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

Widespread Drought: The Middle East in 2008

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.

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climate change, drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, water desalination

Island Dilemma = Dry Times Ahead

Drought and dry weather are seemingly the norm recently on two island nations nearly 10,291 miles (16,562 km) apart. Cyprus and New Zealand have been dealing with shortages of water continuing into 2008.

Cyprus

As highlighted previously on this blog,  a dry winter with little rain in Cyprus has diminished water supplies on the island. Reservoirs, now at less than 9% capacity, lack water for the coming summer season. Groundwater wells will provide little relief because they are often over pumped and inundated with saltwater.

The Republic of Cyprus is pursuing alternatives for water supply including construction an additional desalination plant and import of water from other locations on tankers. Regardless, extreme water rationing will be commonplace until the end of the summer in November or December of 2008.

New Zealand

It is summer in New Zealand from December until the end of February, and this year the country has been enduring an unusually severe drought. The Waikato Region on the North Island has been facing dessicated conditions not seen in over 100 years.

Effects of the drought in are far-reaching. Toxic algal blooms are on the rise in waterways, and water restrictions have been put into place. The agricultural industry, primarily dairy production located in the Waikato Region, has been the hardest hit.

The government of New Zealand is engaged in research on climate change and increasing drought events in drought-prone locations.

Officials believe rain will finally come to the region by the end of the fall season in May of 2008.

Cyprus Map courtesy of grhomeboyhmg on flickr.

climate change, drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, sustainability, water trade

Depleted Aquifers and the Mediterranean

The azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea makes it easy to forget the arid climate at the edge of this salty body of water. But look a bit inland. Countries in the region are experiencing increased shortages of water and lack of significant rainfall to remedy this problem in the near future.

Photo courtesy of LauraMary on flickr.

I reviewed the current plight of the island of Cyprus with uncertain water supplies and reservoirs at less than two months capacity previously on this blog. One may be inclined to make allowances for one island enduring shortages of water, but a whole region facing dropping aquifer levels is another story. And this is the story unfolding in the Mediterranean Basin.

Countries to the south of the Mediterranean Sea, such as Egypt and Libya, have historically faced water supply issues. Even to the east, Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine have been fighting over water for decades. But,if you follow the sea to the north, you will find water shortages also follow.

A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor details the desiccation of Lake Aksehir and surrounding aquifers located in Central Turkey’s Konya Plain region. It also reviews dropping aquifer levels in Italy. While Turkey plans a water diversion project from the Goksu River (in a similar fashion as the South-North Water Transfer Project), it begs the question “is this the best way to supplement dropping aquifer levels in the region?”

Water shortages in Turkey will most likely curtail water exports to Cyprus and Israel. Egypt and Lebanon may also follow suit as an arid Cyprus looks to these countries for water. Additionally, all countries in the region might begin to factor climate change into the equation, as precipitation begins to decrease annually during winter months. Hopefully, these issues and more will be addressed soon as Turkey hosts the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul on March 15-22, 2009.

climate change, drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, water desalination, water trade

Cyprus and Water Imports from Greece, Egypt, and Lebanon

The small island country of Cyprus may soon be shipping water on tankers from Greece, Egypt and Lebanon to supplement current dwindling water supplies.

Cyprus has been facing drier than normal conditions for four consecutive years. Winter in Cyprus, November through March, usually serves to fill reservoirs for the coming season. But this winter has been practically rainless, and estimates leave reservoirs at two-months of capacity.

Cyprus typically provides water to citizens through several reservoirs and two water desalination plants. Because of the current water crisis, a third desalination plant is being constructed and emergency groundwater reserves may be rationed. Additionally, the country is contemplating the exorbitantly expensive shipment of additional water supplies.

Importing water, however, is nothing new to the country of Cyprus. As stated in this grotesquely entitled article, How to profit from the world’s water crisis, Cyprus had previously imported water from Turkey via large inflatable floating balloons holding up to five million gallons a piece. Obviously not the most efficient or cheap method for obtaining water, but neither is desalination (for now).

In the late 1990s, Aquarius Water Transportation became the first company to tow bags of fresh water for export, delivering commercial bulk quantities to the Greek Islands. In 2000, another company, Nordic Water Supply, began using 5 million gallon bags 10 times as big as the original Aquarius containers – to float water from Turkey to northern Cyprus.

– From an article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Cyprus

Update: (1/25/08)
Cyprus to extract water from underground reserves through bore holes.

climate change, drinking water, drought, water desalination, water treatment

Water Crisis in Cyprus and Climate Change

The small island of Cyprus is facing a fourth year of drought, with water reservoirs dwindling dry at less than 9% of original capacity. As a recent article on Reuters indicates, climate change is thought to be linked to the continued parched conditions.

Cyprus maintains a Mediterranean climate, with a rainy season between November and March of each year. Reservoirs, which supply the island with water, have time to refill during the rainy season. However, over the past four years, precipitation during winter months has been on the certain decline. The Meteorological Service of the Republic of Cyprus states:

Statistical analysis of rainfall in Cyprus reveals a decreasing trend of rainfall amounts in the last 30 year…The rate of decrease of the average precipitation in Cyprus during the 20th century was one millimeter per year.

For an island half of the size of Connecticut, residential population is approximately 788,457 people and over 2 million tourists visit the area each year. Cyprus provides water to most individuals using supply from the reservoirs, and supplements supply with two desalination plants. The current water crisis has forced the country to utilize emergency groundwater reserves, and a third temporary desalination plant will be on-line next year. As quoted from the Reuters article:

Desalination of seawater is not an ideal choice for the authorities, but it has saved Cyprus before. “We don’t desalinate lightly, without being aware of the consequences,” said Partassiades. “It is energy-consuming … and this causes (greenhouse gas) emissions Cyprus has to pay fines for.

Water restrictions have been put into effect on the island, until the situation improves, with a hope of rainfall to occur this winter.

Cyprus, with Limassol city in the background, photo courtesy, LaRezistance on flickr.