Salem Radio Network News Wednesday, May 31, 2023


The Media Line: World Water Day Marked as the Dry Middle East Faces Major Challenges Ahead

World Water Day Marked as the Dry Middle East Faces Major Challenges Ahead

Experts highlight urgent need for action as billions of people lack access to clean water

By Keren Setton / The Media Line

World Water Day is celebrated globally every year with a series of events. The theme for this year is accelerating change to improve the global situation.

Although clean water access remains a problem for many people, it is especially challenging in the Middle East, a region with little water abundance.

With one of the worlds highest fertility rates, vast desert territories, and a warm climate, water security should be on the minds of decision-makers.

“The biggest challenge is to bridge between supply and demand,” Professor Eilon Adar, from the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research and the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told The Media Line. “The natural replenishment in the Middle East is well below the sustainable water supply in the Western world per capita.”

Adar estimates that much of the Middle East’s population lacks at least half the necessary water annually for drinking, food manufacturing, and domestic use. The Population Reference Bureau, an NGO that collects statistics for research, the region, including North Africa, is the most water-scarce in the world, with only 1.4% of the world’s renewable fresh water.

All substantial water sources in the Middle East cross borders, says Adar. Taking into consideration the political situation in the region and the fact that water is not only a resource but a commodity and it is in shortage, this could be a trigger for a conflict.

Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of the region to water scarcity, and as such, water security will take up more space on the public and decision-makers’ agendas. No one will be spared from the effects.

The Middle East is especially vulnerable to climate change, Dr. Elai Rettig, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University who is an expert on energy geopolitics and international environmental policy, told The Media Line. On the one hand, the countries in the region are not the worlds greatest polluters and cannot really contribute to the prevention or the delay of climate change, but on the other hand, the Middle East will be most hit by these changes.

Rettig listed all the possible dangers ahead.

We will see more years of drought, there will be less rain, rainfall will be more concentrated in fewer days which will lead to flooding and water resources will dwindle.

Ceremonies and activities took place marking the annual world water day in many places.

At the United Nations, the first UN Water Conference in 50 years commenced. The aim is to speed up “change to solve the water and sanitation crisis.” For decades, such a conference didn’t talk place, but there is a growing understanding that water security is going to play an increasing role in global security.

Mina Guli, an Australian-born advocate for the protection of water resources, has initiated the RUN BLUE World Water Run campaign. In the year leading up to the conference, she ran 200 marathons to draw attention to the cause. She finished her final marathon in New York City on Wednesday. Her goal is to encourage people and companies to manage their water usage differently, to run blue and put water security at the top of their agenda. As part of the campaign, she also initiated #sweat4soap, donating a bar of soap to a person in need for every kilometer run by a volunteer or activist.

Dysfunction throughout the water cycle undermines progress on all major global issues, from health to hunger, gender equality to jobs, education to industry, and disasters to peace, read the UN site on the conference.

All of this creates tension and political unrest, said Rettig. This can translate into violence, coups, and massive refugee waves. It also increases existing tensions.

Some experts believe that the next big war in the region will be about water.

Recent civil wars in Sudan and Eritrea have been about resources, Rettig added. Such wars are expected to increase in frequency in the coming years. The main problem is that refugees create instability and further pressure on natural resources. This threatens regime stability and creates new security threats.

The Ilisu Dam constructed by Turkey in Mardin Province has led to continued tensions between the Turkish government and the Kurdish minority in the country. During its construction, the dam caused flooding in predominantly Kurdish areas, resulting in the displacement of parts of the population there. In addition, the dam has raised concern in neighboring Iraq where there is fear it will dry up some of its resources.

The Euphrates-Tigris basin, which is shared between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, is also a source of regional strain.

Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia have escalated in recent years around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Egypt is concerned that the Nile River will shrink because of the dam. Negotiations between the two countries have been going on since 2011, but with no real progress. The dispute over the Nile River goes back almost 100 years, but the latest developments threaten to boil over.

But water can also be a source of cooperation in the Middle East, providing an option to transcend conflict in order to overcome common challenges and promote mutual interests.

Water can be a catalyst for cooperation and collaboration, Adar said.

Jordan and Israel are both tributaries to the Jordan and the Yarmouk Rivers. A treaty signed between the two in 1994 ended hostilities and included clauses on cooperation regarding water resources.

Water and energy are critical to both countries in terms of their homeland security. This is the peg that stabilizes the relationship between Jordan and Israel, Adar added. The treaty did not only refer to the division of existing resources but also to the development of future resources, which is critical.

The mutual dependency between the two serves as a guarantor for peace, despite differences the countries have on large political issues. Even during times when it seems the peace treaty could have been annulled, it has remained intact.

One of the UN’s sustainable development goals for 2030 is to provide clean water and sanitation for all. Billions of people around the world lack access to safe drinking water. Current progress is unsatisfactory, and the 2030 deadline will be missed unless drastic changes are made. According to the World Health Organization, billions of people in 2030 will still lack access to safely managed drinking water, basic handwashing facilities, and safely managed sanitation services.

Water is a vital resource, and as the quality of life improves, the value of the resource increases, said Adar.

In the Middle East, all these issues and their strong connection to water security are felt daily and are only expected to worsen without action. Poverty-stricken countries are especially hard hit.

Without proper water and energy infrastructures, a country cannot develop, and an economy cannot move forward, said Adar. These infrastructures ensure water supply not only for agriculture and food manufacturing but also for a properly functioning, modern industry. Tourism also needs access to quality water resources.

Cooperation on water could lead to cooperation between countries that do not otherwise have relations.

In a region facing significant challenges, water can be a source of strife or a source of reconciliation.

With every challenge, there can be a positive outcome, said Rettig. Water can be a uniting factor.


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