The flow of reports and assessments on the water situation in the Middle East will never stop, while the actual water flows in rivers is being diminished. This is becoming a major hot issue that may contribute to more instability in the region in future months and years. Some ideas, however still emerge to suggest cooperation modalities. “The Blue Peace: Rethinking Middle East Water” report, which will be officially launched by Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) in February, redefines water in the Middle East as an instrument for cooperation and suggests 10 recommendations to achieve water security and regional peace.
As the report is still not available online I will use excerpts from the description provided by the Jordan Times’ active and brilliant environment correspondent Hana Namrouqa who published two pieces about the report that was made available for the Jordan Times. The two articles focused on the potential for regional cooperation and the impacts of climate change on the Middle East.
Potential for cooperation:
The document treated countries covered by the study, including Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Israel, in distinct circles of cooperation. The first circle includes the northern countries, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, while the second circle includes Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Authors suggested creating a cooperation council for water resources for the northern countries tasked with standardizing measurements of quality and quantity of water resources, combating climate change and drought and promoting research in environment-friendly and energy-efficient water technologies among other tasks.
HRH Prince Hassan, who received the report’s first copy, said in a ceremony that water is a regional issue that cannot be addressed unless involved countries collaborated.
Prince Hassan joined SFG in its call for turning the water issue into a chance for achieving regional peace instead of a factor of conflicts and wars, and urged the establishment of a regional database centre which provides accurate information on humanitarian, economic and natural topics.
The report recommended implementing an integrated water resources management for small cross-border rivers in the northern countries, highlighting that several small rivers shared by two or more countries are used extensively which results in a strain on water resources and discharge of untreated wastewater into the river by upstream countries.
Rivers like the Yarmouk River between Syria and Jordan, El Kebir River between Syria and Lebanon and the Orontes (Assi) between Lebanon, Syria and Turkey were among rivers that need early action, according to the report.
The report identified the Red-Dead project as one of the long-term options for addressing water shortage and creating regional cooperation, particularly that the project involves Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The Red-Dead project, or the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Programme, seeks to save the Dead Sea from shrinking. It seeks to pump one billion cubic metres of water annually, with the aim of raising water levels and generating drinking water for the three beneficiaries through desalination.
The report also urged countries to establish joint desalination plants which allow an exchange of information, facilitate the process of funding and provide a strong disincentive to the destruction of water infrastructure in times of conflict.
In addition, the Blue Peace report called on Middle Eastern countries to apply water demand management by modernising irrigation methods, reducing water loss by revamping infrastructure, reducing water pollution, implementing a tariff structure and retrofitting the infrastructure.
Sundeep Waslekar, SFG president and author of the report, said yesterday that the reason behind depletion of water resources is actually a “depletion of wisdom, pragmatism and peace”.
“The challenge is not addressing the water shortage in the Middle East, but addressing coexistence …,” Waslekar said yesterday.
“Water is so central to life that any two countries in the 21st century with enough sustainable, clean and affordable water will have no motivation to go to war,” Waslekar said addressing the audience.
He highlighted that issues of water, environment and climate change will be more important in the Middle East in the near future than geopolitical issues.
Impacts of Climate Change
The Blue Peace report said that Jordan is among the countries witnessing desertification due to climate change, with predictions that winter temperatures will rise by 2-3.1ºC and summer temperatures will increase by 2.5-3.7ºC over the next 50-70 years.
Director of the Jordan Meteorological Department Abdul Halim Abu Hazim said that climate change is impacting weather patterns in Jordan, despite the lack of sufficient local studies.
“The year 2010 was the hottest year Jordan has ever witnessed, during which temperatures remained above their annual average and rainfall was lower, compared to previous years,” Abu Hazim told The Jordan Times.
JMD figures indicate that 35 per cent of the rainy season has been achieved in the north, where rainfall average ranges between 400-580mm, while in the central region 17-20 per cent of the season has been achieved and 10-15 per cent in the south.
Abu Hazim noted that the current winter season is the driest since the 1998-1999 winter, when the country received only 44 per cent of the long-term annual average of eight billion millimetres of rainfall.
He said that rainfall is expected in February, but underscored that amounts will be insufficient to improve the “weak wet season”.
The delay in rainfall accompanied by above-average temperatures during this time of the year will have negative impacts on several sectors, mainly field crops, dam storage, natural pastures and livestock, according to an expert in environment and agriculture.
Sayed Khatari, a professor at the University of Jordan and head of the Jordan Environment Society’s scientific committee, said that it is unusual to see December and January pass without receiving sufficient rain.
“Field crops, such as grains, are in real danger if no rain falls during the coming two weeks, we are possible to suffer from crop failure,” Khatari told The Jordan Times yesterday.
Storage at the country’s major dams is also below the “critical limit”, which will negatively impact cultivation in the Jordan Valley, where farmers rely on water from the King Talal Dam for irrigation, he added.
The Ministry of Water and Irrigation’s latest figures indicate that the Kingdom’s major dams currently hold 37 per cent of their total capacity of 215.44 million cubic metres.
Khatari noted that underground aquifers will not be nourished this year due to the weak wet season, highlighting that this also reduces green cover and natural pastures, and consequently productivity of the livestock sector.
“The government must consider providing herders with alternatives, such as imported fodder,” he suggested.
The Blue Peace report, issued by the Strategic Foresight Group, said that in order for the Middle East to address the climate change, countries should adopt a new regionally developed climate change models.
These models, as recommended by the report, should take into account the requirements, nature and nuances of the countries in the region, so that they are not dependent on global models.
“The countries in the region are interconnected by the water bodies they share and any climate changes in one will affect the rest,” said the report, which redefines water in the Middle East as an instrument for cooperation and suggests 10 recommendations to achieve water security and regional peace.