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.

K2K – In Search of Water

art, climate change, drinking water, drought, floods, groundwater, hydrogeology, india, international, outreach, rivers, sustainability, technology, water availability

One man’s dream will soon raise the world’s awareness about the complexity of water challenges occurring in India. Beginning Saturday April 26th in Bangalore, CS Sharada Prasad will travel 19,000 km (11,807 m) on motorbike to document the meaning and encompassing challenges of water to people in India. Crossing 15 major rivers, 28 states, and 7 territories, Mr. Prasad will document his journey on a blog called “K2K – In Search of Water“. His route will be mapped with a GPS unit attached to his motorbike and uploaded to Google Maps. Geotagged blog posts will be updated everyday and photos from his journey will be available on EveryTrail and Flickr.

The trip will take over two months to complete visiting places such as the Khardung La Pass at 18,380 feet to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of mainland India. Mr. Prasad will meet with local citizens, organizations, and community leaders to bring light to their accomplishments and challenges regarding sustainable water supplies. This event will be a great opportunity for students, classrooms, and people around the world to follow along with his adventure and become educated about water supplies in India. Sharada Prasad is a project officer for the India Water Portal developed by Arghyam, a non-governmental organization. Arghyam “seeks to support strategic and sustainable efforts in the water sector that address basic water needs for all citizens”.

Visit the cool interactive Google Map of the Journey across India here.

‘Water is Water’ – Newar Poet on Cultural Earth

agriculture, asia, audio, hydrogeology, international, outreach, rivers

Purna Bahadur Vaidya is a Newar Poet from Nepal with a collection of “84 poems refracted through water” in the language of Nepal Bhasa called LA LA KHA (WATER IS WATER).

Wayne Amtzis (photographer and writer himself) sat down with the author to translate the poems into English. He has so graciously given permission for some of these translations to be featured on the Cultural Earth page on Water for the Ages. His translations have also appeared in The Drunken Boat, a web magazine of international works.

In addition, the Library of Congress has recorded Purna Vaidya reciting portions of LA LA KHA in his native language of Nepal Bhasa.


Photo above courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Mount Everest is the peak with the clouds to the left. Ama Dablam is the peak to the far right.

‘The politics of oil and water’ – Interviews on Big Think

drinking water, economy, film, international, outreach, rivers, water availability, water trade

Several interviews on the ‘politics of oil and water’ are featured this week on Big Think, a website of ideas from people on everything including the environment. The following people and others were asked about “access to oil and water as a human right, sources of alternative energy and the future of global conflicts over resources”.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Quick Story on Water in Africa

africa, drinking water, drought, film, international, outreach, rivers, sustainability, water availability

In Africa, there is a young girl named Christina. She lives with her family in a small village in rural Ghana in West Africa. Ghana is close the equator with a tropical climate, but each year over eight months may pass without a drop of rain. During these dry spells, the one small pond in her village will slowly evaporate in the hot sun. Villagers are forced to seek water elsewhere. It is Christina’s job to fetch her family’s daily ration of water. Each day, she will walk up to four hours to gather enough water. Christina is a hardworking girl, but because she walks so far for water means she has no time to attend school. Christina is a real girl, and this is a true story as told in the short film below by Water Aid. Water Aid is an international organization with a vision of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. Intrigued? Read more about water in Africa below.

Africa Water Facts

Desert, rainforest, and savanna – over 900 million people live in Africa. It is the second largest continent in the world. Of all who live in Africa, 340 million people (38%) lack access to clean water and 500 million people (56 %) lack access to sanitation facilities.

If you lived in Africa, you would have to walk an average of six kilometers (3.72 miles) to carry sometimes dirty or murky water home to your family for use. The burden of this chore often falls on the women and children of a household.

The Nile, Niger, Volta, and Zambezi River Basins cross multiple political borders making water policy difficult and even volatile according to research conducted by the UN as featured on the BBC.


Above Photo: Water availability in Africa.UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library

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.

Water Voices from Around The World

drinking water, drought, international, outreach, poetry, rivers, sustainability, united nations

In this “table-top” book filled with awe-inspiring photographs, authors from around the world contributed to each provide their own unique perspective on the water of the earth. Many prominent and knowledgeable individuals, such as Kofi Annan, Maude Barlow, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pete Seeger, and Desmond Tutu, each drafted a portion of the book.

Water Voices from Around The World is published in consideration and support of the United Nations’ effort for the “International Decade of Action ‘Water for Life’, 2005-2015.”

The Water Voices Web-site also hosts a blog for up-to-date information on the book tour and other global water issues.

See the Water Books Page at the top of this web-log for more books on water.

Fungal Micro-pollution in Water

agriculture, research, rivers

Molds, mushrooms, and yeasts – prevalent in all locales from the cracks of a sidewalk, in the forest, and sometimes even your refrigerator. At times, fungi have wonderful uses including yeasts for brewing beer or wine to the gastronomic delight of the rare white truffle. At other times, certain fungi will produce a substance toxic to living beings called Mycotoxins. Recently, research has found certain Mycotoxins (micro-pollution) originating from fungal outbreaks in food-crop fields will enter waterways through irrigation run-off, as noted in a review in Science Daily.

While some toxins in this family may weaken the immune system or act as an allergen, other toxins have no evident effect on humans. This study showed increased quantities of such micro-pollution in Swiss rivers, and indicated “a need for stronger monitoring and control of these overlooked micropollutants.” The report “Fusarium Mycotoxins: Overlooked Aquatic Micropollutants?” will be released on February 13, 2008 in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

By the way, this post reminds me of a favorite joke:

Why did the algae and and the fungus get married?

Well… they took a lichen to each other.

Is the Amazon longer than the Nile?

international, rivers

The prospect of categorizing large rivers of the world was more difficult than one might imagine because of standing controversy regarding lengths of the supposed longest rivers of the world.

Rivers are meandering in nature, changing shape, with tributaries that may be disputed as part of the original waterways. This list compiled on Wikipedia is great because it groups large river systems by length including the tributaries. Maybe, in the future, satellite images from space could be analyzed for an accurate portrayal of river length.

Other compilations have differing views that list tributaries separately or highlight disputed tributaries. Now, geographers say, Is the Amazon longer than the Nile?