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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 

North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 
Updated 45 min 2 sec ago

North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 

North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 
  • IDMC report noted the numbers of internally displaced people in the region remained ‘concerningly high’
  • IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak: ‘Peacebuilding and development initiatives are needed to resolve the underlying challenges that hold displaced peoples’ lives in limbo’

LONDON: North Africa and the Middle East have hit a 10-year low in refugees as conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Syria deescalated, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre. 

Nonetheless, the IDMC report noted the numbers of internally displaced people in the region remained “concerningly high,” warning the trend toward long-term displacement would “never be reversed” without safe and sustainable conditions for IDP returnees. 

IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak said: “Peacebuilding and development initiatives are needed to resolve the underlying challenges that hold displaced peoples’ lives in limbo.”

Furthermore, the report pointed to “unprecedented numbers” of people being displaced by violence in Afghanistan and Myanmar over the course of 2021, with similarly high numbers for Somalia and South Sudan. 

Globally, the number of displaced people reached 38 million, 94 percent of whom were forced to flee from weather-related disasters, with more than 25 million under the age of 18. 

While contending more data was needed to assess longer-term impacts, Bilak said it was clear protecting and supporting displaced children and young people was crucial for the future, noting that “a healthy happy child” would be more likely to contribute to an “equitable society and functioning economy.”

She added: “Children and young people are agents of change. Recognising them as such is vital to protect development gains and reduce the risk of future crises. Preparing the world of tomorrow must start with their active participation and leadership.”


Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding

Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding
A US Navy’s Fifth Fleet spokesperson told Reuters the navy is aware of an incident in the Red Sea. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 May 2022

Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding

Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding
  • A vessel has been attacked 34 nautical miles (63 km) south west of Yemen’s Hodeidah, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) reports

A vessel has been attacked 34 nautical miles (63 km) south west of Yemen’s Hodeidah, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) reported on its website on Thursday, adding an investigation is underway.
British maritime security company Ambrey Intelligence said the incident involved a sailing vessel that managed to escape an attempted boarding from occupants of skiffs, and that the crew have been reported safe.
It said the vessel was “likely Hong Kong-flagged,” but did not give further details.
A US Navy’s Fifth Fleet spokesperson told Reuters the navy is aware of an incident in the Red Sea. 


‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon

‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon
Updated 19 May 2022

‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon

‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon

CHICAGO: The result of Lebanon’s elections should not lead people to believe that Hezbollah has been undermined but should be seen as an opportunity to restructure the country’s political dynamics, a spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon said on Wednesday.
Jean AbiNader, ATFL vice president for policy, explained that Hezbollah coalition partners such as the conservative Christian Free Patriotic Movement, headed by President Aoun’s son-in-law Gibran Bassile, lost seats, weakening the Hezbollah-led group.
AbiNader said that America needs to “de-couple” US policies toward Lebanon from US policies toward Iran. He said that Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US, must decide, too, if it is Lebanese or an arm of Iranian regional influence. But Hezbollah did not lose influence in the election, he said, only its coalition partnership.

“That’s really critical for people to understand. Hezbollah hasn’t lost. Its coalition lost. One is the Free Patriotic Movement, which is President Michel Aoun’s party now run by Gebran Bassile,” AbiNader said during an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio show broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
“They lost seats. The biggest losers, of course, are the Sunnis because they didn’t contest the election. A number of Sunni candidates won. That’s great. Some pro-Syrian candidates lost. Some outliers who are not members of any coalition also lost. What you have here is Amal, Hezbollah, the kernel of their 27 seats is intact. They will look to Marada and other organizations to join with them in a coalition. But regardless of what happens, if — and this is a big if — if Lebanese forces can pull together with the Druze, and can pick up with the independents and the anti-traditional leaders, they will have a slim majority in parliament.”
He said that the political balance will “shift all the time,” but conceded, “it is definitely a time of uncertainty.”
AbiNader said that the election has created an opportunity for the Lebanese people to form a new coalition that will focus on confronting the corruption that has blocked a full investigation of the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion that killed more than 218 people, injured 7,000 and made more than 300,000 people homeless.
“The explosion “has never really been investigated,” AbiNader said. Questions still remain about how much of the ammonium nitrate that exploded still remains and where it is. He said that the explosion was estimated to reflect the power of about 500 tons of ammonium nitrate. But, he said, there was more than 2,700 tons at the port and the whereabouts of the 2,200 tons remains a dangerous mystery.
“If we get a new government in Lebanon, the investigation will go forward,” AbiNader predicted, noting that two of the government ministers who have called for an investigation were re-elected.
“There is no full investigation in Lebanon of that bombing, so far,” AbiNader said.
He said that the Lebanese continue to live under the fear that more violence could take place.

“There is that fear and the fear is how do we set up a government that can function that isn’t a provocation to Hezbollah. And that is a real challenge because the Lebanese forces, the largest Christian party, that will form an anti-Hezbollah coalition has to do it more than on anti-grounds,” AbiNader said.
“They have to be pro-something. That’s my concern — that Lebanese forces will see their votes as a mandate to be aggressive and antagonistic to Hezbollah. That shouldn’t be the target. The target should be an independent judiciary, complete the investigations, fix the economy, put money back in people’s pockets, and diminish corruption. That’s what the challenges should be because that is what people are tired of. Hezbollah will gradually lose its attraction as it loses its raison d’etre, which is to protect Lebanon against Israel.”
AbiNader argued that Hezbollah, which is a political force and a powerful militia, must decide whether it is Lebanese or is a force for Iran.
America, he added, must see past Hezbollah in helping Lebanon to recover and rebuild. The Biden administration, AbiNader said, has been very supportive of Lebanon, but America needs to do more.

“Let’s be frank. The United States has not really been very smart about the Middle East in terms of their politics. They have been trying to pivot out of the region since Obama,” AbiNader said.
“The relationships with the Lebanese and other groups have been hard won. And they have usually seen Lebanon through an Iranian lens or an Israeli lens and not Lebanon for itself. And that’s really what we have been fighting to get over the past 20 years is a Lebanese policy that is built on US-Lebanon interests and not a Lebanon being seen as something affected by the Iran negotiations or by Israel’s security.”
The challenge, he said, remains in Congress, where some members continue to believe that Lebanon is “run by Hezbollah and Iran.”
“We had to show them time and time again that Lebanon has been a good partner with the United States,” AbiNader said.
“The Congress has increased the amount of humanitarian assistance to Lebanon. It has increased the amount of assistance to the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces),” AbiNader said.
“It has made very strong indications of what the US would like Lebanon to do, for example, vis a vis the elections in terms of being free, fair and on time, which helped a lot. It has helped Lebanon with the World Bank, in terms of Lebanon receiving certain loans, for example, to subsidize wheat. So, I think the United States is doing a lot. But can it do more? We always think it should.”
AbiNader acknowledged that a stronger case must be made to the Lebanese people explaining what the US is doing for Lebanon, given the pressures of the Russian war in Ukraine, economic issues with China, and immigration challenges on America’s southern border.
AbiNader said that Lebanon is grateful that US President Joseph Biden has restored the financial support that was stripped by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

  • The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700. It is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. EST in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

 For the podcast and more information on the radio show visit: www.arabnews.com/rayradioshow  

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis
Updated 19 May 2022

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs ODAWARA Kiyoshi met with the Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak on Wednesday to discuss ways to enhance bilateral ties between the two countries.

During their meeting, Mubarak praised the “distinguished and historical” bilateral relations between Japan and Yemen, which extend to several fields including political, economic and developmental.

He also expressed the Yemeni government’s appreciation of Japan’s long-term support to the humanitarian response in Yemen, as well as efforts aimed at supporting the peace process.

Mubarak praised the strength of bilateral relations, and Japan’s support for the Presidential Leadership Council, stressing that the Council is strenuously working to reach a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis and bring Peace to the county through carrying out its role in fulfilling the peace process led by the United Nations, in reference to the concessions made by the government for the success of the armistice agreement.

The minister reiterated his government’s pledges under the truce to stop hostilities and facilitate the attainment of a political solution to the Yemeni crisis that meets the aspirations of the country’s people, urging Japan and the international community to apply pressure on the Houthi militia to complete the implementation of the truce agreement by lifting the seven-year siege of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city. Mubarak also called for the need to use the revenues from oil shipments coming from the port of Hodeidah to pay public sector salaries.

Mubarak added that the food crisis that the world is witnessing has exacerbated the existing food-security issues in Yemen and that the country has become “more threatened than ever before to reach the brink of famine.” He called on Japan to provide assistance through the provision of food commodities, especially imports of wheat, in order to enhance food security.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan


Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
Updated 19 May 2022

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
  • “Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” said the military

JERUSALEM: Israel activated its missile defenses on Thursday after mistakenly identifying a threat near the border with Lebanon, the Israeli military said.
The incident also set off air raid sirens in parts of northern Israel.
“Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” the military said.