How Muslim faithful in Jerusalem savored the essence of Ramadan

Palestinian worshippers pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the third Friday of Ramadan, on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
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Palestinian worshippers pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the third Friday of Ramadan, on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Israeli security forces stand guard in front of the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem to prevent worshippers from reaching the Al-Aqsa mosque compound amid restrictions due to the coronavirus, on September 25, 2020. (AFP file photo)
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Israeli security forces stand guard in front of the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem to prevent worshippers from reaching the Al-Aqsa mosque compound amid restrictions due to the coronavirus, on September 25, 2020. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian who tried to break through a security barrier to enter the the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020.  (AFP file photo)
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Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian who tried to break through a security barrier to enter the the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces keep watch as Palestinian worshippers attend the prayers of Eid al-Fitr outside the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)
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Israeli security forces keep watch as Palestinian worshippers attend the prayers of Eid al-Fitr outside the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)
Palestinian worshippers arrive to pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
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Palestinian worshippers arrive to pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Palestinian worshippers pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the last Friday of Ramadan, on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
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Palestinian worshippers pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the last Friday of Ramadan, on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinian worshippers pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
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Palestinian worshippers pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
How Muslim faithful in Jerusalem savored the essence of Ramadan
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In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
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In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
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In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
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In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
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In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
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In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)
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Updated 13 May 2021

How Muslim faithful in Jerusalem savored the essence of Ramadan

How Muslim faithful in Jerusalem savored the essence of Ramadan
  • The last 10 days of Ramadan are always special but in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque they are unique
  • Worshippers and students often have questions about life and look for solutions for daily issues

JERUSALEM: The last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque they are unique — and charged.

On May 10, Israeli police, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, stormed the Haram Al-Sharif, which houses both Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. More than 300 people were injured in the ensuing violence.  

Before the unrest erupted there, Arab News spent four days in Jerusalem and talked to the faithful as they awaited Laylat Al-Qadr, the night of fate that falls on the 28th day of Ramadan and marks the date, according to Muslim scholars, when the Holy Qur’an was revealed.

Most worshippers stressed the spiritual dimension of their visits.

Mohammed Abdo, a laborer from Jerusalem’s Sur Baher neighborhood, said he liked to go to the mosque as often as possible but due to his work he usually visited for afternoon and evening prayers. “But my favorite is the dawn prayer. It feels very spiritual and heavenly,” he added.

Mustafa Abu Sway, a professor of Islamic studies at Al-Quds University and holder of the Ghazali chair, said he is almost always at Al-Aqsa Mosque for noon prayers. “I give daily lectures and the best time for these spiritual talks is just before the noon prayers.”

He noted that worshippers and students often have questions about life and look for solutions for daily issues.




Palestinian worshippers arrive to pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

“We try and deal with how the Islamic faith has a direct influence on our behavior. Whether it is in personal relations, work ethics, or issues of the environment, we talk about all these issues during our discussions,” he added.

He pointed out that there was great interest in international academic circles in the doctrines and thinking of Al-Ghazali, an influential Islamic theologian and a famous preacher.

Getting to Al-Aqsa is not easy. The nearest parking lot for those coming from outside the Old City is several kilometers away. A fleet of electric carts carry older and disabled people, but the majority have to make the long walk on cobbled streets.

Some enter via the Damascus Gate to the north and make their way up the Khan Al-Zayt and the Suq Al-Wad, two ancient thoroughfares, to the higher ground of Haram Al-Sharif.




Israeli security forces stand guard on Sept. 25, 2020 in front of the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem to prevent worshippers from reaching the Al-Aqsa mosque compound amid COVID-19 restrictions. (AFP file photo)

Others come via Lion’s Gate in the city’s eastern wall. Once inside the compound, there are separate entrances for men and women in the Dome of the Rock mosque. Inside, a small wooden barrier divides the genders.

In the separate Al-Aqsa structure, the southern Al-Qibly is reserved for men while the part close to the Bab Al-Rahmeh, another prayer section, is divided with men on the right side and women on the left.

The whole compound, which forms an esplanade that dominates the Old City, is maintained by the Jordanian Ministry of Waqf. Jordan held the Old City and the West Bank until 1967.

During Ramadan, the Waqf sets up special areas for hundreds of worshippers to break their fast. Many come from out of town either from within the 1948 borders of Israel or from various parts of the West Bank.




Israeli security forces keep watch as Palestinian worshippers attend the prayers of Eid al-Fitr outside the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)

This year and last, entering Israel from the West Bank has been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only those who have been vaccinated have been able to obtain a permit to travel from the West Bank.

Before the May 10 incursion by the Israeli police into the Haram Al-Sharif, Israeli commanders had ordered the green-bereted border guards and plainclothes security to adopt a low profile.

At the beginning of the holy month, Israeli security forces cut off electricity to four minarets and blocked a plaza in front of the Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the Old City northwest of Al-Aqsa.

The commanders were trying to silence the call to prayer on the same evening as a Jewish remembrance event for fallen Israeli soldiers. On another date, they attempted to head off clashes between Palestinians and hardline Jewish protesters who shouted, “Death to Arabs.”

The atmosphere was further soured by attempts to evict Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood outside the Old City from buildings claimed by Jewish settlers. The US and EU appealed for calm.




Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian who tried to break through a security barrier to enter the the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020.  (AFP file photo)

The mosque’s guards, who are employed by the Jordanian government, also kept a low profile as worshippers moved into and around the complex.

The Palestinian guards were monitoring visitors to ensure that they did not violate an agreement reached in 2014 in Amman between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then US Secretary of State John Kerry, and King Abdullah of Jordan.

The unwritten understanding stated that only Muslims may pray in Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock while all others may visit. The esplanade is, however, claimed by Jews to be the site of the First and Second Temples, which are sacred to the Jewish tradition. Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its undivided capital.




In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)

The Waqf guards seek to head off attempts by hardline Jewish groups, such as the Temple Mount Faithful, who want to rebuild the third temple on the site. They may attempt to recite Jewish prayers as a sign of claiming sovereignty.

In the few hours separating the afternoon prayers from the evening prayers that follow the breaking of the fast or iftar, Al-Aqsa was quieter. Locals from the Old City returned to their homes to break the fast with their families, while outsiders were invited to a special corner of the mosque compound by various charities to share in a hot meal, drinks, and sweets.

Washing areas were available as well as drinking water for those who fasted through the day without drinking or eating.

In the evening, residents of the Old City came out of their houses to hold joint Taraweeh prayers with those who stayed in the mosque. Late evenings were spent in small and large group talks and religious studies.




Palestinian worshippers gather outside Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound ahead of the third Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, on April 30, 2021. (AFP file photo)

Some stayed up all night for the suhoor breakfast. Many slept before being awakened to partake in a light meal before the imsaq (the time of abstaining) as the sun rose.

Early risers returned to the mosque for the special time in the early morning hours for the dawn prayers.

Some do not have the luxury of being able to spend a night in the Haram Al-Sharif, in what is the third-holiest site in Islam.

Nemeh Quteneh, from Beit Safafa, another district in east Jerusalem, was with her mother and aunt as they walked toward the Dome of the Rock, which houses the tip of Mount Moriah, for afternoon prayers.

She said: “My mother, Sufiana, can only come in the afternoon, but I prefer the early morning prayers. The air is calm and the quiet allows one to have that spiritual connection that this holy place allows.”

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Twitter: @daoudkuttab


Khartoum says agrees with protesters on resumption of S.Sudan oil exports

Member of Sudan’s sovereign council Shams Al-Din Kabashi (C) meets with protest leaders, following his arrival with a delegation to the city of Port Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Member of Sudan’s sovereign council Shams Al-Din Kabashi (C) meets with protest leaders, following his arrival with a delegation to the city of Port Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2021

Khartoum says agrees with protesters on resumption of S.Sudan oil exports

Member of Sudan’s sovereign council Shams Al-Din Kabashi (C) meets with protest leaders, following his arrival with a delegation to the city of Port Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
  • The transitional government sent a delegation to Port Sudan to negotiate with demonstrators objecting to parts of a peace deal with rebel groups
  • Rebels have blocked the main container and oil export terminals in Port Sudan, threatening fuel supplies and revenue

KHARTOUM: Oil exports from South Sudan can resume unimpeded through a Sudanese port, Khartoum’s ruling council said late Sunday after it reached an agreement with protest leaders in the country’s east.
Khartoum earns revenue for its impoverished economy from the South’s oil exports, and the deal came hours after senior government officials flew to Port Sudan, the Red Sea trade hub.
“The joint meeting between the government delegation headed by General Kabashi, a member of the Sovereign Council, and a delegation from the Beja council reached an agreement on allowing the passage of South Sudanese oil exports through the Bashayer port,” Khartoum’s ruling sovereign council said in a statement late Sunday.
Bashayer is the main terminal, close to Port Sudan, from which landlocked South Sudan’s oil supplies are shipped to global markets.
Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid had warned Saturday of “an extremely grave situation” with two pipelines blocked by the protesters.
One transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.
The governmental delegation led by Sovereign Council member Shams Al-Din Kabashi included Obeid, Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Mahdi and others.
They put forward proposals to eventually open all ports and roads leading to the city which protesters began blocking early last week.
The Beja tribe elders tentatively agreed and said they would need a week to further discuss the initiatives, the statement added.
The breakthrough came after Information Minister Hamza Baloul confirmed to AFP earlier on Sunday the delegation’s arrival while another senior official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said “the delegation won’t come back (to the capital Khartoum) before solving the crisis.”
A protest leader announced on September 20 that dozens of demonstrators, objecting to parts of a peace deal with rebel groups, had blocked the main container and oil export terminals in Port Sudan.
Neighbouring South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels of oil per day, which are transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then exported.
The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from the South, according to official figures.
Sudan formed the joint civilian-military sovereign ruling council months after the ouster of long-time autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019.
It serves alongside a transitional government, headed by civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, which last October signed a peace agreement with several rebel groups.
But the eastern protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal with rebels from the Darfur region, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states ignored their interests.
Speaking in Khartoum on Sunday, Sovereign Council chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan described the protesters’ demands as “a political matter that must be dealt with politically.”
While impeding access to Port Sudan, the protesters late last week also blocked the entrance to the city’s airport and a bridge linking Kassala with the rest of the country.


Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area
Updated 26 September 2021

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area
  • The dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military said Sunday it had “repelled the incursion of Ethiopian forces” in the disputed border area of Al-Fashaqa, near the conflict-ridden region of Tigray.

“Military forces have repelled the incursion of Ethiopian forces in the district of Om Barakeet, forcing them to retreat,” said Brig. Al-Taher Abu Haga, the army’s media adviser, in a statement.

Om Barakeet lies in the contested Al-Fashaqa area, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan, next to the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Khartoum stationed troops in Al-Fashaqa in November, around the time Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray to oust the region’s ruling party.

The bloody conflict killed thousands of people and pushed more than 400,000 into famine, according to United Nations. Tens of thousands of Tigrayans have also fled into Sudan.s

The border dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s controversial Blue Nile dam.

Sudan, along with Egypt, has been locked in a bitter dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam for a decade. Both downstream countries, dependent on the river for most of their water, see the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as an existential threat.

Separately in Sudan, the general who heads the country’s ruling transitional authority on Sunday pledged to reform the army, days after a failed coup.

“We are going to reorganize the armed forces ... Partisan activities are banned in the army,” Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said at the opening of a military hospital in Khartoum.

“The armed forces are committed to holding elections on the date fixed for ending the transition” in 2023, he said.

“After that, the army will leave the political scene and its role will be limited to protecting the country.”

Sudan is led by a civilian-military administration under an August 2019 power-sharing deal signed after President Omar Bashir’s ouster by the military in April that year following mass protests against his iron-fisted rule.

Sudan’s government said it thwarted a Sept. 21 coup attempt involving military officers and civilians linked to the regime of imprisoned Bashir. At least 11 officers were among those arrested.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has since called for reforms within the army, a highly sensitive issue in Sudan.

A transition to full civilian rule has remained shaky, reeling from deep fragmentation among political factions, economic woes and a receding role for civilian leaders.

Paramilitary leader and Burhan’s deputy in the Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has pointed a finger of blame at politicians after the failed coup.

“Politicians are the main cause behind coups because they have neglected the average citizen ... and are more concerned fighting over how they can stay in power,” Daglo said.


‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey

‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey
Updated 27 September 2021

‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey

‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey
  • It is the ancestor of the classical period of mosaics that are obviously more sophisticated

USAKLI HOYUK, Turkey: The discovery of a 3,500-year-old paving stone, described as the “ancestor” of Mediterranean mosaics, offers illuminating details into the daily lives of the mysterious Bronze Age Hittites.

The assembly of over 3,000 stones — in natural shades of beige, red and black, and arranged in triangles and curves — was unearthed in the remains of a 15th century BC Hittite temple, 700 years before the oldest known mosaics of ancient Greece.

“It is the ancestor of the classical period of mosaics that are obviously more sophisticated. This is a sort of first attempt to do it,” says Anacleto D’Agostino, excavation director of Usakli Hoyuk, near Yozgat, in central Turkey.

At the site three hours from Turkey’s capital Ankara, first located in 2018, Turkish and Italian archaeologists painstakingly use shovels and brushes to learn more about the towns of the Hittites, one of the most powerful kingdoms in ancient Anatolia.

“For the first time, people felt the necessity to produce some geometric patterns and to do something different from a simple pavement,” D’Agostino says.

“Maybe we are dealing with a genius? Maybe not. It was maybe a man who said ‘build me a floor’ and he decided to do something weird?“

The discovery was made opposite Kerkenes mountain and the temple where the mosaic is located was dedicated to Teshub, the storm deity worshipped by the Hittites, equivalent to Zeus for the ancient Greeks.

“Probably here the priests were looking at the picture of Kerkenes mountain for some rituals and so on,” D’Agostino adds.

The archaeologists this week also discovered ceramics and the remains of a palace, supporting the theory that Usakli Hoyuk could indeed be the lost city of Zippalanda.

A significant place of worship of the storm deity and frequently mentioned in Hittite tablets, Zippalanda’s exact location has remained a mystery.

“Researchers agree that Usakli Hoyuk is one of two most likely sites. With the discovery of the palace remains alongside the luxurious ceramics and glassware, the likelihood has increased,” D’Agostino says.

“We only need the ultimate proof: a tablet carrying the name of the city.”

The treasures of Usakli Hoyuk, for which cedar trees were brought from Lebanon to build temples and palaces, were swallowed up like the rest of the Hittite world toward the end of the Bronze Age.

The reason is still not known. But some believe a change in climate accompanied by social unrest is the cause.

Nearly 3,000 years after their disappearance, the Hittites continue to inhabit Turkish imagination.

In an attempt to honor this connection, the excavation team recreated Hittite culinary traditions, trying ancient recipes on ceramics produced as they would have been at the time using the same technique and clay.

“We reproduced the Hittite ceramics with the clay found in the village where the site is located: We baked dates and bread with them as the Hittites used to eat,” says Valentina Orsi, co-director of the excavation.

“It was very good.”


Israel releases Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar from prison

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 26 September 2021

Israel releases Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar from prison

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
  • Jarrar was sentenced in March 2021 to 2 years in prison for belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel and the US label a ‘terrorist’ organization
  • She had been detained without charge since 2019, and her sentence included time served

RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities on Sunday released from jail Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar after two years in detention.
Jarrar, 58, was sentenced to two years in March 2021 for belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel and the United States label a “terrorist” organization.
But the Israeli military did not find evidence Jarrar had taken part in violent acts.
She had been detained without charge since 2019 when she was arrested along with several other Palestinian figures following an attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel blamed the attack on the PFLP.
Jarrar was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, as part of the PFLP.
On Sunday the group congratulated Jarrar on her release, describing her as a “comrade in arms” known for her “patience and tenacity.”

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar holds her mother’s hands as she arrives to Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021.

After leaving jail Jarrar visited the tomb of her daughter Suha who died in July, an AFP correspondent said.
At the time, Israeli prison authorities refused to allow Jarrar to attend the funeral.
Jarrar has been arrested and jailed many times and often held without charge in what Israelis call administrative detention.
Israeli administrative detention orders allow suspects to be held without charge for renewable six-month periods.
Israel says the procedure is intended to allow authorities to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, with the aim of preventing crimes in the meantime.
But the system has been criticized by Palestinians, human rights groups and members of the international community, who say Israel abuses it.


Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management

Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management
Updated 27 September 2021

Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management

Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management
  • Environmental pressures and water scarcity are contributing to instability and forced migration
  • Recycling, improved farming techniques and greater cooperation urged to reduce water waste

DUBAI: Low rainfall, limited freshwater from rivers and lakes, and dwindling non-renewable groundwater reserves make the Middle East the most water-stressed region on earth.

Meanwhile, demand is soaring — and likely to rise even further given population growth and economic development — leading to some of the highest per-capita water consumption rates in the world.

So, the region needs to get better at preserving its limited water and becoming more efficient at using what it desalinates. The good news is that the solutions are not beyond human imagining or economic feasibility.

In fact, some may be simple and affordable. A 2020 report by the non-profit World Resources Institute found that the cost could be as low as 1 percent of Saudi Arabia’s annual gross domestic product. Innovations such as solar-powered desalination, raising crop productivity “per drop,” and wastewater treatment and reuse hold great promise.

Matthew McCabe, a professor of water security and remote sensing at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, is working with the Saudi government to optimize water use for food production. Central to this is careful monitoring of water use in agriculture, the sector that consumes the most water in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The World Bank estimates that agriculture consumes about 70 percent of freshwater taken from ground or surface water sources globally. The share is even higher in the MENA region, touching 80 percent. In Saudi Arabia, about 90 percent of freshwater is used for agriculture.

“We’re looking at doing more accurate accounting of agricultural water use throughout the country and it must be done throughout the region,” McCabe said.

Agriculture consumes about 70 percent of freshwater taken from ground or surface water sources globally. (AFP file photo)

“So, the more efficiently and sustainably we can use water for food production, the better we can move toward more responsible use of our water resources. The big problem is that we’re not using desalinated water. We’re using groundwater which is not being replaced.”

According to Vangelis Constantianos, regional coordinator at the Global Water Partnership, an advocacy and skills-building network, efforts to boost food security through expanded agricultural production in an arid environment put great stress on resources if “smart” water-saving technologies are ignored.

Constantianos said that desalination poses challenges of its own in the form of high energy costs and greenhouse-gas emissions. Brine discharge also harms the environment, while too much subsidized water hides the real cost of production.

“An amply provided water supply may not assist in developing a society that is conscious of the challenge and its responsibility to conserve water for its needs and nature,” he said.

That responsibility is increasing as the issue of water scarcity becomes more pressing.

Women and young village girls collect water from a rain water pool which is purified before use with tablets in Gayo village, Ethiopia. ((Shutterstock)

The WRI report estimated that 3 billion people around the world lack basic hand-washing facilities, a quarter of the world’s population lives in countries facing high water stress, and there are more than 500 “dead zones” — oxygen-poor areas in the oceans caused by untreated wastewater.

In the MENA region, environmental pressures and water scarcity are contributing to instability and forced migration. Large parts of Yemen, the Khuzestan province of Iran, Sudan and now Lebanon are facing severe water problems that have provoked anti-government protests.

“Crops depend entirely on agriculture in the arid region, and officials say that supporting agriculture stems rural migration and reduces the need to use hard currency for food imports,” The Economist said in July.

A sunrise view for a canal coming from the Nile River passing through fields of farm lands in rural road Al Mehwar, Giza, Egypt. (Shutterstock)

On the downside, the magazine said, “subsidies have long encouraged farmers in the region to waste water on a massive scale; still, leaders like to use cheap water as a way to buy support or further their interests.”

The World Bank estimates that by 2050 the impact of water scarcity may cost MENA countries between 6 and 14 percent of GDP. So, the region cannot afford business as usual.

Omar Saif, manager of Middle East Advisory Services at WSP, an engineering consultancy, said that breaking down the elements of water security needed per country can help build a clearer image of where investment should be directed. This can be particularly useful if applied to national budgeting.

Focusing on share of GDP, rather than absolute costs, helps to identify investment gaps that persist on a country-by-country basis, he said.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are Iraq’s main water source and essential for agriculture. (AFP file photo)

“The fact that we see under-developed countries requiring much larger shares of their GDP to address water security shouldn’t be taken as a sign of futile efforts, but rather a call to action for the international community to coordinate the allocation of their international development aid budgets,” he told Arab News.

Saif said that the WRI report sent a clear message that sustainable water solutions are within reach. However, “to reach this desired end-state will require collective action from public and private sectors.”

Water charges need to reformed and greater trans-boundary cooperation promoted. New academic programs focusing on water security and improved farming techniques can also help. “Most agricultural departments are antiquated and do not integrate the role of climate resilience, technology and business into agri-programs,” he said.

FASTFACTS

17 Countries that need 8 percent+ of GDP to deliver sustainable water management.

10 percent Global population share of the 17 countries.

75 Countries that can achieve sustainable water management for less than 2 percent of GDP.

As one of the largest consumers and producers of water in the world, Saudi Arabia is taking the initiative via mega-projects such as NEOM, the new city in the Kingdom’s northern desert that promises zero liquid discharge and uses clean energy to produce freshwater.

Saudi Arabia is also investing in more efficient desalination processes and more sustainable approaches that have the potential to be exported abroad.

But the bill is far from cheap. McCabe said that while 1 percent of GDP does not sound like a lot, in Saudi Arabia that equates to about $10 billion every year for 15 years, totaling $150 billion. In other MENA countries, the cost is around 4 or 5 percent of GDP. Recycling, therefore, is critical to an improved outcome.

Waste-water treatment plant in Saudi Arabia. (AN file photo)

“Saudi Arabia is also taking a good governance approach to water usage with Vision 2030 to dramatically increase water reuse,” McCabe told Arab News. “We need to recycle that water for other purposes, whether it’s drinking, for agriculture or food production, rather than sending it off into the ocean. We need to close the cycle.”

To that end, investing in municipal waste water could be opened up to the private sector, the experts said. A recent World Bank/IFC analysis found that if cities in emerging markets focus on low-carbon water and waste as part of their post-COVID-19 recovery, they could catalyze as much as $2 trillion in investments and create over 23 million new jobs by 2030.

While there are some signs of progress in the region, often supported by international efforts, the pace of change is not fast enough to address the growing challenges. “Lack of suitable governance and investment frameworks, and consequently of financing, plays an important role, including resulting in much more limited involvement by the private sector than required,” Constantianos said.

Iraqi boys swim with a herd of buffaloes in the Diyala River in the Fadiliyah district, northeast of Baghdad on August 2, 2021. (AFP)

While some solutions may be simple and affordable, design and implementation require a sophisticated and often tailor-made approach.

“Water flows everywhere, through economic sectors, institutions and social relations. Thus, addressing water scarcity and climate impacts requires integrated management for all natural resources at appropriate level, and not for water alone,” Constantianos said.

“We have no choice but to address this because they’re going to be long-term projects,” he said. “It’s going to take many decades to develop the infrastructure to support this.”

But unrest prompted by construction of dams, corruption, mismanagement and water shortages is already triggering political unrest and could lead to wars in the worst scenario. As The Economist warned: “Without better (water) sharing, management and investment, millions of the region’s residents risk becoming climate refugees.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek