Widespread Drought: The Middle East in 2008

agriculture, dam, drinking water, drought, economy, international, iraq, middle east, rivers, sustainability, water availability

The following words come to mind as I think of the Middle East – oil, Iraq, war, Palestine, Israel, and desert. Many of the words on my list are mere impressions of media-induced messages, but one word on my list is somewhat realistic – desert. The Middle East is an arid region known the world-over for sand, camels, heat, and more sand. So when I tell you in a few moments that many countries in the Middle East are facing severe drought conditions this year, you may not be surprised.

Yet contrary to my word list the Middle East isn’t entirely desert. Among the sand and heat, the region hosts fertile valleys and forests fed by one of two main rivers – the Tigris or Euphrates. This place was once so fruitful it was called “the fertile crescent,” “the cradle of civilization,” and “the birthplace of agriculture.” Today crops exported from the region include wheat, dates, olives, pistachios, raisins, eggplant, hazelnuts, and apricots. So when I tell you again that many countries in the Middle East are facing serious drought conditions this year, you may be dismayed.


Above Photo: Yale University

Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Iran and Iraq have each been dealing with decreased rainfall, reduced water storage, irrigation water shortages, and in some cases, declared drought. Drought in northeastern Syria over the past two years devastated wheat production in the region. Syria was forced to import wheat for the first time in fifteen years to compensate. Crops were also wiped out in Turkey after drought affected 35 out of 81 provinces. Iran is another nation importing extra wheat this season after a 20 percent decline in annual yield.

Palestine and Israel have been in a “regional drought” for over half a decade. Palestinians in the West Bank, facing especially difficult circumstances, are without water for hours or days at a time this summer. Israel controls 90 percent of the water distribution system for the West Bank, but claims to be unable to provide additional water to those in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah in Jordan has secured an Emergency Water Supply plan for next summer in case rains are less than predicted over winter. And, of course, the island of Cyprus is dealing with prolonged drought. Turkey is sending water by tankers to the Turkish half of the island, but the Greek half of the island refuses to accept water from Turkey. They are receiving water by tankers from Greece. A drought has been declared in Iraq after significantly less than the annual, average rainfall of six inches. Some say it is the worst drought in ten years. Both the Tigris and Euphrates flow through Iraq in less quantities from a lack of rainfall and dams constructed in Turkey and Syria. Barley and wheat yields, in this country, are expected to be reduced by half this year.

Widespread drought in the Middle East means many individuals are enduring severe hardship with little watery relief. Often forced to relocate or consume muddy or polluted water unfit for human consumption, people in this region have to test the limit of life with minimal water. Simultaneous drought in regions such as the Middle East and Australia further influences already soaring grain prices on the world market. In fact, wheat prices have risen by 40 percent over the last several months alone.

Dammed if we do, dammed if we don’t.

architecture, audio, dam, drinking water, economy, energy, floods, general, international, sustainability, technology

A friend sent along these great videos of a coffer dam being breached in super-fast speed. This video has since circulated the Internet extensively, but in case you haven’t seen it yet…

Marmot Dam Removal – ‘largest dam removal in Oregon’

This video shows the intentional breaching of a coffer dam, the final phase in a process to return the Sandy River to a free-flowing state.

Just like the Marmot Dam, most dams are finally demolished because of significant upkeep costs and concerns for fish.

So, what is the shelf-life of a dam?

Many dams constructed in the early 20th century are beginning to age and show signs of disrepair. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) is keeping a watchful eye over the dams in America. With over 79,000 dams in the United States, the ASDSO supposes there are thousands (3,316 to be exact) of dams susceptible to collapse.

…the number of dams identified as unsafe is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired.
– ADSO

The possible failure of a dam is probably the most likely contender for its removal. But, many environmental, socio-economic, aesthetic, and cultural benefits also occur with the removal of dams.

We Build Them…

World’s Five Largest Dams by Volume (completed and proposed)


Source of Data: InfoPlease

And, then we take them down…

Three Largest Proposed Dam Removals in the World (so far)

  • If approved, four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon.
  • Two dams on the Elwha River are cited for removal in 2012.
  • Matilija Dam: Will this dam in Ventura County, California be removed?

American Rivers has compiled a list of dams removed from 1999 to 2007. They state around 713 dams have been removed, to date.

Turkey, Iraq, and Syria to Form Collaborative Water Institute

dam, drinking water, drought, economy, groundwater, international, rivers, sustainability, technology

The Middle East is an area rich in oil reserves but without ample water supplies to sustain a growing populace. Over 21 politically distinct countries and jurisdictions maintain 5% of the world’s total inhabitants with less than 1% of the world’s water reserves. At times, coming to an agreement on how to share the three river systems (the Jordan, Nile, and Tigris-Euphrates) that traverse the region make water policy a virtual nightmare. Now three countries are coming forward to resolve past arguments on transboundary water issues.

Turkey, Iraq, and Syria will soon form an institute to study water in the Middle East, as detailed in Today’s Zaman (a major Turkish newspaper). Experts, scholars, and professionals from each country will begin meetings at Turkey’s Atatürk Dam to share information and work on resolving past water-allocation problems.

Goals of the institute include:

  • Develop and share information on irrigation and potable water technology.
  • Map water resources in the Middle East.
  • Release a report on effective water management in each country (for release on April 15th).

Management of water storage and dams in the region will be an aspect of the institute’s endeavors. Turkey and Syria will attempt joint construction of a dam on the Asi River. Syria expressed an interest in greater downstream shares from dams on the Euphrates River. Iraq, which had previously filed concerns against Turkey’s dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, approved the construction on the controversial Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River. Also, see this post on Intercontinental Cry on the contested Ilisu Dam and related protests in Turkey.


Above Photo: Ted Thornton at History of the Middle East Database.

Will water supply concerns overshadow the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing?

agriculture, asia, dam, drinking water, drought, economy, industrial, international, sustainability

Over two million people are expected to visit Beijing this year for the Summer Olympic Games. In August, the population of the metropolis will crest 19 million souls.

The arrival of so many visitors to China’s capital will result in exaggerated water use of 2.75 million cubic meters (2,229 acre-feet) a day or, in layman’s terms, enough water to fill 2000 Olympic size swimming pools each day.

Chinese officials may soon begin to worry as North China is currently enduring a severe drought including Hebei (which surrounds Beijing) and other provinces in the north.

The Chinese Ministry of Water Resources indicates the drought has caused 50,000 wells to go dry, with over 170,000 additional wells short of water. Over 3.4 million hectares of crops have been compromised, and 250,000 people are now short of drinking water in the Shandong, Heilongjiang and Hebei provinces.

China’s answer to this Catch-22 is to pipe water to Beijing via extensive water supply canals, often at the expense of local citizens, businesses, or agricultural practices. China hurries to finish 309 km (192 miles) of canals to draw water from behind several dams in the province of Hebei to serve water to Beijing for the Olympics, as stated on Reuters. These canals are actually part of a larger project China is undertaking to pipe massive amounts of water from the Yangzte River in the south to arid regions in the north, widely known as the South-to-North Water Transfer Project (previously reviewed on WaterWired).

                                                                                                    Central route of the South-to-North Water Transfer Project, courtesy of The New York Times.

Concerns about the colossal diversion project by residents of the area are many. During an interview with the Environmental News Network, one farmer said:

“For the country, it’s a good thing. It will bring water to Beijing so everything runs smoothly,” said Shi Yinzhu, herding sheep near the 100-metre wide canal in Tang county. “But for us here, they had to pump away underground water to dig the canal and we’ve lost a lot of land too … Sometimes you wonder if they need all the water more than us here.”

The world’s attention will soon be on Beijing, China for the Summer Olympic Games.

Will the world’s attention also be on the many people currently affected by drought conditions and difficult times in North China?

NEWS UPDATE 

In China, the State Flood and Drought Relief Headquarters has just updated statistics showing currently 5.9 million people face drinking water shortages, more than double that figure of 2.43 million published on Feb. 24, throughout the entire country.

and

China Diverting Major River to “Water” Beijing Olympics – National Geographic

Drought and the Yangtze

agriculture, asia, climate change, dam, drought, sustainability

A short video clip from the BBC on the current drought occurring around the Yangtze River in China. River levels are at record lows, and Chinese officials are discharging extra water from the Three Gorges Dam. Scientists indicate climate change will increase the frequency of such droughts.

Will the Three Gorges Dam still be relevant if dropping river levels on the Yangtze become commonplace?

More articles on dropping flows in the Yangtze River include:
Yangtze River water level at 140-year low – Telegraph
Yangtze hit by drought in China – BBC News
Parts of China’s Yangtze at lowest level in 140 years – AFP 

Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground

dam

This book, available through 100 Fires, was recently released by The Greywater Guerrillas, a water-aware environmental group out of the Bay Area focused on river restoration, dam removal, and installation of grey-water systems.

Both radical history of water and DIY guide to sustainable technologies, Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground combines an analysis of water’s history with the active fight for its future. Bringing together hundreds of national and international projects, organizations, and strategies, Dam Nation investigates political economy and environmental impact of water consumption. It also gives readers easy, cheap, and thought-provoking ways to join the ‘water underground’ themselves.

50,000 Dams and Growing

dam, international

This short selection was composed by International Rivers Network, a widely regarded environmental non-governmental organization that focuses much of it’s attention on the effects of dams on world rivers.

International Rivers works to protect rivers and rights, and promote real solutions for meeting water, energy and flood management needs.

Three Gorges Dam: Displacement and Environmental Problems Acknowledged

asia, dam

Most have heard of the Three Gorges Dam (長江三峽大壩), a hydroelectric dam constructed in China to create a massive reservoir on the Yangtze River. The project when finished will flood an area of approximately 400 square miles. The dam, currently partially operational, is expected to be fully operational in 2009 after final generators are installed.


Above Photo: Mr Frosted on flickr.com.

A recent article distributed by the Associated Press on October 12, 2007, states many more individuals will have to move from the region by the year 2020.

The reservoir already has forced 1.4 million people out of their homes amid criticism the project has wreaked ecological havoc and forced people to move to places where they cannot make a living. On Friday, state media and the region’s local government signaled rising concern over the dam’s impact, saying as many as several million more people would have to be moved from areas adjacent to the reservoir in a form of “environmental migration.”

This recent announcement of an increase in displacement of citizens from the Yangtze region comes too soon after a report was issued in September 2007 highlighting major environmental problems caused by the dam including erosion, sedimentation, and possible water-quality problems.

This article, from the Guardian Unlimited in the UK, summarizes the dire statements made by public officials on environmental problems that could plague the area. However, as stated on Planet Ark, Chinese Officials are opposing these statements saying environmental effects were exaggerated by the media. The bad press is probably not such a good thing when you are trying to run a country. Check out the International Rivers Network webpage for more information about environmental issues and the Three Gorges Dam.