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Water Issues

About 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. However, pollutant free and desalinized water that is legally distributed between nations is becoming scarce. For this reason, water issues have become a hot topic in worldwide politics, economics, cultural status and serve as a core inspiration for countless environmental activist groups. Unfortunately, this means “countries with adequate water supplies [are using] them as political and economic weapons.” War damages, if concentrated on water resources, can cause a devastating impact across many nations. The 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy once attempted to inspire international attention to water issues by promising that "anyone who can solve the problems of water will be worthy of two Nobel prizes - one for peace and one for science".

The Middle East and North African (MENA) region is the driest in the world. To make matters worse, water availability per capita will fall to half by the year 2050 if pollution, international border flow and climate change are not addressed. The region “is using more of its renewable water resources than other regions. Indeed, MENA is using more water than it receives each year”.4

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Nearly 85 percent of the region’s water is consumed by agriculture. However, the region leads the world in hydropower infrastructure. ‘The path toward a situation in which water management is financially, socially, and environmentally sustainable involves three factors often overlooked in water planning processes:

“Recognizing that reform decisions are inherently political, rather than trying to separate the technical from the political processes. This will involve understanding the factors that drive the political dynamics of reform.

Understanding the influence of non-water policies on water and involving non-water decision makers in water policy reform.

Improving accountability of government agencies and water service providers to the public. Governments and service providers must see clear consequences for good and bad performance.’”3

The means to achieving these goals is different for each country and often only accomplished through interactions with bordering nations. Some common steps to create change include: education on water challenges, creation of jobs through accurate environmental data collection and incentives to consume less water.

Large companies who can avoid long-term risks and political influences are most likely to tackle the management and development of water resources in MENA. Therefore, key elements to attract change include: short contracts, partnerships with private companies, good relations with public authorities & local money. Then, management and infrastructure development are commonly approached through irrigation management, climate adaptation, treatment of water through pollution management & desalination and border flow issues.

A few basic methods of water maintenance and irrigation management include:

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Climate adaptation is commonly approached:


o Ensure proper watershed management of local catchments

o Clarify the legal right all users have to the water


o Explain direct, local effects climate change will have on water resources

o Illustrate health problems that result of climate change and reduced water through clinics and childhood schooling

o Define the difference between water used for bathing/agriculture/livestock in contrast to water used for drinking in order to preserve fresh water supplies

Through Project Design

o Constant rainwater harvesting on rooftops as a back up to groundwater

o Construct dams across waterways to slow the flow of rain water and give rivers time to soak into the ground to keep land moist

o Conscious use of crops that require less water to grow

o Store drinking water in high places to prevent flood or groundwater contamination

Treatment of water through pollution management & desalination is a fast growing style of resource development. About 97% of the Earth’s water supply is from saltwater oceans; these must be desalinized to be consumed by humans. The other 3% of the earth’s water supply is fresh water and comes from surface reservoirs, ground water, icecaps & glaciers; these must be free of pollutants and boiled to be safe for human consumption:

“Over 50% of all desalination occurs in the Middle East” while 24% of all middle-eastern desalination occurs in Saudi Arabia. Desalinization is “intended to purify, desalinate, neutralize and disinfect seawater, salty underground water and wastewater to generate large quantities of potable” drinking water. The most effective of many methods is the ‘reverse osmosis system’. In 2005, the Israeli city of Ashkelon reported the lowest price in the world for a desalination plant at 52 cents per cubic meter of water produced.

“U.S.-based National Science Foundation recently announced a $2.5-million grant to the University of Michigan to assemble” a team of experts to study and develop new methods of desalination.

Pollution of water resources is easier to avoid than to clean after the fact. Common ways to avoid pollution are to , a) plant crops that do not need fertilizer, or forbid its use in local area, b) create buffer zones between fields and drinking water storage and, c) be prepared for floods to properly deal with erosion & runoff.

Transboundary water issues can only be solved through cooperation between countries. Past examples and attempts include:

•In 1994 a peace agreement was made between Israel and Jordan. Israel transferred 75 million cubic meters of water a year to Jordan in return for a promise of a secure eastern border. 23

• In 1997, eight countries ratified a UN Conventional Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.


In 2006, the Egyptian Government, Global Environmental Facility and the United Nations Development Programme finished a 100-hectare engineered wetlands facility designed to treat polluted wastewater before it flowed downstream into the Mediterranean. The projects main goal was to ‘promote a cleaner Mediterranean Sea’ while using ‘low-cost and efficient methods of treating large bodies of water’ and producing ‘income-generating activities for the local fishing communities’. Egypt’s Environmental Law passed “a number of relatively strict environmental standards” in 1995. Egyptian infrastructure development attempts to spread the country’s population away from Nile valley. Additional projects include:

Gulf of Suez water supply project:

o Started 2000, completion date unknown

o Treats water from Ismailiya canal & supplies industry to Cairo

o First private water infrastructure project in country

o Estimated cost of $180 Million

o 225,000 cubic metres or water a day of plant processing capacity

Mansoura Water Treatment Plant:

o Started 1998, completed 2002

o Estimated cost of $44 Million

o 105,000 cubic metres per day of water treatment

• 27 million gallons per day that serves 50,000 households

Naga Hammadi Damn and Hydroelectric Plant:

o Produces 470 Gigawatt Hour or environmentally-friendly energy that supplies 200,000 families o Estimated cost of £445 = $560?

Tashka Project – Mubarak Pumping Station

o Estimated cost of $70 Billion

o Started 1997, scheduled completion 2020

o Creates 2.8 Million new jobs

o Pumps water from Lake Nasser allowing land to be irrigated


Water sources have caused many territorial disputes between Syria and the Middle East/North Africa region. In 1967, Israel conquered the Golan Heights from Syria. It has valuable watershed that flows into the Sea of Galilee and Syria is fighting to get it back. There is also constant political tension between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Israel as they share resources from the Euphrates River. Early 2010 brought a drought that caused one of “the largest internal displacements in the Middle East.” Syrians fled to Damascus to seek refuge. Agriculture once comprised 25 percent of Syria’s gross domestic product. The drought has changed them from being a net exporter of wheat to a net importer and now 80 percent of its victims live on diets of only bread and tea. However, some believe “it’s not just a lack of water, it’s bad water management by the government itself.” Last August, Syria received $6 million of foreign aid. Their main hope of water management lies in drip irrigation, an experimental program run by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme. The experimental project is now in 52 villages. Its main goals are to reduce the use of water and raise local income.

Saudi Arabia

Largest problem: lack of fresh water--in response, 27 desalination plants have been built that supply 70% of the Kingdom’s drinking water Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of desalinated water. The world’s largest desalination plant was built in the Has, Jubail II Industrial Zone in 2009, at a cost of $3.8 Billion.

Two Japanese companies, Toyobo and Itochu Corporation, plan to partner with Saudi Arabia in the construction of a plant that will built parts and equipment for the many desalination plants in Saudi Arabia. Construction on the plant will begin in 2011. The Japanese produce more than 80% of Saudi Arabia’s desalination equipment. IBM partnered with Saudi Arabia in April 2010. They are developing methods of applying solar power to desalination plants.


The West Bank contains two of three fresh (the Easter Basin & the Northeaster Basin) water aquifers within Israel & Palestine. This is one of their most unpublicized sources of conflict.


The Jordan River will run dry by 2011 if its pollution is not managed. Its main source of water is diverged by Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. The pollution is integrated just south of a dam on the Sea of Galilee. About 340,000 Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinians dump raw sewage into the river a year, despite its already obvious pollution. The high amount of salinated water is the river’s biggest threat. Jordan receives 60 cubic meters of water from Israel each year Potential water projects include the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal (lso known as the Peace Conduit) that would be built with desalination facilities & produce hydroelectric power o Pro: 850 million cubic metres increase of water supply to Jordan & Israel o Con: Long term project (20 years) with high cost ($4 billion dollars)


Israel has five of the top 50 water consulting companies in the world - two in the top ten. Many of these companies focus on the minimization of energy use on wastewater consumption. The fourth ranked company, for example, provides microbial cells that produce electricity or hydrogen from their consumption of wastewater. Current water treatment projects include the Ashkelon Desalination Plant/Seawater Reverse Osmosis Plant that is projected to produce 6% of Israel’s water needs at an estimated cost of $212 Million.


• Consumption of fresh water exceeds replenishment

• Little Fresh water is contaminated with salt water

• Only 56 per cent of Lebanese are connected to consistent water sources

• Water pipelines leak an average of 50 percent

• 70 per cent of water system has no sewage treatment


• Largest influence on water supply is from inconsistent seasonal rainfalls and therefore unequal distribution of fresh water throughout land and throughout year

• Main system of water distribution is through qanats, underground water channels

• Multiple damns constructed but are inefficient

• Water rights are inherited through family and land

Shebaa Farms of Golan Heights

Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights has prevented bordering nations’ access to Lake Tiberius creating significant water shortages for Syria & Jordan’s. Shebaa Farms is 22 square kilometer piece of land in the north of Golan. It is claimed by Lebanon and Syria to be Lebanese territory but the United Nations has claimed it as part of the Syrian Golan Heights. However, tt has been occupied by Israel since the six-day war of 1967. “Thirty to forty percent of the River Dan’s water flows into [Israel] through underground supplies originating in the Shebba. ‘Israel is worried that if Lebanon gains control of the Shebaa, it can then control the flow to the Dan River”’. Lebanon wants Israel to ratify the 1997 UN Convention Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourse, of which only eight countries have ratified.

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