2010 / 3 / 10
Mon, 08 March 2010
For the first time ever, the Arab world dedicated a special day for ‘water’ this year, during which the many problems facing Arab countries due to the scarcity of this ‘blue gold’ - while black gold is abundant- are examined and discussed.
These discussions will focus on the implications of overlapping watercourses and resources between the upstream and downstream countries, while the shadow of an ongoing military threat still looms, and which is only exacerbating the failure to address the tasks of fortifying watercourses, and the construction of dams and storage tanks.
Aside from the fact that the Middle East embodies a sharp contrast in terms of its water resources against its population growth, the contrast that is even sharper lies in the Israeli threat on one hand, and the Turkish control on the other hand, in addition to Egypt’s veto against the request of the countries of the Nile Basin to reconsider the water sharing agreements.
As for Africa, in the case of Morocco for example, the growth of the GDP is strongly linked to precipitation which feeds the springs that irrigate the arable lands there, a crucial component of the annual GDP.
In truth, the Middle East’s share from the world’s water is about one percent, while its population constitutes 6 percent of the world’s population, causing the region to suffer from water stress.
Despite the low ratio of water resources to the size of the population, this situation does not seem to be preventing water waste in primitive agricultural methods. In fact, the countries of the region completely utilize their reserves, often at the expense of neighbouring countries, given the fact that watercourses and aquifers overlap across the borders of several states.
In its special issue ‘water between conflict and scarcity’, the recently published ‘Moyen Orient’ (Middle East) Magazine concludes that agriculture is the sector that consumes the largest proportion of water in the region. It is a ‘blotting paper’ that is sacred since ‘it feeds an activity that contributes to food independence’. However, the fact of the matter is that agriculture in the Arab region is still primitive, and consumes more water than modern agricultural methods in the rest of the world, not to mention that it has a much lower yield that the latter.
In addition to agriculture, the annual population growth rate of 3 percent exacerbates water stress, as it leads to further demand for water, while growth of the standard of living – even at modest rates – also leads to an increased demand for water.
In the same vein, another issue emerges in the region, namely, the immigration to the ‘Jewish state’ (that usurps Palestinian rights) from countries rich in water resources, something that also adds to the pressure against local water resources. Since 1949, the population of the usurping entity doubled, while irrigated lands there increased six fold its initial surface area; this ultimately reduces the potential of supplying water to the Palestinian occupied territories and to Jordan from the Jordan River.
In fact, water scarcity in Jordan is more severe as this country is more arid, and also because it received an additional 350 thousand Palestinian refugees in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Wasting water in agriculture and the demand for water in the Israeli entity thus both render the growth of demand for water in the region more dramatic than population growth.
Nevertheless, countries in the region are dealing with the problem of water resources quietly. Increasingly, problems of military nature are emerging on the ‘geopolitical surface’ both internally and externally, which hampers the region’s countries’ ability to establish ‘water security’ in parallel with ‘food security’, and limits water-related policies to secondary and short-term solutions.
Several years ago, Saudi Arabia stopped growing wheat crops, as it used to irrigate these from the groundwater aquifers to grow wheat in the deserts. Despite its positive yields, this almost depleted the Kingdom’s water reserves.
Also, Egypt is currently encouraging the establishment of new cities east of the country and in the Sinai Peninsula, where the standard of living is higher than in the rest of the country, and subsequently, these cities have a bigger consumption of water compared to the national average. In Jordan, the rate of water seepage due to agricultural systems amount to 60 percent.
Meanwhile, deforestation, overgrazing, de-leafing trees and water overdraft are causing heavy deterioration of soil quality and are resulting in increasing salinity of surface waters in Gaza, while desertification is advancing in the Nile Delta.
This is in addition to the pollution of rivers such as the Litani in Lebanon and the Euphrates in Syria, something that places an additional burden on usable watercourses.
Note that the exploitation of water resources at a higher rate than the rate of water renewal reduces the volume of water reserves over the long term, causing further problems in water supply.
There is no other way to compensate water shortage except though sea water desalination, importation, or forcibly seizing water reserves. For this reason, water was both a wager and a goal in the Israeli wars against the Arabs. In fact, Israel destroyed dams and water storage tanks in Syria and Jordan during the Six Day War (1967), and destroyed the Syrian dams along the Jordan River. Israel also usurped the Banias River (Golan Heights). Its occupation of South Lebanon until 2000 allowed it to monitor both the Wazzani and Hasbani rivers. Furthermore, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are clustered near the aquifers along the Jordan River.
In the North, Turkey asked Syria not to support the Kurds in return for allowing an adequate flow of the Euphrates River towards its territories. Turkey also placed itself in a position of strength against Syria and Iraq, when it raised the issue of the rights of the upstream country, while at the same time selling water to Israel. Syria and Iraq protested this, in order to stop further damages. Then in last September, Turkey released water from the Ataturk Dam.
In the South, Egypt is benefiting from its position of strength to impose its ‘historical rights’ in the waters of the Nile, in which Sudan, Ethiopia and Erythria are demanding a reconsideration of their shares; it should be mentioned here that Egypt is a downstream country.
The Arab Day for Water is hence considered to be a gateway through which the problems of the scarcity of water will emerge; this requires that quick solutions be found. Also, Climate Change, and the need for irrigation and for supplying the needs of the population emphasize the need to protect, maintain and develop water resources...just like the exploration of oil resources does.
Source URL (retrieved on 03/08/2010 - 23:47): http://international.daralhayat.com/internationalarticle/117201
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