By Mohammad Ben Hussein

AMMAN – Water experts on Tuesday called for greater coordination and sharing of information among Arab countries to tackle the challenge of water scarcity and the threat of climate change.

During a one-day seminar on water security in the Arab world, experts from Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and other countries discussed means to deal with the current water crisis in the Middle East and beyond.

Professor Fayez Abdullah from the University of Jordan warned that climate change could have a profound impact on the region’s water security due to declining levels of rain.

“By the year 2050, North Africa and some parts of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Jordan are expected to have rainfall amounts 20 to 25 per cent lower than at present,” he said in a special report presented during the event.

“It seems obvious that climate change in one way or another will take place with significant impact on the water resources situation,” he added.

A paper presented by Ayman Rabi from the Jordan Engineers Association (JEA) highlighted Israel’s policies of targeting water resources in the West Bank and Gaza, which he said was a major contributor to the region’s water problems.

“Israel also allows settlers to contaminate water resources in the West Bank and Gaza. We must help the Palestinians cope with this problem by providing desalination plants and developing a unified water strategy in the Palestinian territories,” he said in the paper.

The seminar’s recommendations included adopting water security as a permanent file for discussion at Arab summits and conducting studies on the impact of decreasing rainfall on the environment.

Experts also called on organisations around the Middle East to look into the impact of recent natural disasters that hit the region, including flash floods in Saudi Arabia and Yemen as well as hurricane Juno which hit Oman in 2007.

Water harvesting during rainy seasons and improvement of infrastructure in impoverished countries with high populations were mentioned as important measures to help reduce the water deficit in these countries.

Recommendations also included the need to establish a joint database of surface and underground water resources and to identify water borders for Arab countries, particularly Jordan, one of the most water impoverished countries in the world.

The Kingdom has been facing chronic water shortages for decades amid a high population growth rate.

Experts at a conference held earlier this month warned that water scarcity compounded by climate change may hinder the Kingdom’s ability to meet its Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The Ministry of Environment in December launched a $4.3 million programme to develop the Kingdom’s adaptation to climate change and sustain its MDG achievements.

Experts say natural sources of water such as rain and underground aquifers will not be enough to secure the needs of Jordan’s population of six million.

They said the Red-Dead Canal and the construction of desalination plants represent the ideal solution to ease the impact of water scarcity and enhance water security in the Kingdom.