UN climate report strengthens case for wise management of Middle East groundwater reserves

People look at the Dukan dam in Iraq's northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, 65 kms northwest of Suleimaniyah, which was built in 1955 and has reached its highest water levels following heavy rains in the region, on April 2, 2019. (AFP)
1 / 4
People look at the Dukan dam in Iraq's northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, 65 kms northwest of Suleimaniyah, which was built in 1955 and has reached its highest water levels following heavy rains in the region, on April 2, 2019. (AFP)
Barricades are set up to contain water in a flooded street in the city of Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's Khuzestan province, on April 10, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)
2 / 4
Barricades are set up to contain water in a flooded street in the city of Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's Khuzestan province, on April 10, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)
A woman walks with her children along the Karun River which has burst its banks in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, on April 11, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)
3 / 4
A woman walks with her children along the Karun River which has burst its banks in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, on April 11, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)
Seagulls search for food near a sewage discharge area next to piles of plastic bottles and gallons washed away by the water on the seaside of Ouzai, south of Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)
4 / 4
Seagulls search for food near a sewage discharge area next to piles of plastic bottles and gallons washed away by the water on the seaside of Ouzai, south of Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 21 October 2021

UN climate report strengthens case for wise management of Middle East groundwater reserves

UN climate report strengthens case for wise management of Middle East groundwater reserves
  • Mismanagement could have dire environmental and political consequences for MENA
  • IPCC report contributor says water management should be a vehicle for cooperation

NEW YORK CITY: A landmark UN study on climate has sounded a stark warning about the impending irreversible changes to the natural environment and the catastrophic consequences for humanity that a failure to act could entail.

In its report, released on Monday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said: “Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible.”

Among the approaching changes are the well-documented warming of the atmosphere, rising sea levels, severe and unpredictable weather and catastrophic damage to natural life on land and in the sea.

But one less acknowledged, but perhaps equally existential, effect of climate change is the rapid decline in the availability of fresh and drinkable water through groundwater reserves — and for the hot and arid countries of the Middle East, the threat is particularly acute.

“Climate change is intensifying the natural production of water — the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions,” the UN report added.

In the Middle East, mismanagement of groundwater — particularly in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran — could have catastrophic environmental and knock-on political consequences.

Groundwater is the term used for the massive reservoirs, known as aquifers, of fresh water available beneath the earth’s surface, which formed naturally over millions of years. Similar to the reservoirs that are drilled into for the extraction of oil, they are finite — and dwindling fast.

“Increasing global freshwater withdrawals, primarily associated with the expansion of irrigated agriculture in drylands, have led to global groundwater depletion,” said the UN report, adding that the massive extraction of groundwater was so severe that it was contributing to rising sea levels — and ushering in all the associated complications that came with it.

The consequences of groundwater extraction are more immediately obvious on a local level than globally.

Water scarcity, particularly in the Middle East, is not a new problem, and countries such as Saudi Arabia have been ramping up efforts to produce fresh water, for example through desalination plants that remove salt and other harmful materials from seawater to ultimately process it and make it safe to drink and useful in agriculture and everyday life.

While desalination does not come without its own challenges, it has alleviated reliance on groundwater and reduced the pressure of economic growth and human needs on fragile groundwater systems.

However, Jay Famiglietti, executive director at the Global Institute for Water Security and one of the senior authors of a study that the UN drew on for Monday’s report, told Arab News that such forward-thinking water management was scarce at best — or non-existent at worst — in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

“About a third of the world’s population relies on groundwater as their primary water source,” he said, adding that groundwater usage “depends on your resources.” Where there was less rain and surface water available, such as rivers and lakes, states were more likely to pump it from deep reservoirs, many of which were too deep to be replenished with rainwater.

“Regions that have groundwater access — they use it. They should be balancing their surface water use with groundwater, but in fact they pull water out of the ground like it’s free money — literally. But this is the norm,” Famiglietti said.

He noted that a huge amount of groundwater was used for agriculture but pointed out that this should not be condemned. “We need to eat food.”

The only solution to the problem of managing the fast-dwindling supply of groundwater reserves with the need for food and economic growth, he added, was through international cooperation.

In Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, this is absolutely critical because of their significant reliance on groundwater as a result of the short supply of surface water.

“These aquifers that are running out of water are so big now that they cross over political boundaries — whether they are international or intranational,” Famiglietti said, adding that the issue presented a political challenge as well as an opportunity for progressive cooperation.

“Imagine pulling together a group of Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Syria to cooperate — it’s really, really hard. But that is the only way forward. We have to switch what has been a vehicle, a trigger for conflict — water — for something that becomes a vehicle for collaboration and cooperation. Monday’s report makes that crystal clear,” he said.

The political pitfalls of failing to reform water management have recently become abundantly clear in Iran.

The country’s southwestern Khuzestan province was recently convulsed by weeks of violent protests spurred by a lack of clean drinking water. Human rights groups have verified that at least nine people were killed by security forces during the demonstrations.

A police officer was also killed, and the violence prompted a rare admission of guilt by then-President Hassan Rouhani.

People were incensed by the authorities’ mismanagement of their water, which pushed the province, the water-wealthiest in Iran in terms of natural resources, into what has now become known as a state of “water bankruptcy.”

Those protests that started because of water shortages in Khuzestan province quickly turned into anti-regime chants in Tehran — crystallizing the destabilizing potential of water mismanagement.




An Iraqi man walks past a canoe siting on dry, cracked earth in the Chibayish marshes near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Marsh areas in southern Iraq have been affected since Daesh started closing the gates of a dam on the Euphrates River in the central city of Ramadi, which is under the group's control. (AFP/File Photo)

Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, said: “In Iran in particular, the water crisis is a political one, because it is intimately tied to, and exacerbated by, longstanding regime neglect and mismanagement. That’s a situation that’s unlikely to change in the near future, unfortunately.”

Despite repeated warnings from the UN about climate catastrophe, as well as from Iranians who took to the streets in July, Berman said, Tehran did not appear to have taken on board the existential threat posed by water mismanagement.

“In fact, Iran seems to be headed in the opposite direction, because we’re now seeing a consolidation of the hardline clerical status quo around new President Ebrahim Raisi.

“All that makes Iran unlikely to pivot toward regional cooperation of the sort that the UN report envisions, or to invest in technologies, like desalination, that have helped other regional states, such as Saudi Arabia, turn the corner on their hydrological issues.”

-----------------

Twitter: @CHamillStewart


France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’
Updated 03 December 2021

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he hoped there would be progress on the Lebanon crisis in the next hours.
“We will do all we can to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon... I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.” Macron said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.


US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
Updated 03 December 2021

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
  • Planned changes to district boundaries could affect nine members of Congress who have a record of voicing support on Palestinian issues

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.


Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
Updated 03 December 2021

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
  • They posed as Iranian dissidents and smuggled bombs into the Natanz facility disguised as food
  • Israel had pledged to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

LONDON: Agents from the Mossad convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities by “posing as dissidents” and smuggling explosives disguised as food into facilities, according to reports.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Israeli agents convinced up to 10 scientists to destroy the Natanz nuclear facility, wiping out 90 percent of its centrifuges – crucial for research into nuclear weapons.

They are said to have smuggled some explosives into the plant in food lorries, while others were dropped in via drones and picked up by scientists – who they convinced to use against the nuclear sites by posing as Iranian dissidents.

The attack on the facility is just one of a long line of Israeli sabotages of Iranian nuclear facilities, a strategy that they have engaged in more as Iranian nuclear research has progressed.

The Natanz facility, a critical nuclear research site, has been hit by at least three attacks linked to the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.

In another incident, agents used a quadcopter drone to fire missiles at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company in an attempt to disrupt its research.

In recent years, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its atomic energy research, including enriching growing quantities of uranium above the levels required for civilian nuclear activity such as energy production.

In April Iran said that it would start enriching uranium up to 60 percent after the attack on its Natanz plant which it blamed on Israel – that is closing in on the 90 to 95 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons.

This week – much to the ire of Israel – Iran and the US returned to the negotiating table to try to find a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from crushing economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US and its allies.

But on Thursday, Israeli officials called on the US directly to cease those negotiations.

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for “concrete measures” to be taken against Iran.

He said that Tehran was carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a negotiation tactic and that “this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” according to a statement released by his office.

The Israeli leader also expressed his concern about a new report from the UN, issued during the US-Iran talks in Vienna, which showed that Iran had “started the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground facility.”

Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.


Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns
Updated 53 min 38 sec ago

Lebanon information minister resigns

Lebanon information minister resigns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi has officialy submitted his resignation on Friday to “give Lebanon a chance.”
“I will resign this afternoon,” Kordahi earlier told AFP. “I do not want to cling to this position, if it can be useful, I want to give Lebanon a chance.”
An official at the presidency confirmed to AFP that President Michel Aoun had received a call from Kordahi confirming he would submit his resignation.


UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
Updated 03 December 2021

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour

UAE, France sign $18 billion deal for 80 Rafale jets as Macron starts Gulf tour
  • Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar

DUBAI: French President Emmanuel Macron met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Friday at the start of a two-day Gulf tour that saw France sell the UAE 80 French-made Rafale warplanes for $18.08 billion (€16 billion). 
France’s Defense Minister said the deal was France’s largest-ever weapons contract for export while the Minister for the Armed Forces hailed the deal as "historic."

There was no immediate confirmation of the deal from Emirati officials. Macron was greeted at the leadership pavilion at Dubai’s Expo site for talks with Sheikh Mohammed.
“I don’t want to reveal the Christmas present” before the meeting, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash told journalists in the build-up to the talks in Dubai.
Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar, host of next year’s World Cup, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, is expected to order dozens of Rafale jets to replace its Mirage 2000 aircraft acquired in the late 1990s.
The Emirates is the fifth biggest customer for the French defense industry with $5.31 billion (€4.7 billion) from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
Macron is accompanied by a large delegation in Dubai including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defense Minister Florence Parly.