Why shared water resources could become a source of conflict between nations of the Arab region

Special Why shared water resources could become a source of conflict between nations of the Arab region
UNESCO WorldWater Day is observed annually on March 22 to highlight the significance of freshwater and advocate for sustainable management of freshwater resources. (AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2024
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Why shared water resources could become a source of conflict between nations of the Arab region

Why shared water resources could become a source of conflict between nations of the Arab region
  • Water scarcity is common across the Middle East and North Africa owing to high temperatures and limited rainfall
  • As climate change depletes rivers and aquifers, experts warn a failure to jointly manage resources could provoke conflict 

DUBAI: Water scarcity and mismanagement are pressing global issues, made worse by a warming climate which is depleting the world’s freshwater sources at an alarming rate. Despite this, international cooperation on water security has been left wanting.

More than three billion people depend on water that originates outside their national boundaries, yet just 24 countries have cooperation agreements in place on their shared water resources. 

Transboundary water resources make up 60 percent of the world’s fresh water. Some 153 countries contain at least one of the world’s 310 transboundary rivers and lakes, as well as 468 inventoried transboundary aquifer systems, according to the UN.

FASTFACT

• March 22 is World Water Day.

As climate change depletes these resources, water could become a major source of conflict between nations in the years to come.

“Some of the most prolonged conflicts in the Middle East include poor transboundary relationships,” Alicia Dauth, a senior consultant and member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, told Arab News.




Alicia Dauth, senior consultant at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. (Supplied)

“Unfortunately this can cause armed conflict, exasperating tensions and displacement of a country’s people and water resources.”

Historically, water conflicts arise when two or more countries fail to collaborate or jointly manage a shared water source, be it on the surface, like a river, or underground, such as an aquifer.

Instead, said Dauth, they prioritize their individual social and economic interests, disregarding collective welfare, leading to long-term tensions.

“Water cooperation is an approach which the International Centre for Water Cooperation refers to as their method to address transboundary management for shared water resources. This can be done through formalized frameworks and joint institutions,” she said.

Negotiations involving Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) exemplify the difficulties associated with effective management of shared water resources.




This picture taken on November 11, 2019 shows a view of an agricultural field in Jureif Gharb district of Sudan's capital Khartoum. Water scarcity is common across the Middle East and North Africa owing to high temperatures and limited rainfall. (AFP)

The large hydropower project located near the Ethiopian-Sudanese border on the Blue Nile has become a significant source of tension among regional states. Downstream nations like Egypt are particularly concerned about the impact on their water supply.

Water scarcity is a common problem across the Middle East and North Africa region, owing to high summer temperatures and low rainfall. 

Jonathan Hirasawa Ashton, Middle East spokesperson for industrial supplier KROHNE Group, believes the issue calls for closer cooperation between states combined with new technology and greater public awareness

“The water crisis, exacerbated by climate change, mismanagement and geopolitical tensions, requires an urgent, multifaceted response that leverages technological innovation, international cooperation and a culture of conservation,” Ashton told Arab News.




A shepherd watches over his herd of sheep sitting on cracked earth at al-Massira dam in Ouled Essi Masseoud village, some 140 kilometers south of Casablanca, on March 6, 2024. (AFP)

Failure to address the shared problem of water shortages could harm the region’s economic development, public health, and stability.

“The Middle East, rich in history but arid by nature with 11 of the 17 worst affected countries in the MENA region, faces dire consequences if its water scarcity issues remain unaddressed,” said Ashton.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Middle East is one of the most water-scarce regions in the world with average annual water resources per capita at 550 cubic meters. 

“This is half the 1,000 cubic meters per capita threshold for water scarcity according to the UN’s Water Stress Index,” Helen Bali, head of water for the environmental consultancy WSP Middle East, told Arab News.




This photo taken on February 2, 2024, shows Iraqi villagers walk past the river of al-Qasr on the outskirts of the village of Kenana in the southern al-Gharraf district, which suffers from water scarcity and pollution. Locals use artesian wells in the heart of the river to pump water used for washing after filtering it. (AFP)

“Climate change is expected to exacerbate this situation, and the Middle East is anticipated to be one of the regions most affected by any increases of heat and water stress associated with climate change.”

Bali believes that promoting greater transboundary water cooperation among countries that share water resources is crucial for protection and conservation. 

Fortifying water security requires a comprehensive approach which includes governance of water resources, infrastructure development for water transmission and distribution, tariff reform, and addressing non-revenue water that goes unaccounted for, she said.

“This can involve establishing joint institutions, mechanisms and agreements for water management, monitoring, and sharing, based on the principles of international law and mutual benefit,” she added. 

Bali warns that a spike in temperatures will influence climate patterns and could trigger reductions in net rainfall across the region. At the same time, the region’s projected population growth will increase existing pressures.




Helen Bali, head of water for the environmental consultancy WSP MiddleEast. (Supplied)

“Under these conditions, fossil aquifers will be further depleted, meaning they are yielding less and less water in proportion to the populations they serve,” said Bali.

Measures to address this might include “the implementation of sustainable extraction practices, the promotion of water conservation, and the use of modern technologies for efficient water use and management,” she added.

Acknowledging the pressing need to tackle water scarcity ahead of the 11th World Water Forum to be held in Saudi Arabia in 2027, the Kingdom has established the Global Water Organization, headquartered in Riyadh.

This initiative aims to collaborate with governments and organizations worldwide to tackle water challenges. It also seeks to facilitate the exchange of expertise, promote technological advancements, encourage innovation, and share research to achieve sustainability.

Another initiative proposed by the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is the installation of low-level underground dams on wadis and the diversion of their water into aquifers for future use. 




With a capacity of 79.2 million cubic meters of water, the Wadi Qanuna Dam in Makkah province is considered one of Saudi Arabia’s largest barrages. (SPA)

“Rain is scarce in Saudi Arabia, and when rain does come the water is frequently not fully captured,” said Bali. “One solution to regenerating water resources in depleted aquifers is to expand upon this initiative.”

New technologies could be leveraged in cities to ensure water is sufficiently cleaned to avoid aquifer contamination, while measures can be implemented to boost rainwater harvesting and to make it mandatory for stormwater tanks to focus on replenishing aquifers.

“Recycled water needs to be considered as valuable as potable water,” said Bali. “The associated increases in available recycled water can then be used in more industrial uses such as district cooling, manufacturing, and to irrigate crops that are not intended for human consumption.” 

With the majority of water usage in Saudi Arabia allocated to agriculture and the country’s expanding green spaces, there is a pressing need to prioritize the use of native drought-tolerant plants. 




With Saudi Arabia's green spaces expanding,  there is a pressing need to prioritize the use of native drought-tolerant plants. (Supplied)

Additionally, finding alternatives to cultivating water-intensive crops is crucial to maintaining the nation’s food security aspirations while conserving water resources.

“Using irrigation systems that utilize modern technologies, such as moisture monitoring, can help the Kingdom mitigate water loss in farming activities,” said Bali.

On an individual level, everyone can play a part in reducing water consumption and waste management.

“Water is a valuable and irreplaceable essential resource and yet we have forgotten the extensive efforts it takes to get that water to our taps, not to mention embedded water,” said Dauth. 

“Everyone’s water footprint counts.”


Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
Updated 2 sec ago
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Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support

Iran’s Khamenei hails US university students for Gaza support
  • Universities in the US were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people
TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised university students in the United States for their protests over the rising death toll in the war in Gaza.
“You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front,” said Khamenei, referring to Tehran-aligned armed groups across the Middle East arrayed against arch-foe Israel which is also known as the Axis of Resistance.
“As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it,” he said in a letter published on his official website on Thursday.
Universities in the United States were rocked by pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, triggering campus clashes with police and the arrest of dozens of people.
The demonstrations began at Columbia University in New York and later spread across the country as well as to Europe and elsewhere.
Tehran has reiterated support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas since the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip.
The assault resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry
Regional tensions have since soared, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
Tit-for-tat escalations led to Tehran launching hundreds of missiles and rockets directly at Israel last month.

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
Updated 42 min 46 sec ago
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Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
  • The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there

RAFAH: Rafah residents reported intense artillery shelling and gunfire Thursday in Gaza’s far-southern city after Israel said it had seized a strategic corridor on the Palestinian territory’s border with Egypt.
The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there.
A strike over the weekend that started a fire and killed dozens in a displacement camp drew a wave of fresh condemnation, including a social media campaign with the slogan “All eyes on Rafah” that has been shared by tens of millions of users.
Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced Israel had taken “operational control” of the narrow border area, where he said troops had “discovered around 20 tunnels.”
Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict which has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the Israeli operation, has rejected claims of smuggling tunnels running beneath the buffer zone.
“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source was quoted as saying by state-linked Al-Qahera News.
Egyptian officials have said a potential Israeli takeover of Philadelphi could violate the two countries’ landmark 1979 peace deal, though there has been no official comment from Cairo since the military’s announcement.
On a visit in Beijing, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called for increased humanitarian assistance to besieged Gaza, and reiterated his country’s longstanding opposition to “any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, meanwhile, called on Thursday for a “broad-based, authoritative and effective international peace conference” to address the war, as he hosted Arab leaders including El-Sisi.
On the ground in the Gaza Strip, witnesses reported fighting in central and western Rafah.
Witnesses also said Israeli forces had demolished several buildings in the city’s eastern areas where the Israeli incursion began on May 7, initially focusing on the vital Rafah border crossing, a key entry point for humanitarian aid.


An AFP correspondent reported artillery and gunfire in Gaza City’s southern neighborhood of Zeitun, in the territory’s north, where witnesses saw thick plumes of smoke rising over Jabalia refugee camp and Beit Lahia.
A steady stream of civilians have fled Rafah, transporting their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.
Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering there. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported late Wednesday that two of its paramedics “were killed as a result of the Israeli occupation’s direct bombing” of an ambulance near Rafah.
The weekend Israeli strike and ensuing fire which tore through the camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials and has prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.
Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.
In the wake of the strike, Algeria presented a draft UN resolution that “demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties” and the release of all hostages, but it was not clear when it would be put to a vote.
In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday, France’s Emmanuel Macron said Paris was “determined to work with Algeria” to ensure the council “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
He also called on Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine.”
Decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland to formally recognize the State of Palestine this week have sparked a debate over the issue, and Macron said it should take place at a “useful moment.”
Israel’s has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza since October 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the war could go on until the year’s end.
“We may have another seven months of fighting to consolidate our success and achieve what we have defined as the destruction of Hamas’s power and military capabilities,” Hanegbi said.
The United States has been among the countries urging Israel to refrain from a full-scale Rafah offensive because of the risk to civilians.
However, the White House said Tuesday that so far it had not seen Israel cross President Joe Biden’s “red lines.”
The New York Times and CNN, citing weapons experts and analysis of video from the scene of the weekend Rafah strike, reported that the bomb believed to have started the fatal fire was a US-made GBU-39 guided munition.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to quickly devise a post-war strategy for Gaza, stressing: “In the absence of a plan for the day after, there won’t be a day after.”


Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash

Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash
Updated 27 min 41 sec ago
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Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash

Iran opens registration period for presidential election after Raisi’s fatal helicopter crash
  • The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash
  • The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates

TEHRAN: Iran opened a five-day registration period Thursday for hopefuls wanting to run in the June 28 presidential election to replace the late Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash earlier this month with seven others.
The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash, as well as heightened tensions between Tehran and the United States, and protests including those over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini that have swept the country.
While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, maintains final say over all matters of state, presidents in the past have bent the Islamic Republic of Iran toward greater interaction or increased hostility with the West.
The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates. All candidates ultimately must be approved by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and jurists ultimately overseen by Khamenei. That panel has never accepted a woman, for instance, nor anyone calling for radical change within the country’s governance.
Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, won Iran’s 2021 presidential election after the Guardian Council disqualified all of the candidates with the best chance to potentially challenge him. That vote saw the lowest turnout in Iran’s history for a presidential election. That likely was a sign of voters’ discontent with both a hard-line cleric sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in mass executions in 1988, and Iran’s Shiite theocracy over four decades after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Who will run — and potentially be accepted — remains in question. The country’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, a previously behind-the-scenes bureaucrat, could be a front-runner, because he’s already been seen meeting with Khamenei. Also discussed as possible aspirants are former hard-line President Mohammad Ahmadinejad and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami — but whether they’d be allowed to run is another question.
The five-day registration period will close on Tuesday. The Guardian Council is expected to issue its final list of candidates within 10 days afterwards. That will allow for a shortened two-week campaign before the vote in late June.
The new president will take office while the country now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a drone and missile attack on Israel amid the war in Gaza. Tehran also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
Meanwhile, Iran’s economy has faced years of hardship over its collapsing rial currency. Widespread protests have swept the country, most recently over Amini’s death following her arrest over allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf to the liking of authorities, A UN panel says the Iranian government is responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.
Raisi is just the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb blast killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the Islamic Revolution.


Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’

Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’
Updated 30 May 2024
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Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’

Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’
  • El-Sisi’s comments come after the Israeli army said it had gained “operational control” over the strategic Philadelphi corridor along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt

Beijing: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Thursday urged the international community to ensure Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are not displaced from their war-ravaged territory.
“I... call on the international community to immediately provide for long-term humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip and to end the Israeli siege,” El-Sisi told a forum of Arab leaders and Chinese officials in Beijing.
He also urged the international community to “stop any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
China is this week hosting El-Sisi and several other Arab leaders for a forum at which discussions on the war in Gaza were expected.
El-Sisi’s comments come after the Israeli army said Wednesday it had gained “operational control” over the strategic Philadelphi corridor along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
The corridor had served as a buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt, and Israeli troops patrolled it until 2005, when they were withdrawn as part of a broader disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
Its seizure comes weeks after Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on May 7 as their ground assault on the far-southern Gaza city began.
El-Sisi on Thursday said there was “no pathway to peace and stability in the region” without a “comprehensive approach to the Palestinian cause.”
He called for a “serious and immediate commitment to the two-state solution and a recognition of the Palestinians’ legitimate right to an independent state.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’
Updated 30 May 2024
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French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’
  • In a statement, Macron said France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories"

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron urged Palestinian Authority chief Mahmud Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine” during a phone call Wednesday, his office said.

Macron “highlighted France’s commitment to building a common vision of peace with European and Arab partners, offering security guarantees for Palestinians and Israelis,” as well as “making the prospect of recognition of a state of Palestine part of a useful process,” Macron’s Elysee Palace said.
The readout of the call with the chief of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank follows Tuesday’s official recognition for a Palestinian state by fellow European nations Spain, Ireland and Norway, which drew ire from Israel.
Macron’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne earlier Wednesday accused France’s neighbors of “political positioning” ahead of June 9 European elections, rather than seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Macron had said Tuesday that he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment” and not be based on “emotion.”
France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories, including in the Gaza Strip, for the benefit of the Palestinian people,” Macron told Abbas on Wednesday, according to the Elysee Palace readout.
Abbas’s office said in a statement that he expressed the Palestinian government’s commitment to “reform” during the talks with Macron.
He called on “European countries that have not recognized the state of Palestine to do so.”
Current fighting in Gaza, controlled by the PA’s rival Hamas, was sparked by the militant group’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel.
That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Macron called civilian casualties “intolerable” and offered his “sincere condolences to the Palestinian people” for the bombing of a displaced people’s camp in Rafah in southern Gaza.
He told Abbas that Paris was “determined to work with Algeria and its partners on the UN Security Council” so the body “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
Algeria’s draft resolution calls on Israel to immediately halt military action in Rafah.