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)
Short Url
Updated 22 March 2024
Follow

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.”


URGENT ¥¥¥ Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

URGENT ¥¥¥ Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
Updated 6 sec ago
Follow

URGENT ¥¥¥ Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

URGENT ¥¥¥ Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
“Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said

TULKARM, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli army said Saturday security forces killed 10 militants in an ongoing raid around Nur Shams, a refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank.
“Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said in a statement.

Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods
  • Emirates canceled nearly 400 flights and delayed many more as a result of a record storm that hit the desert city of Dubai

RIYADH: Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates and sister airline flydubai have restored normal operations after heavy rains caused severe flooding across the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, the airlines said on Saturday.
Emirates canceled nearly 400 flights and delayed many more as a result of a record storm that hit the desert city of Dubai on Tuesday, said a statement released by the airline’s president, Tim Clark.
Due to the impact of the storm, the airline suspended check-in for passengers departing from Dubai and halted its transit operations through Dubai International Airport, a major global travel hub, leaving thousands of travelers stranded.
The airport has struggled to return to normal operations after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancelations.
Flydubai also returned to its full flight schedule from the airport’s Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 on Saturday following the weather-related disruption, a spokesperson for the airline said.
Clark said Emirates had provided 12,000 hotel rooms and 250,000 meal vouchers to customers who were affected. He added it would take days to clear the backlog of rebooked passengers.
The UAE has suffered the impact of the flooding for days, with roads between the city and Abu Dhabi still partially under water as of Saturday. In Abu Dhabi, some supermarkets and restaurants faced product shortages, unable to receive deliveries from Dubai.
Researchers have linked extreme weather events such as Tuesday’s storm to climate change and anticipate that global warming will lead to higher temperatures, increased humidity and a greater risk of flooding in parts of the Gulf region.
A lack of drainage infrastructure to cope with heavy rains in countries such as the UAE can put them at particular risk of flooding.


Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza city of Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children

Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza city of Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza city of Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children

Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza city of Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children
  • Strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighborhood of the city of Rafah

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza’s southernmost city killed at least nine people, six of them children, hospital authorities said Saturday, as Israel pursued its nearly seven-month offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.
Israel’s war against the Islamic militant group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in an already volatile Middle East.
The strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighborhood of the city of Rafah, according to Gaza’s civil defense. The bodies of the six children, two women and a man were taken to Rafah’s Abu Yousef Al-Najjar hospital, the hospital’s records showed.
At the hospital, relatives cried and hugged the bodies of the children, wrapped in white shrouds, as others comforted them.
The fatalities included Abdel-Fattah Sobhi Radwan, his wife Najlaa Ahmed Aweidah and their three children, his brother-in-law Ahmed Barhoum said. Barhoum also lost his wife, Rawan Radwan, and their 5-year-old daughter Alaa.
“This is a world devoid of all human values and morals,” Barhoum told The Associated Press Saturday morning, crying as he cradled and gently rocked the body of Alaa in his arms. “They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. There were no martyrs but women and children.”
No victims were registered from a second overnight strike in the city.
Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, currently hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population of about 2.3 million people, the vast majority of whom have been displaced by fighting further north in the territory.
Despite calls for restraint from the international community, including Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, the Israeli government has insisted for months that it intends to push a ground offensive into the city, where it says many of the remaining Hamas militants are holed up.
Such a ground operation has not materialized so far, but the Israeli military has repeatedly carried out airstrikes on and around the city.
The war was sparked by an unprecedented raid into southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups on Oct. 7 that left about 1,200 people dead, the vast majority of them civilians, and saw about 250 people kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Israel says about 130 hostages remain in Gaza, although more than 30 have been confirmed to now be dead, either killed on Oct. 7 or having died in captivity.
The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday the bodies of 37 people killed by Israeli strikes were brought to hospitals in Gaza over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 68 wounded, it said. The latest figures bring the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,049, and the number of wounded to 76,901, the ministry said. Although the Hamas-run health authorities do not differentiate between combatants and civilians in their count, they say at least two thirds have been children and women.
The war has sent regional tensions spiraling, leading to a dramatic eruption of violence between Israel and its archenemy Iran that threatened to escalate into a full-blown war.
On Friday, both Iran and Israel played down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran, indicating the two sides were pulling back from what could have become an all-out conflict. Over the past several weeks, an alleged Israeli strike killed two Iranian generals at an Iranian consulate in Syria and was followed by an unprecedented Iranian missile barrage on Israel.
Israel has also faced off with the Hezbollah militant group, an Iranian proxy operating from Lebanon, with the two sides there frequently trading rocket and drone attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have also joined the fray, launching strikes against merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.
Tension has also been high in the occupied West Bank, where an Israeli military raid Friday in the Nur Shams refugee camp killed at least four Palestinians, including three militants, according to the Israeli military, Palestinian health officials and a militant group.
Palestinian health authorities said one of those killed was a 15-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli fire. The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed the deaths of three members, including one who it said was a local military commander. The Israeli military said four Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded in the operation.
Saraya Al-Quds, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, said its fighters had engaged in heavy gunbattles Saturday morning with Israeli forces in the town of Tulkarem, adjacent to Nur Shams. No further details were immediately available. Residents in Tulkarem went went on a general strike Saturday to protest the attack on Nur Shams, with shops, restaurants and government offices all closed.
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, more than 460 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, Palestinian health officials say. Israel stages frequent raids into towns and cities in the volatile territory. The dead have included militants, but also stone-throwers and bystanders. Some have also been killed in attacks by Israeli settlers.


Iran FM downplays reported Israeli retaliation

Iran FM downplays reported Israeli retaliation
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Iran FM downplays reported Israeli retaliation

Iran FM downplays reported Israeli retaliation
  • Israeli officials have made no public comment on what happened Friday
  • Overnight last Saturday-Sunday Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory

Tehran: Iran’s foreign minister has dismissed as akin to child’s play the reported Israeli retaliation for an unprecedented Iranian strike, and said Tehran would not respond unless Iranian “interests” were targeted.
On Friday, Iran’s state media reported explosions were heard after, according to an official, small drones were successfully shot down.
Media in the United States quoted officials there as saying Israel had carried out strikes in retaliation for Tehran’s drone and missile barrage fired at Israel last weekend.
“What happened last night was no attack,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News in a Friday interview.
“It was the flight of two or three quad-copters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran.”
He added that, “As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”
Friday’s explosions prompted world leaders to appeal for calm and de-escalation with fears of wider conflict against the backdrop of the war in Gaza which began on October 7.
Overnight last Saturday-Sunday Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory. The barrage was in response to a deadly April 1 air strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus, which Iran blamed on Israel.
The Israeli army said the vast majority of the more than 300 missiles and drones fired by Iran were shot down — with the help of the United States and other allies — and that the attack caused only minimal damage.
Israeli officials have made no public comment on what happened Friday, and analysts said both sides are looking to de-escalate, for now.
“If the Israeli regime intends to take another action against our interests, our next response will be immediate and to the maximum,” Amir-Abdollahian said in the interview.


Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
  • United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran, reports US media
  • Countries around the world called on both sides to avert further escalation amid tensions

DUBAI/JERUSALEM: Explosions echoed over an Iranian city on Friday in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation — a response that appeared gauged toward averting region-wide war.

The limited scale of the attack and Iran’s muted response both appeared to signal a successful effort by diplomats who have been working round the clock to avert all-out war since an Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from Iran’s air defenses hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by “infiltrators,” rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

An Iranian official said there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident.

“The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more toward infiltration than attack,” the official said.

Israel said nothing about the incident. It had said for days it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday’s strikes, the first ever direct attack on Israel by Iran in decades of shadow war waged by proxies which has escalated throughout the Middle East through six months of battle in Gaza.

The United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran but did not endorse the operation or play any part in its execution, US media quoted officials as saying.

NBC and CNN, citing sources familiar with the matter and a US official, respectively, said Israel had provided Washington with pre-notification of the strike.

Various networks cited officials confirming a strike had taken place inside Iran, with CNN quoting one official as stating the target was not a nuclear facility.

The two longstanding foes had been heading toward direct confrontation since a presumed Israeli airstrike on April 1 that destroyed a building in Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus and killed several Iranian officers including a top general.

Iran’s response, with a direct attack on Israel, was unprecedented but caused no deaths and only minor damage because Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones.

Allies including the United States had since been pressing hard to ensure any further retaliation would be calibrated not to provoke a spiral of hostilities. The British and German foreign ministers visited Jerusalem this week, and Western countries tightened sanctions on Iran to mollify Israel.

In a sign of pressure within Israel’s hard-right government for a stronger response, Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister tweeted a single word after Friday’s strikes: “Feeble!.”

Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation.

“It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action,” EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said. Similar calls came from Beijing and from Arab states in the region.

In financial markets, global shares eased, oil prices surged and US bond yields fell as traders worried about the risks.

NO MENTION OF ISRAEL

Within Iran, news reports on Friday’s incident made no mention of Israel, and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale.

An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran” had been shot down by air defenses in Isfahan.

Shortly after midnight, “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky,” Iranian state TV said.

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a “suspicious object.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had warned Israel before Friday’s strike that Tehran would deliver a “severe response” to any attack on its territory.

Iran told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

By morning, Iran had reopened airports and airspace that were shut during the strikes.

Still, there was alarm over security in Israel and elsewhere. The US Embassy in Jerusalem restricted US government employees from travel outside Jerusalem, greater Tel Aviv and Beersheba “out of an abundance of caution.”

In a statement, the embassy warned US citizens of a “continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning.”

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Hamas Islamists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s military offensive has killed about 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gazan health ministry.

Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, carrying out attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, raising fears the Gaza conflict could grow into a wider regional war.