sustainability, water availability, water conflict

OSU Israel and Palestine Trip Blog

For those of you that didn’t hear about this on Michael Campana’s great Water Wired blog:

The Oregon State University Hydrophiles and GeoClub student groups are traveling to Israel and Palestine for almost two weeks. They’ll learn about water and other regional issues. Follow their adventures on their blog. The trip is led by Professor Aaron Wolf, one of the world’s experts on Middle Eastern water issues, water conflict management, and transboundary water issues (see my recent post on his work).

Thanks for the blurb, Michael. And, have fun OSUers. You can be sure I will be following their neat blog to learn more about water issues in the Middle East.

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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.

drinking water, groundwater, international, iraq, middle east, water availability, water conflict, water treatment

Iraq: Water and Politics in a War-Torn Country

Less than half of Iraq’s population of 29 million people have access to clean, drinkable water. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the number of civilians in Iraq without water has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent during 2003 to 2007 (the continued US occupation).


Above Photo: Child cries as a woman fills pans of water from a public water hose on open ground in Najaf, Iraq, in 2006. Alla al-Marjani/Associated Press.

Recent History of Water in Iraq

Iraq had over 140 drinking water and treatment facilities in operation in the recent past. Air attacks in the 1991 Persian Gulf War destroyed many of these plants. At the same time, UN imposed sanctions that disallowed trade between Iraq and other countries. This made import of needed chemicals and supplies for upkeep of the water facilities difficult. By 2003, Iraq’s 140 major water treatment facilities were operating at 35 percent of their design capacity. In March 2003, the US government launched a direct-attack on Iraq. The following continued war rendered useless already deteriorating water infrastructure systems across the country. Years of political upheaval, sanctions against Iraq, consistent mortar attacks, and unstable-transitional governing bodies have made maintenance of the water treatment systems almost impossible. Unsafe water is also taking its toll. Iraq saw the worst outbreak of Cholera in recorded history in 2007.


Above Photo: A man in a village in southern Iraq demonstrates how Bechtel left his village without access to clean water. BanglaPraxis.

While some measures are being taken to ensure water availability in Iraq…

UNICEF provides water on tanker trucks and distributes home-hygiene kits to civilians. UNESCO has assessed water resources available in Iraq and evaluated possible management plans. USAID has refurbished 10 water treatment plants and installed 70 small water treatment systems in rural communities. The transitional Iraqi Government has been developing water policy. The Iraq Water Project (Veterans for Peace in conjunction with LIFE) has sent small, sterilized water units for hospitals and schools and has been working to rebuild six water treatment plants in Iraq.

…these actions are not yet enough.

agriculture, drinking water, film, groundwater, international, middle east

Drying Up Palestine – A Documentary Film

“Shot on location in the West Bank over a period of almost a year, Drying up Palestine illustrates the stresses and strains imposed on Palestinian society by Israel’s almost total control over access to water and sewage facilities in the Occupied Territories. Told in the words of ordinary inhabitants, the film creates a compelling portrait of the impact of military occupation on everyday life.”

– Planet in Focus Film Festival

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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

Turkey, Iraq, and Syria to Form Collaborative Water Institute

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.