Environmental Studies

| January 13, 2020

Water Sustainability in the Middle East: Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Iraq

The minimum human requirement in terms of water consumption is 1000 cubic meters per person per year (Kandel, 2003). The Middle East is one of the water-stressed regions with most countries being unable to satisfy this minimum requirement for their populations (Villiers, 2009). The region owes most of its water crisis to unsustainable water practices, poor water management systems and over-exploitation of water sources by individual countries (Pearce, 2006). In this paper, Egypt, UAE, Jordan and Iraq are analyzed to evaluate their specific challenges and strategies towards water sustainability.

Egypt

In recent years, Egypt has been experiencing a severe and consequential scarcity in water. The situation, which has been slowly building up over the decades, has finally manifested to dangerous levels. The country’s water scarcity, which is being caused by pollution, misuse of water supplies and a growing population, has been worsened by the recent disagreements with countries further up along the Nile.

Misuse of water and pollution

Egypt receives a share of 55 billion cubic meters of the Nile’s water annually following a colonial water-sharing agreement with Sudan. Even though the country receives the biggest share of the Nile water, it still experiences a deficit compared to the quick growing population which is projected to reach 150 million by 2050.

Surprisingly, despite receiving the biggest share and having a deficit, most of the water goes to waste through industrial leaks, wasteful irrigation strategies and evaporation (Bedawy, 2014). In addition, use of agricultural fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have seriously polluted the Nile water with human dumping and industrial disposal poisoning the water further. The low water levels mean that the pollutant concentration levels are extremely high and poisonous to both the aquatic life and human consumption (Wolf & Amery, 2000). There have been many extreme cases of mass poisoning along the Nile areas with the government demonstrating slow response and mitigation efforts. Several lawsuits have been filed against the government for contaminated drinking water coming from the Nile.

Solution

Egypt is essentially a desert country; all its agricultural activities depend on irrigation from the Aswan High Dam. Over the years, much of the silt and fertile soils have been washed up and deposited in the dam, leaving much of the land infertile and prone to increased use of artificial fertilizers. The Egyptian government should make a concerted effort to reclaim these soils from the dam and offer incentives for natural and non-artificial forms of fertilizers. This could include campaigns to popularize other forms of farming such as livestock farming.

Moreover, industrial operational regulations should be tightened to punish violators and minimize the release of untreated industrial and agricultural waste. Egyptian stakeholders need to create more governing bodies to handle disposals and sanitation in towns especially along the River Nile and the Aswan High Dam. The government needs to work on eliminating more pollution at the source levels which occur from the fish farms and agricultural banks. Spot action has to be taken and mass education to reduce poor disposal starting from the household level.

Finally, Egypt still employs old irrigation methods such as flooding which are wasteful and leads to massive loss of water through evaporation. Owing to this situation, the Aswan irrigation schemes have been described as uneconomical and counterproductive. Local governments in collaboration with farmers and the national government’s research and funding agencies should promote new and more productive forms of irrigation that are not wasteful, cause less pollution and produce a wide variety of food products.

Disagreements with countries further up along the Nile

For many of the previous years, Egypt has benefited from the Nile Treaty that prevented Sudan and other countries from much exploitation of the Nile. Recent collaborations between Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda have led to an agreement that seeks to permit power and irrigation projects along the Nile to proceed in their countries without Egypt’s consultation. The Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia has already been announced and is being hyped as the biggest hydro-electric dam in Africa (Bedawy, 2014). With most of the planning and layout work already underway, Egypt is set to suffer a huge reduction in water levels due to this project.

The Nile plays a huge role on the politics of countries in North Africa: so much so that it threatens to cause unrest and political instability among the region’s countries (Barlow, 2009). The Entebbe Agreement which has reduced monopoly over the Nile by Egypt and Sudan has occurred and gained quick execution, such that the two countries could develop alternatives to deal with the new conditions. This has also shifted the political power from the two countries and given other countries more rights over the Nile.

Solution

Egypt has previously been very rigid on having open talks with these countries who have been advocating for dialogue over the colonial-era treaty. The country needs to enter into talks with these countries to reach long-term solutions that are fair not only to them but to Egypt as well. The latter must also look for international supporters and advisors in the drafting of new agreements that preserve the Nile water cycle which is also important in the global water cycle.

Egypt also requires to seek alternative sources of water to support its growing population. This could range from investigating the potential of desalinization of sea water and better storage facilities for harvested water. In general, better relations among the Northern countries hold a potential for reaching a fair solution on the Nile that is beneficial to all parties as well as the world water ecosystem.

United Arab Emirates

The UAE is characterized by luxury lifestyle and non-conservation cultures that have recently borne effects in the water supply situation in the region. The nation mainly sources its water from desalination of salt water, the use of underground water, and treating of waste water (AlAwar, 2014). The current water crisis in the UAE stems from poor management of water resources, lack of water channeling systems and poor water usage.

Lack of water channeling systems

While the UAE has developed and invested in large sewage treatment plants and stations, much of this water which is intended for irrigation is left unused due to poor channeling structures. Since this water has a small lifespan, delayed delivery to the intended sites causes wastage of already treated waste water and this results in the usage of desalinated water for irrigation.

Solution

Distribution channels from treatment stations need to be diversified to reach other budding regions that are in constant need of irrigation water. Furthermore, efficient management procedures need to be put in place that allow previous ordering and planning before water is actually treated. Investors in the agricultural sector should collaborate with the government to create an efficient water distribution network.

Poor management of water resources and poor water usage

The UAE is reported to have a per capita water usage that is almost double the average global rate (AlAwar, 2014). The estimated wastage at the household level is also extremely high. Most of the water is provided in abundance and for free or at a low cost to all households. This has led to a situation of water wastage due to the perceived abundance by the population. In addition, poor management systems over water resources which are unclear and unregulated have created a hazy water management authority system. The UAE has for many years participated in foreign aid activities involving water resources development in other countries with severe water shortage situations. It has therefore provided support both in terms of finance and research to water projects in other countries aimed providing water and reducing water related illnesses. This demonstrates that it can successfully adopt an equally aggressive approach in efforts to improve water resources management systems at the local level.

Solution

The UAE has to lay out water management systems at the national levels for its three aforementioned sources of water. The systems should create a stable network that goes down to the household level. On the other hand, the population has to be made more accountable and responsible for water usage through financial and educational strategies. Besides, the country must focus on reducing their water stress which currently threatens to worsen their water crisis. Through its global water initiatives and support, the UAE has invested in great technology, expertise and research on water systems. It should now direct this research and efforts into their own water system which has taken a blow in the last few years. The UAE still has the potential to stabilize their water crisis before it gets out of hand.

Jordan

Jordan’s level of water access has been a common problem for many decades due to the decreasing water levels, harsh climatic conditions and population explosion which has exerted growing pressure on the limited water supply. This water situation has further been politicized particularly in the context of relations with neighboring countries such as Israel.

Unpreparedness for climatic conditions

Jordan and its neighbors all geographically lie in regions of low rainfall and high temperatures. All the four rivers which rise to form the Jordan River originate in neighboring countries with low rainfall and water shortages. However, Jordan appears to be unprepared every time it is emerging from a period of low rainfall despite knowledge and previous experiences. The outcome is a situation whereby the country has had to set up specific days weekly during which households have water supply before it is cut off. Moreover, poor rains over the last five years have hit the country hard, and water levels in neighboring seas have drastically gone down. Still, their agricultural sector is highly water-dependent and the country mostly grows crops which require high amounts of water, a factor that causes further stress on water.

Solution

Firstly, Jordan should shift to drought-resistant agriculture and one that does not depend on extremely large amounts of water. At the same time, it needs to put in place better coping and preparedness mechanisms such as water harvesting while simultaneously investing in the desalination of salt water. Finally, the country lies in a dry region bordering countries from which the streams that join to form the Jordan River originate. These countries ought to synchronize water supply and conservation efforts as they are all interdependent (Mays, 2006).

Politicization of the water issue

Jordan has had the water rationing system for decades to the point where it has become the norm. The water issue has been a political focus for years dating back to previous years of political antagonism between Israel and Jordan that culminated in the signing of treaties, relocation of refugees to Jordan and armed conflicts over water sources. The situation is still prevalent today. Meanwhile, the exceptional treatment that some people of higher political and social class receive through the rationing system has also fuelled political antagonism. The water projects by the government have also been hugely politicized with most of the previous projects only providing temporary solutions after massive government spending.

Solution

The normalcy associated with the rationing system often means that there is excessive water wastage during these ‘water days’. There is a need to create more awareness to ambitiously conserve even more water in households. Fairness should be applied in the rationing system to prevent certain areas from getting more water or more water days as a long-term effort to prevent further wastage. Jordan’s heavy investment in many water projects should be halted until extensive research and consultation is put into the water ecosystem, patterns and sustainability potential of water in Jordan and the entire region. More consideration should be put on implementing a regional solution to the closely tied water system in the entire region as opposed to national solutions.

Iraq

Iraq, having been riddled with close to thirty years of war, has a scanty water management system and has done little by way of environmental awareness. It obtains most of its surface water from rivers Euphrates and Tigris which rise from Turkey, Iran and Syria. Owing to upstream activities in these countries, water levels in the two rivers have fallen below their normal level and so has the water supply in Iraq. The draining of Iraq’s water marshes by former president Saddam Hussein as a form of punishment for opposing tribes destroyed wildlife and human survival in a domino effect that affected not only Iraq but neighboring countries due to the disruption of the region’s hydrological cycle. Though restoration and reclamation actions have been taken, the previously observed progress is facing new challenges with the invasion by Islamic State (IS) which has cut off water supply to some parts of the country. The fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organization has strategically positioned itself along the Tabqah Dam and nearly colonized all its operations. The marshes have once again been exposed to minimal water supply that threatens to completely dry them out, with wildlife already moving or succumbing to the harsh conditions.

Lack of water management systems

There has previously been little-to-no concentration on the creation a stable water management system amidst the country’s social and political difficulties. Furthermore, Iraq has previously had a good supply of water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers until the time when upstream activities began causing severe fluctuations in water levels downstream. This has reduced the government’s ability to provide clean drinking water to all the households and improve sanitation.

Solution

The government should take responsibility by establishing a solid water management sector by investing time, resources and skills to the water situation before it develops into a hazardous challenge. At the same time, the regional stakeholders should focus on regional solutions that will out-perform the interconnectedness of the water ecosystem in the region. This should ensure the stability of Iraq and other regional countries despite the activities of other countries.

Limited environmental awareness

The drainage of the Iraqi Marshlands demonstrated a huge lack of environmental and ecosystem conservation. The Marshlands were further affected by upstream activities, reduced water flows, dam constructions and pollution concentration. The diminishing of these marshlands which was crucial for the entire middle-eastern ecosystem has had great effects on the region’s water supply.

Solution

Iraq’s improving political and social scene is paving the way for urbanization andeconomic development in most parts of the country. This should be coupled with the creation ofextreme environmental awareness to ensure that development does not overtake or overshadowsustainability and environmental preservation (Mays, 2006). Fortunately, local and internationalefforts are currently underway to advance restoration of the Marshlands.

Iraq needs to implement more creative ways of creating awareness not only to its population but to the leaders and national participants. This will make it a national priority that is supported by the people and protected by the law. The challenge with the IS should be approached cautiously to avoid slipping into further regional wars which would negate all the previous developments made by Iraq over the last few years. Furthermore, the issue should be accorded priority due to its delicate nature and potential of causing a water war in the region. This could then spark a global war on water and other resources (Barlow, 2009).

Conclusion

The Middle East is faced with the daunting task of ensuring sustainability in water usage and environmental practices despite focus on economic and political challenges. However, the region is endowed with many other natural resources whose exploitation and a rush to achieve ambitious development goals could potentially cripple the basic survival of the region’s population in terms of food and water scarcity. Experts warn of impending threat of water wars in the region in the event that individual countries exhibit an inability to sustain their water consumption and management systems. The Middle East has to develop strategies along basic water management sustainability principles such as reducing unintended losses of clean water, employing environment friendly water treatment technologies, and eliminating non-point source pollution. The water sustainability issue is a global challenge that should be approached with global consideration and long-term sustainability for the survival of life and the ecosystem.

The water crisis in the Middle East and many other parts of the world is not an individual stand-alone issue. It is a combination of climatic change factors and hydrological factors. To a greater extent, economic, political and social factors do propel the water crisis situation by propelling the actions and decisions taken on natural and water resources. These combined factors normally results in excessive water consumption, wastage and pollution. Regulating the water crisis is therefore a challenging task to synchronize all the parties that influence the water crisis at different stages and parts of the world. The hydrological system is an interdependent cycle that must maintain all the components to remain cyclic and continuous. This poses the greatest task of having to coordinate all major contributors. A further challenge is trying to predict future outcome of current activities and finding ways to quantitatively alter them where negative or support them where positive. However, we have a good understanding of the impact of excessive groundwater withdrawals, over-exploitation of water resources, pollution, population explosion, world politics and all the related pillars in water sustainability. This knowledge and further exploration will enable new water technologies in the Middle East and globally that will support the environment as well as water and resource sustainability.

References

AlAwar, M. (2014). Management of Water Resources in the UAE. International Journal of Environment and Sustainability, 3(4), 15-39.

Barlow, M. (2009). Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to water. New York, NY: The New Press.

Bedawy, R. (2014). Water Resources Management: Alarming Crisis for Egypt. Journal of Management and Sustainability, 4(3), 108-124.

Kandel, R. (2003).Water from Heaven: The story of water from the big bang to the rise of civilization and beyond. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Mays, L. (2006). Water Resources Sustainability. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.

Pearce, F. (2006). When the Rivers run Dry: Water—The Defining Crisis of the Twenty first Century. Boston: Beacon Press.

Villiers, M. (2001). Water: The Fate of our most precious Resource. New York, NY: MarinerBooks.

Wolf, H. & Amery, A. (2000). Water in the Middle East: A geography of Peace’s. Austin, TX:University of Texas Press.

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