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

A man stands near water pumps drawing water from the Lake Assad reservoir in Raqqa province in eastern Syria on July 27, 2021. (AFP)
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A man stands near water pumps drawing water from the Lake Assad reservoir in Raqqa province in eastern Syria on July 27, 2021. (AFP)
Water pumps are used to draw water from the Lake Assad reservoir near the Tabqa Dam along the Euphrates river in Raqqa province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
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Water pumps are used to draw water from the Lake Assad reservoir near the Tabqa Dam along the Euphrates river in Raqqa province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
A youth walks with a shovel near water pumps drawing water from the Lake Assad reservoir near the Tabqa Dam along the Euphrates river in Raqqa, Syria on July 27, 2021. (AFP file photo)
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A youth walks with a shovel near water pumps drawing water from the Lake Assad reservoir near the Tabqa Dam along the Euphrates river in Raqqa, Syria on July 27, 2021. (AFP file photo)
A fisherman shows fish caught in the Sel Kapani Dam Lake in the Golbasi district of Ankara on Sept. 3, 2021. (Adem Altan/AFP)
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A fisherman shows fish caught in the Sel Kapani Dam Lake in the Golbasi district of Ankara on Sept. 3, 2021. (Adem Altan/AFP)
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Updated 28 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 says 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


Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt
Updated 15 sec ago

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

CAIRO: A quake shook Cairo and other cities in Egypt at 0535 GMT on Tuesday, according to Reuters witnesses and social media postings.
Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, and Assiut, in Upper Egypt, were among cities where people said on social media they felt their houses and buildings shaking.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the authorities.

The tremor, whose magnitude the US Geological Survey measured at 6.0 and depth at 37.8km (23.5 miles), was also felt on several other Greek islands including Crete and Santorini, state TV said,
It also shook the Cypriot capital Nicosia, Beirut, Cairo and other cities in Egypt, parts of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the region around southern Turkey’s Antalya, Reuters witnesses said.
Two powerful quakes rattled Crete in recent weeks, killing one person and damaging buildings.
A Greek seismologist said Tuesday's quake came from a different African fault and no aftershocks were expected.


Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
Updated 19 October 2021

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
  • Continued cooperation of two countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy

TOKYO: Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi reconfirmed with his Kuwaiti counterpart continued cooperation between their countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy.

In telephone talks held on Oct. 18 with Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Motegi stated that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attaches great importance to the relationship with Kuwait. Motegi also said he would like to work closely with Foreign Minister Dr. Al-Sabah, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.

In addition, Motegi thanked Kuwait for its long-standing stable supply of crude oil and requested Kuwait’s cooperation, including an increase in production, to stabilize the crude oil market in light of the upward trend in crude oil prices.

The two sides agreed to continue to cooperate to further develop the bilateral relations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Japan and Kuwait.

Both sides also exchanged views on bilateral relations and international cooperation, including the Joint Committee between the Governments of Japan and Kuwait.

This story originally appeared in Arab News Japan


‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
  • Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns used in street battles; soldier probed over shooting person down

BEIRUT: The bloody gun battles that took place last week in the streets of Beirut were caused by an “unfortunate incident, not an ambush,” the country’s Defense Minister Maurice Selim said Monday. 
Last Thursday’s clashes killed seven people and wounded 32, after a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion turned violent.
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, carried out the protest. 
Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese Forces party, which backs Bitar, of firing on the people at the protest.
But Selim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “The demonstration deviated from its course and clashes broke out. The circumstances of what happened remain to be determined by the ongoing investigation, which relies on facts and evidence to hold those responsible accountable.”
The site of the armed clashes was between the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shiyah and the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Rummaneh, with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades used.
Security footage at one of the entrances to the Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhood went viral, upending claims about demonstrators being subjected to deliberate sniper fire from the rooftops of residential buildings. 
The footage showed a member of the Lebanese army shooting at a person who insisted on bypassing the military checkpoint and entering Ain Al-Rummaneh. 
There was chaos when this person was shot down. People threw stones and there was an exchange of fire.
Army command said: “The soldier who fired the shots is under arrest and is being investigated by the competent judiciary.”
So far, 20 people from both sides of the violence have been arrested.
Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the Lebanese Forces of “committing a massacre” against peaceful demonstrators, despite the video showing a soldier shooting at them.
“Hezbollah believes the criminal and killer to be the Lebanese Forces. But the resistance, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will not be drawn into a civil war, as they are aware of this malicious conspiracy implemented by the Lebanese Forces,” he added.
The incident has turned into a political as well as judicial dilemma.
Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are abstaining from Cabinet sessions until Bitar is taken off the probe and until “the perpetrators and those involved in the Tayyouneh incident, the gunmen, snipers, their operators, their commanders, their chiefs, and everyone who has anything to do with this matter are brought to justice,” Hajj Hassan said.
Lebanon’s administration has been inoperative since last Friday. Friday was a national day of mourning, followed by the weekend.
All institutions will resume their work on Tuesday including parliament, which is holding a plenary session and restoring the immunity of MPs, especially those that Bitar had called for questioning.

Opinion

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MP Qassem Hashem, from the Development and Liberation bloc, denied news about an expedited draft law to establish an exceptional judicial body whose jurisdiction would look into the decisions, procedures and arrests carried out by Bitar, with the exception of the indictment he issued to reach the public trials before the Judicial Council.
“This matter contradicts the constitutional principles that we are keen to abide by. The draft law needs a constitutional amendment and this is not on the table,” Hashem said.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have insisted on the independence of the judiciary and have called for non-interference in judicial affairs.
It is not within the power of the Supreme Judicial Council to dismiss Bitar or to force him to take a certain course in the investigation.
However, Bitar’s course of investigation is still subject to pressure. 
On Monday, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian expressed his fear over coexistence, the National Accord Document, and the constitution.
“We should adhere to justice, but according to a clear path so that people are not divided over justice, as well as over politics” he said and warned of this “suicidal path” which everyone was “enthusiastically” jumping at. 
He called it an atmosphere that reminded people of the beginning of the civil war. 
“Every sane Lebanese should refrain from engaging in suicidal actions, and insist on the constitution, coexistence, and civil peace. Fighting in the street is forbidden, whatever the reason. Solutions can be reached through peaceful means, not by using uncontrolled weapons in the streets, especially in the capital, killing people and violating their sanctities.”
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that harming national peace and neighborliness was unacceptable, regardless of its source.
“We refuse to go back to arbitrary accusations, sectarian mobilization, attempts to isolate, compromise settlements, fabricate files against this group or that, choose scapegoats, and replace justice with revenge.”
He stressed the need to abide by the law and the judiciary, and avoid political, sectarian and partisan interference. “We need to respect the judiciary’s independence and let it correct what must be corrected by its judicial methods.”
Al-Rai called on the Cabinet to convene, as every minister should respect judicial authority, and exercise their responsibility in the name of the Lebanese people, not in the “name of influential figures.”
“Force does not frighten the believers in Lebanon. There is no weak party in Lebanon. We are all strong by our right to exist freely and our loyalty to the homeland without any interference.”


Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
Updated 19 October 2021

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
  • The militia has engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages

ANKARA: Turkey is shifting to a proxy force strategy and diplomacy with the US and Russia to counter the Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria instead of deploying its own troops, analysts have said.
It comes after senior Turkish officials hinted at a strategy change regarding the war-torn country following deadly attacks by the militia in the Kurdish-dominated Tal Rifaat region, which targeted Turkish police officers.
The militia has also engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara was “determined to remove all threats in northern Syria,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged that Turkey “would do what is necessary for its security,” adding that neither the US or Russia had kept their promises to ensure the withdrawal of the militia from the Syrian border.
But the Turkish government has said that the military will pursue a “much more different campaign” in northern Syria, sparking debate over whether Ankara will engage in diplomatic talks with the US and Russia before launching possible military action.
The militia is the chief local partner of the US in its fight against Daesh in the region, while Turkey considers the Kurdish group and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party, as Syrian extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought a civil war against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
In the meantime, the Syrian Liberation Front branch of the Syrian National Army said that it is “determined to clear our regions from all terror groups,” including the Kurdistan Workers’s Party, Democratic Union Party and Daesh.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, said that every time Russian President Vladimir Putin has allowed Turkey to enter Syria and seize territory from the Kurdish militia, he has demanded that Turkey end its support for rebel groups.
“This involved a land exchange with either Turkey taking territories from the YPG (Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria) or the Bashar Assad regime taking territories from the hands of the rebels. But this new model that we are talking right now is a bit different from this one. Now, Turkish-backed troops in Syria, instead of Turkish troops, might move in to take an area from the YPG with a tacit agreement from Putin,” he told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, Ankara’s broader strategy is to divide the militia-controlled zones and prevent the formation of any future political entity in the group’s territory.
“The recent Erdogan-Putin deal in Sochi aimed at implementing this new model,” he said.
Amid particularly sensitive times for US-Turkey relations, a growing emphasis on diplomatic channels outweighs military action, he added. Erdogan is expected to discuss the issue with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October.
After their recent meeting in Sochi, Erdogan will also talk to Putin following his meeting with Biden.
According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, the threat that Turkey sees in the Kurdish militia is the possibility of a Kurdish state being formed close to its borders.
“Ankara is therefore taking whatever measures it can to prevent this from happening,” he told Arab News.
Unluhisarcikli said that current conditions mean that it is unsuitable for Turkey to conduct military operations against YPG-held territories in northwest or northeast Syria.
Therefore, Ankara will push diplomatic channels to proceed efficiently, he added.
“Turkey is already in a tense relationship with Russia over Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and would not like to add a new layer to these tensions. At a time when Turkey is trying to improve relations with US, it would not like to introduce a new headache,” he said.
Meanwhile, during a press conference last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration does not support efforts to normalize relations with the Assad regime.
Experts also note that the fate of Idlib province, hosting about 4 million civilians under the control of Turkish-backed rebels, will be critical in the coming days in shaping the calculus of Turkey’s relationship with Syria, with a potential migrant influx causing domestic political worries for Ankara.
On Saturday, shelling by regime forces of the opposition-held town of Sarmada on the northern outskirts of Idlib near the Turkish border killed four people and wounded more than a dozen, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
Updated 19 October 2021

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
  • The two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields
  • Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also met with the UK health, education and climate change officials

LONDON: UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have pledged to develop areas of joint cooperation and enhance their development relations.
The ministers met in London on Monday, where the two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields, including economic, trade, investment and climate change.
Sheikh Abdullah’s visit comes after a recent visit by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed to the UK, where he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and announced the establishment of a new and ambitious partnership between the two countries for the future.
Sheikh Abdullah and Truss also discussed regional and international issues of common interest.
During his visit, the UAE foreign minister also held talks with the UK health secretary Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, secretary of state for education, and Alok Sharma and president of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).