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.”


DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub
Updated 19 July 2024
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DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub
  • Merger capitalizes on the strengths of two major ports on the Marmara Sea

DUBAI: Emirati logistics firm DP World and Evyap Group, a Turkiye-based consumer conglomerate, have merged their Turkish operations to form a new international logistics hub, Emirates News Agency reported.

The newly formed entity, DP World Evyap, sees DP World assume a 58 percent stake in Evyapport and Evyap Group secure a 42 percent share of DP World Yarımca.

It capitalizes on the strengths of two major ports on the Marmara Sea, enhancing Turkiye’s pivotal role in global trade. The key maritime gateways will be rebranded as DP World Evyap Yarımca and DP World Evyap Korfez.

DP World Evyap will help meet the region’s growing demand for sophisticated logistics, increase Turkiye’s export and import volumes, open up new sectors, and strengthen the country’s growing status as a major hub in global supply chains.

The merger will result in a total of 2,088 meters of berthing space and the ability to accommodate more than one ultra-large container vessel at the same time at both terminals. The total annual container handling capacity will also exceed 2 million TEUs, as the integrated operation expands to include project and heavy-lift cargo services.

Furthermore, DP World Evyap will benefit from advanced road and rail connections, as well as faster turnaround times, with a team of over 900 logistics experts geared to optimizing cargo journeys.

“DP World’s vision is to lead global trade to a stronger, more efficient and sustainable future. Our strategic partnership with Evyapport advances this strategy in Turkiye, one of our most important markets. We’re delighted to bring enhanced end-to-end solutions to our customers and the many benefits in speed and efficiency of this union,” DP World Group Chairman and CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said.

Evyap Holding CEO Mehmed Evyap added: “This partnership combines the global expertise of DP World and the local knowledge of Evyapport and strengthens our presence in the port sector as we expand our investments in this field.

“The new company will shorten operation times, increase service diversity and add value to our customers and Turkiye’s trade with efficiencies achieved across the two partnership terminals.”


FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women
Updated 19 July 2024
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FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women
  • Agreement will bolster the skills of 120 women in the Jordanian governorates of Balqa, Jerash, and Ajloun

AMMAN: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Jordan River Foundation have signed an agreement to support women in agriculture through vocational and technical training, Jordan News Agency reported on Friday.

JRF provides local communities and refugees with economic opportunities through its Community Empowerment Program, improving standards of living.

The agreement will bolster the skills of 120 women in the Jordanian governorates of Balqa, Jerash, and Ajloun. It will include a technical and vocational training program that will teach project management and financial literacy, in addition to skills in the processing of carob, sumac and honey.

By improving technical and administrative capacities, the agreement aims to empower women to start agricultural initiatives, enhancing their standard of living and raising household earnings.
 


UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions
Updated 19 July 2024
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UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions
  • First MoU to establish a framework to promote use of local currencies in settling bilateral transactions
  • Second MoU entails collaboration on services of instant payment platforms, electronic switches, messaging systems

DUBAI: The central banks of the UAE and Seychelles signed two memoranda of understanding on Friday to promote the use of local currencies in cross-border financial and commercial transactions, as well as to link payment and messaging systems between the two countries, the Emirates News Agency reported.

The agreements were inked by CBUAE Gov. Khaled Mohammed Balama and CBS Gov. Caroline Abel in Abu Dhabi.

The first MoU aims to establish a framework to promote the use of local currencies in settling bilateral commercial transactions, developing the exchange market, and facilitating bilateral trade and direct investment, remittance settlement, and financial market development.

Under the second MoU, both parties will collaborate and benefit from the services of instant payment platforms, electronic switches, and messaging systems by directly connecting them in accordance with the countries’ regulatory requirements.

This includes connecting the CBUAE’s Instant Payments Platform, which is being developed as part of the Financial Infrastructure Transformation Programme, to the Seychelles’ similar platform to facilitate mutual acceptance of local cards and transaction processing.

Balama said that the signing of the MoU reflects the central bank’s desire to expand its ties with regional and international counterparts in order to strengthen the UAE’s economic and commercial partnerships around the world.

“The use of the two countries’ currencies for cross-border financial and commercial transactions reflects the growing trade, investment, and financial cooperation and contributes to reducing costs and saving time in settling transactions. This helps in developing the foreign exchange market in the UAE dirham and the Seychellois rupee, leading to enhancing trade exchanges, investments, and remittance between the two countries,” he explained.

Abel added: “For small open island economies like Seychelles, the importance of an effective and efficient financial system to facilitate trade cannot be overemphasized. In this regard, the MoUs just signed between our two central banks, guided by the relevant and applicable laws to safeguard the soundness and integrity of our respective financial systems, can assist this endeavor.”

She stated that the agreement to establish the necessary framework for promoting the use of UAE dirhams and Seychelles rupees in cross-border transactions will improve trade relations between stakeholders in both jurisdictions.

“With the Central Bank of Seychelles spearheading efforts to modernize and develop the Seychelles national payment system, in line with the government’s digital economy agenda, the opportunity to collaborate on interlinking our payment and messaging systems will facilitate the processing and settlement of cross-border financial transactions between the two countries,” Abel said.
 


US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
Updated 19 July 2024
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US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
  • America, the largest historical donor, is now a ‘shameful outlier’
  • Major aid cutoff in January followed unproven Israeli allegations

LONDON: The US must restore funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said Human Rights Watch on Friday.

The organization’s appeal also referred to the UK, which, until it was lifted today, had also suspended crucial funding to the largest relief group in Gaza.

In January this year, UNRWA said that 16 countries had suspended donations to the agency.

These included the US, UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden.

After today, the US is the only country with an active suspension.

The aid cutoff followed Israeli allegations that 19 UNRWA staff, out of the agency’s 3,000 employees, had taken part in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

But an independent review released on April 20, as well as a UN investigation, found no evidence to support the allegations.

UNRWA officials also said that Israeli authorities had failed to provide evidence supporting the claims.

Last week, the US and UK both endorsed a set of UNRWA commitments “recognizing the serious humanitarian, political and security risks that would result from any interruption or suspension of its vital work.”

But despite signing the statement, the US has yet to resume funding to the agency.

Akshaya Kumar, crisis advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The US is now a shameful outlier as most donors have resumed funding UNRWA.

“Cutting off aid was disproportionate to the allegations against UNRWA from the start. Palestinians in Gaza are facing catastrophic food insecurity, massive shortages of medical supplies, and repeated displacement, and there’s no substitute for UNRWA’s networks, experience, and capacity to provide relief.”

UNRWA, which relies on crucial donations from national governments to carry out its work, has warned that it faces a financial crisis as a result of the stalled funding.

Washington has historically served as the largest donor to UNRWA, and contributed one-third of the agency’s budget last year.

But the US Congress has passed a law forbidding any new funding to UNRWA until at least March next year.

In response to the Human Rights Watch appeal, officials from the Joe Biden administration claimed that US funds were diverted from UNRWA to other aid agencies operating in Gaza.

As a result of Israel’s war, 90 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and 96 percent are expected to face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity by September this year.

Despite the agency’s urgent humanitarian work in the enclave, it has faced a sustained campaign by Israel resulting in reputational and physical damage.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January that “UNRWA’s mission has to end.”

The country’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said that the agency would “not be part of the day after” in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch has also documented two cases of UNRWA aid workers being struck by Israeli munitions despite having relayed their locations to the army’s personnel.


UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’
Updated 19 July 2024
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UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’
  • War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces
  • The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN

GENEVA: Talks between a United Nations envoy and delegations from both warring parties in Sudan have proven an encouraging first step, the UN said Friday as the discussions neared a close.
War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s personal envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, invited delegations from the army and the RSF for talks in Geneva, focused on humanitarian aid and protecting civilians.
The discussions have been taking place under the so-called proximity format, with Lamamra meeting separately with each delegation at a time, in different rooms.
The two delegations were not scheduled to meet each other.
The discussions began on July 11 and are set to conclude on Friday.
Former Algerian foreign minister Lamamra and his team have held around 20 meetings during the talks.
“The personal envoy is encouraged by the willingness of the delegations to engage with him on critical matters related to the situation in Sudan, on which he seeks the necessary cooperation of the warring parties,” UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told a press briefing in Geneva.
“He now counts on the parties to promptly translate their willingness to engage with him into tangible progress on the ground, both in the implementation of existing agreements and through possible unilateral commitments.
“The discussions held in Geneva have been an encouraging initial step in a longer and complex process. The personal envoy will remain in close contact with the leadership of the two warring parties.”
The two delegations were comprised of senior representatives of the warring parties and included humanitarian, security and military experts.
The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN.
A recent UN-backed report said nearly 26 million people, or slightly more than half of the population, were facing high levels of “acute food insecurity.”
The two sides have been routinely accused of war crimes, including indiscriminately shelling residential areas and targeting civilians.