How the Middle East can tackle the problem of water scarcity

How the Middle East can tackle the problem of water scarcity
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Experts say water scarcity is chronic in the Arab world, and will continue to increase due to limited renewable resource. (AFP)
How the Middle East can tackle the problem of water scarcity
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The Mujib Dam located in Wadi Mujib, between the cities of Madaba and Kerak, in the Madaba Governorate of Jordan. (Shutterstock image)
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Updated 26 January 2020

How the Middle East can tackle the problem of water scarcity

How the Middle East can tackle the problem of water scarcity
  • MENA region is home to 12 of the world's 17 most water-stressed countries, says a new report
  • The idea of “Day Zero” is meant to focus attention on managing water consumption tightly

DUBAI: For quite some time now, experts have been warning that water scarcity is a potential cause for conflict and migration as it increasingly threatens people, livelihoods and businesses worldwide. 

Now, a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) says 12 of the 17 most water-stressed countries in the world are located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). 

In the WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, Qatar was ranked first, followed by Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.

The top 17 countries, including India and Pakistan, are home to a quarter of the world’s population and face “extremely high” water stress as irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80 percent of their available supply on average every year.

The atlas ranks water stress, drought risk and flood risk across 189 countries and their subnational regions, such as states and provinces.

“Once-unthinkable water crises are becoming commonplace. The reasons for these crises go far deeper than drought,” said Rutger Hofste, an associate at Aqueduct who led the research on the WRI’s side.

“Through new hydrological models, WRI found that water withdrawals globally have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand, and they show no signs of slowing down.”

Experts have been warning that water scarcity is a potential cause for conflict and migration worldwide.

In recent years, experts and civic authorities worldwide have introduced the idea of “Day Zero” — when a city government will shut off water taps for most homes and businesses — in an effort to focus attention on managing water consumption as tightly as possible.

“The region (MENA) is hot and dry, so water supply is low to begin with. But growing demands have pushed countries further into extreme stress. Climate change is set to complicate matters further,” Hofste said.

“The World Bank found that this region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at between 6 and 14 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) by 2050.”

That being said, Hofste pointed to untapped opportunities to boost water security in the region, as about 82 percent of wastewater is not reused. Harnessing this resource would generate a new source of clean water, he said.

“Leaders in treatment and reuse are already emerging: Oman, ranked 16 on our list of water-stressed countries, treats 100 percent of its collected wastewater and reuses 78 percent of it. 

“About 84 percent of all wastewater collected in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — is treated to safe levels, but only 44 percent goes on to be reused.”

Water stress is just one dimension of water security. Like any challenge, its outlook depends on management, Hofste said, adding that even countries with relatively high water stress have effectively secured their water supplies through proper management.

“Saudi Arabia prices water to incentivize conservation,” he said. “Its new Qatrah (“droplet” in Arabic) Program sets water-conservation targets and aims to reduce water usage by 43 percent within the next decade.”

Experts say water scarcity is chronic in the Arab world, and will continue to increase due to limited renewable freshwater resources and shrinking available water resources — the result of overexploitation, population growth, and lack of funds to finance water infrastructure.

“The scarcity problem has been compounded by increasing frequency of drought cycles and climate change,” said Dr. Waleed Zubari, professor of water resources management at the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain.

“These water scarcity conditions are complicated by the political dimension of shared water resources. More than half of the total renewable water resources in the Arab region originate from outside the region, without signed conventions or agreements between the riparian countries,” he added.

“That remains a leading concern threatening the region’s stability, food security and water-resources planning in concerned Arab countries.”

Zubari said Arab countries will have to cooperate politically to adopt a strategic approach and unite in support of all countries sharing water resources to ensure they have the same rights.

“It’s essential for the achievement of joint management of water resources. In this context, the establishment of the Arab Ministerial Water Council by the League of Arab States in 2009 represents an important step in this direction.”

In the GCC the issue is acute, Zubari continued. Most countries had “done well” in providing water for their ever-increasing populations and various consuming sectors. But it came at an enormous cost in terms of investments in water supply sources and infrastructure such as desalination plants, water treatment and dams, as well as consumption of groundwater at far higher rates than its replenishment by aquifers.

“GCC countries face several major challenges that are threatening water sector sustainability,” Zubari said. 

“These include increasing water scarcity, increasing costs for infrastructure and service delivery, resources deterioration, and increasing environmental and economic externalities.

“The main driving forces are population growth and changing consumption patterns, lower rates of water reuse and recycling, low supply efficiency, and low energy efficiency in the water sector.”

Zubari expects their intensity to surge in the future due to climate change. “It seems inevitable if current water policies and practices continue,” he added.

“The most important regional initiative is the Arab Water Security Strategy 2010-2030, which aims at achieving major goals in development and economics, politics and institution.”

Managing water demand and allocating water resources strategically will prove crucial for the region’s future. 

“Developing alternative water resources is important, especially treated wastewater — the only growing water source available,” said Hannah Wuzel, project manager at cewas Middle East, a startup program focusing on sustainable water, sanitation and resource management.

“We need to continue developing and implementing solutions in agriculture, industries, and at the domestic level that can help to reduce water usage.”

She said Gulf countries were fortunate to have the financial means to explore almost any available groundwater source, to desalinate seawater on a large scale, and to substitute water-intensive production of goods and crops with imports. 

But all this is, in many ways, fundamentally unsustainable and dependent on the availability of sufficient funds.

“It certainly is an adaptation strategy,” she said. “Gulf countries invest a lot in the development of high-tech solutions for the water sector, which is a sign that there’s growing concern and awareness.”

Wuzel foresees that water will be at the top of the political and development agenda for most countries in the near future. 

“The performance and development of many other sectors will be increasingly dependent on the availability and management of water,” she said.

“There’s a strong need to move beyond the traditional sector-specific conventional approach to managing water, for instance by fostering innovation and entrepreneurship that contribute with their services and products to increasing sustainability in water management.”

 


Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike

Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike
Updated 55 min 33 sec ago

Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike

Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike
  • Jump in new infections is a blow for a country which has prided itself on one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts

JERUSALEM: The Israeli health ministry reimposed a requirement Friday for masks to be worn in enclosed public places following a surge in COVID-19 cases since it was dropped 10 days ago.
The spike in new infections is a blow for a country which has prided itself on one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts.
The head of Israel’s pandemic response taskforce, Nachman Ash, told public radio the requirement came after four days of more than 100 new cases a day, with 227 cases confirmed Thursday.
“We are seeing a doubling every few days,” Ash said. “Another thing that’s worrying is that the infections are spreading. If we had two cities where most of the infections were, we have more cities where the numbers are rising and communities where the cases are going up.”
Ash said the rise in cases was likely due to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus first seen in India.
Reimposing the mask requirement is a setback for Israel, coming so soon after it was lifted on June 15 on the back of a successful vaccination campaign.
Some 5.2 million people have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after Israel obtained millions of doses.
Ash said despite the increased number of positive cases, he did not yet see a parallel rise in hospitalizations or deaths.
“It’s clear it’s a factor of time, that not enough time has passed,” Ash said. “But we hope the vaccines will protect us from a rise in hospitalization and difficult cases.”
The health ministry urged Israelis to wear masks in crowded outdoor spaces too, including at pride events scheduled for this weekend.
A pride march scheduled for Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv is expected to draw tens of thousands of people. The event is resuming after it was suspended last year due to the virus.
Israel became a pioneer in Covid inoculations after then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu obtained millions of doses from Pfizer in exchange for sharing health data on the vaccines’ impact.
In February, Netanyahu celebrated the arrival of a batch of vaccines saying: “We have made Israel a global model for success.”
The resulting fall in new cases allowed much of daily life to return to normal but it did not save Netanyahu his job. He was replaced as prime minister earlier this month by his onetime aide turned foe Naftali Bennett.
Bennett warned Tuesday of a “new outbreak” of coronavirus. On a visit to Ben Gurion international airport, he announced a new Covid testing facility for incoming travelers and strengthened enforcement of quarantine orders for those returning from overseas.
To cut down on the spread of the virus, he asked Israelis to cancel their travel plans. “Whoever doesn’t have to fly abroad, please don’t,” Bennett said.
On Wednesday, Israel announced it was delaying delayed plans to reopen its borders to individual tourists.
Bennett urged parents to vaccinate children aged 12 and older “as soon as possible,” noting that Israel’s stock of vaccines would soon expire.
A deal to trade soon-to-expire vaccines with the Palestinian Authority for new shots arriving in the autumn fell apart last week amid mutual accusations of bad faith.
Israel has faced criticism for refusing to vaccinate most Palestinians living in the West Bank, or in the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade. Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements have been eligible to take part in its vaccination program, however.


United Nations urges Israel to halt building of settlements immediately

Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Updated 25 June 2021

United Nations urges Israel to halt building of settlements immediately

Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
  • UN officials report on implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity"
  • They also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations on Thursday accused Israel of flagrantly violating international law by expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, saying settlements are illegal and urging the country’s new government to halt their enlargement immediately.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland reported on implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity.” It demanded a halt to their expansion in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want to include in a future state.
Wennesland said in a briefing to the council on Guterres’ 12-page report that he was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s approval of a plan to add 540 housing units to the Har Homa settlement in east Jerusalem as well as the establishment of settlement outposts. He said that is “illegal also under Israeli law.”
“I again underscore, in no uncertain terms, that Israeli settlements constitute a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions and international law,” the UN envoy said. “They are a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
“The advancement of all settlement activity must cease immediately,” Wennesland said.
Israel disputes its settlements are illegal.
Both Guterres and Wennesland also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint — “and to approve plans that would enable these communities to build legally and address their development needs.”

Palestinian demonstrators hold a night protest against Israeli settlements in Beita in the West Bank on June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

The December 2016 resolution, which the United States abstained on in the final weeks of the Obama administration, also called for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians and urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.
It also called on all parties to launch negotiations on final status issues and urged intensified international and regional diplomatic efforts to help end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace.
Guterres and Wennesland made clear that 4½ years after the resolution’s adoption, none of these appeals have been met.
Wennesland said the period between March and June covered in the report “witnessed an alarming increase in the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, including hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza at a scale and intensity not seen in years.”
He said the cessation of hostilities after last month’s 11-day Gaza war “remains very fragile,” adding that the United Nations is working closely with Israel, the Palestinians and partners including Egypt “to solidify a cease-fire, allow the entry of urgent humanitarian assistance and stabilize the situation in Gaza.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that more than four years have passed since the Security Council approved its resolution, but none of the appeals have been met. (Reuters photo)

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has demanded significant easing of the Israeli blockade. Israel has said it won’t tolerate even relatively minor attacks from Gaza, including the launch of incendiary balloons, which triggered Israeli airstrikes last week.
“I urge all sides to refrain from unilateral steps and provocations, take steps to reduce tensions, and allow these efforts to succeed,” Wennesland told the council. “Everyone must do their part to facilitate ongoing discussions to stabilize the situation on the ground and avoid another devastating escalation in Gaza.”
He called on all Palestinian factions “to make serious efforts to ensure the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate, democratic, national government,” saying that Gaza must remain part of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.
During the March to June reporting period, Guterres said 295 Palestinians, including 42 women and 73 children, were killed by Israeli security forces and 10,149 were injured during demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest operations, air strikes, shelling and other incidents in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The UN chief said 90 members of the Israeli security forces and 857 Israeli civilians were injured by Palestinians during the same period in clashes, incidents in which stones and firebombs were thrown, the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars and other incidents.
The Gaza war was the worst escalation of hostilities since 2014, with Palestinian armed groups firing over 4,000 rockets and projectiles toward Israel and Israeli forces carrying out over 1,500 strikes from air, land and sea across the Gaza Strip, Guterres said, quoting Israeli sources. During the conflict, 259 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 41 women, while nine Israelis, including two children, were killed along with three foreigners. Hundreds of Israelis were wounded.


Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire

Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire
Updated 25 June 2021

Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire

Palestinian envoy to UN says Gaza rebuild requires permanent ceasefire
  • Donor countries need guarantee of no further violence, diplomat tells Arab News

AMMAN: The rebuilding of Gaza requires a permanent ceasefire and a serious effort to rekindle Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour told Arab News in a wide-ranging interview.

“Most donor countries are not willing to support a rebuilding process without a guarantee that they will not have to go back again after a possible new round of violence,” said Mansour. “A lot of effort is needed from all parties to ensure that the ceasefire becomes sustainable.”

He added that Egypt, Israel, Palestine and the UN were “trying to find a way to cement the currently fragile ceasefire through political agreements.”

“Without a political horizon that will require the involvement of the quartet (America, Russia, the European Union and the UN) plus (others), it will be difficult to sustain the ceasefire and we will be back to square one,” he said, adding that, once that process is complete, serious negotiations for a lasting peace must begin immediately.

The progress — or lack thereof — made in these areas may become apparent during Thursday’s session discussing the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 that deals with Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, at which the secretary-general “will need to say whether Israel is abiding by the resolution or not,” Mansour explained.

That meeting will be the first security council session to be held since the formation of Israel’s new government, headed by right-wing Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, which has already approved a number of new settlement expansions.

Mansour, who helped draft Resolution 2334, told Arab News that it contains a number of important articles that support Palestinian rights.

“Unlike UN Security Council Resolution 242, which left the issue of Israeli withdrawals vague, UNSC 2334 is clear that Israel must withdraw from all areas occupied in June 1967,” he said.

In light of Israeli attempts to establish settlements in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the resolution specifically bars any settlement in the holy city, he added.

“In addition to stating that the Occupied Territories include all areas captured in June 1967, the resolution specifically states that East Jerusalem is one of the areas that Israel is not allowed to settle in,” Mansour said.

The Palestinian envoy also noted that Article 5 of the resolution calls on all UN member states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” That means that no member state should deal with any Israeli institutions operating in settlements, Mansour claims.

Palestinians have also called on UN member states not to treat settlers living illegally in the Occupied Territories in the same way as they do Israelis living inside the green line. A number of countries including South Africa and Denmark have amended their policies in this regard, Mansour told Arab News.

Palestinian land expert Khalil Tofakji told Voice of Palestine that the new Israeli government has not changed the country’s policies regarding settlements.

“Israeli governments have a unified position … which includes establishing new settlements and expanding existing ones,” he said.

An open debate is scheduled to take place at the UN Security Council in New York next month to discuss all issues relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Mansour said.


Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’

Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’
Updated 25 June 2021

Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’

Raisi’s hard-line stance ‘could spell trouble’
  • President to complicate West’s dealings with Iran

PARIS: The election of a loyal acolyte of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iranian president could ease the West’s dealings with the Islamic Republic due to a streamlined power structure in Tehran but Ebrahim Raisi’s hard-line stance could also spell trouble, analysts say.

Under pressure to boost an economy crippled by US sanctions, Raisi is not expected to block EU efforts to revive a 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by bringing the US back into the accord.

But, according to analysts, his hostility toward the US means Raisi is unlikely to respond to Western demands for a wider deal covering Iran’s ballistic program, meddling in neighboring countries and its detention of Western nationals.

“Raisi, like Khamenei, is suspicious and skeptical of Western intentions vis-a-vis Iran and will be cautious about future Western engagement,” said Sanam Vakil, senior research fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

“This foreshadows a continued pattern of anti-American resistance, economic nationalism and internal repression, punctuated by moments of pragmatism,” she added.

“A more monolithic power structure will be less bogged down by infighting, which often impeded Rouhani’s agenda and that of his envoys,” said International Crisis Group analysts Ali Vaez and Naysan Rafati in a note on the election.

They said Raisi is set to be the first president under Khamenei whose views have “mirrored” those of the supreme leader.

Before Raisi, Khamenei has worked with four presidents — all served the maximum two consecutive terms and none saw completely eye-to-eye with the supreme leader.

Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) was a longstanding political rival of Khamenei, Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) a reformist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) a maverick who fell out with Khamenei in his second term and Rouhani, an advocate of better ties with the West.

Raisi also enters office as the first Iranian president to be personally sanctioned by the US under a November 2019 executive order that cited his record on human rights.

“This dynamic is sure to complicate dialogue between Iran and the West in the years ahead, even if his administration is likely to support the restoration of the nuclear deal for now,” said Ali Reza Eshraghi in a report on the elections for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Painstaking talks in Vienna to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal have made progress in recent days, raising the prospect that an accord could be reached before Raisi takes office.

Sanctions would be gradually lifted if the US, which quit the accord under Donald Trump, re-enters the agreement, allowing the energy-rich nation to begin realizing its economic potential.

“It is a feasible vision but it will require the lifting of sanctions. That is why the implementation of the JCPOA will be important, even for Raisi, even for the IRGC,” said Bijan Khajjehpour, managing partner at Vienna-based consulting firm Eurasian Nexus Partners.

But any hope of a entirely new nuclear deal, let alone one that covers wider issues, does not appear realistic for now.

“I see no prospect of serious talks about (a) longer and stronger” deal, said Suzanne Maloney, director of the foreign policy program at the US think tank the Brookings Institution.


Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia

Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia
Updated 25 June 2021

Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia

Yemen PM wants to maximize oil derivatives grant from Saudi Arabia
  • 23,000 metric tons of oil derivatives arrived Wednesday and will meet the demands of power plants in Yemen’s southeastern province
  • Supreme Energy Council conducts a comprehensive assessment of the governorates benefiting from the fuel grant

RIYADH: Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed has called on governorates to submit monthly reports and maximize an oil derivative grant provided by Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom announced on Wednesday that the second batch of oil derivatives had arrived at the port of Mukalla in Hadramout. The 23,000 metric tons of oil derivatives will meet the demands of power plants in the southeastern province.
In order to receive the third batch, Saeed wants governorates to honor the commitments agreed upon with the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY).
The prime minister’s comments came during a meeting of the Supreme Energy Council in Yemen headed by Abdulmalik Saeed, in which he conducted a comprehensive assessment of the governorates benefiting from the grant. 
During the meeting, Minister of Electricity and Energy Anwar Kalashat presented a report on the distribution of the first two batches of the oil derivatives grant provided by the Kingdom. The report also included the commitment of the beneficiary governorates to submit monthly reports detailing the reforms that have been carried out.
The first batch of the oil derivatives arrived at the Yemeni port city of Aden on May 8. The shipments are being carried out in cooperation with the Yemeni government and local authorities to operate more than 80 Yemeni power plants at a total cost of $442 million.