 17 countries are below the poverty line for water supply.

Jordan, like any other water-reliant importer, survived through the years of droughts and overpopulation, followed by the Syrian influx, by importing water in “Water Virtual Trade” market. One direction that poor nations with arid-areas are heading towards, is through the purchase of fresh water from countries like the USA, South America, and China. These trading practices led to an indirect emergence of an International Water Trade. The need to create an official trade market could be possible within the next year but until now, the pricing of imported water remains an economic burden for the developing countries that are constrained with limited resources and budget. Thus, it gives the opportunity for water-deprived countries to work on achieving a better water management plan, but is definitely not the easy-road to tackle this issue as it triggers an economical dominance over natural resources, such as water and oil.

 

Apart from the water-trading schemes, desalination which is a water treatment method that many countries rely on, is simply creating an environment destruction in the long term. Israel, which is a world leader of this water treatment, transports Mediterranean seawater to its territory to convert into freshwater, through a dedicated procedure. After the water has been purified, brine and harmful wastes are left over and are usually discharged into the sea. Let alone that the leftover chemicals that are discharged into the sea, chemical energy powers up the procedure with the use of fossil fuels, which has a high carbon footprint. MENA region has the highest capacity of desalination with over 46% globally so for the long run, it will have to advocate for new water treatment technologies that are environmentally friendly.

 

How come there’s 85% of the world’s ocean full of water and there are still areas suffering from depletion? Water predominance on earth opposes to the tragedy that water is an exhaustible resource that can easily be diminished and become scarce over a period of time. This is definite to what is happening right now because of the necessity to supply a growing population. City of Basra, which is famously known as “Venice of the Middle East" is under a water crisis. 100,00 Iraqis were poisoned by the contaminated polluted water. By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas, as reported by the World Health Organization. The region of the Middle East has witnessed an increase in population and number of refugees, which adds more strains to the resolution. Not only that, but in particular Jordan and Israel have a unique political complexity that outwins any sustainable challenge.

A sequence of politico-environmental events initiated by countries such as Turkey, urging for dominance over its water resources, are mostly in the areas shared with Iraq, where water resources from The Euphrates and the Tigris are located. Turkey decided to build dozens of dams for electrical power schemes, cutting water flows to Iraq by 80%. Iraq failed to address any bilateral agreement for water. Turkey has been using the regional water instability of the Middle East for its own agenda, to further it's political dominance of natural resources, and sell it to neighboring countries instead of sharing it, as it has already been delivering water tanks to Cyprus, Malta, and Crete, along with future plans to sell it to Jordan as well.

It became an urgent challenge to promote a series of measures into saving Earth from global warming. The world’s lowest point on Earth is dangered of drying out completely. It has been reported that the water levels in one of Jordan’s most important tourist areas, the Dead Sea, is drying out, at an alarming rate of 3 feet per year.

It might not be the right time for the country to manage it but it definitely needs to be dealt with because there are 6 thousand salt holes, holes in the ground which formed as a result of water erosions, imposing danger to the surrounding communities, farmers, hotels, workers… The Dead Sea has become a machine income to the tourism industries, and tourism accounts to 10% of the country’s GDP.

Moreover, it is about conserving the unique chemistry of the Dead Sea. Through centuries, in both fairy tales and in scientific research, the Dead Sea has been famously known for its therapeutic properties for healing skin diseases and muscle aches. Jordan has always been an arid country and with global warming, it became dryer and dryer... The inter-relationship between the Dead Sea issue and the Jordan River is genuinely connected. Jordan River, known as an important baptism site, thousands of pilgrims visit it every year. As part of the Peace treaty signed in 1979, Israel has control over most of the water and distributes a small amount to Jordan. Excessive water use due to overpopulation, cross border politics, climate change have all added burden to the water flow of the river. It’s time for a call of “Hydro-Diplomacy”.

It became increasingly important to put all the political formalities aside, and put the water scarcity as a priority for countries to tackle cooperatively. To revive the survival of the Dead Sea is a common interest, as Jordan shares the Dead Sea with two other countries, the West bank and Israel. Not only that, it is home to the agricultural and touristic community, it is enriched with essential minerals such as phosphate and magnesium. A meeting was held at one of the World bank headquarters, with representatives from Israel, Jordan and Palestine, to sign off a water agreement strategy. In which, Israel and Jordan sealed the deal to save the Dead Sea with a 900 million$ project plan. A pipeline will be built from the Red Sea to the Dead sea, aiming at pumping 300 million cubic meters of water to the Dead Sea. Thus, conserving the unique chemistry of the Dead Sea became a common priority for both countries.

Malak Albaw