Friday, October 15, 2010

It is interesting that the Blog Action day (October 15th) coincides with the Arab Environment day (October 14th), and as this year’s topic is water it is highly relevant to blog about water challenges in the Arab world, considered to be one of the most water scarce regions in the world.

Arab countries, within the League of Arab States have decided to select October 14th as their own Environment day since the world environment day, celebrated by the UNEP is on June 5th is one of the worst days in the history of Arab countries losing the six days war against Israel in 1967 culminating in the loss of the West Bank of Palestine; an issue never resolved until now and is the core reason behind violence, hostility and terrorism in the Middle East. It is pathetic however; that Arab countries have failed to turn the Arab Environment day into a meaningful event with little actions and mobilization efforts, depicting another grim reflection about the lack of leadership and commitment towards global and local environmental challenges in the Arab world.

Trying to live up to some of my responsibilities, I hope that the combined occasion of the Blog Action day and the Arab Environment Day can provide me with the required momentum to resume my blogging here after 7 months of absence.

Water is an issue of life and death in Arab countries and is THE most limiting factor for sustainable development in this area. The Arab region is among the water-scarcest in the world. Due to increase in population growth and bad management, the average annual per capita share is declining from below 1000 cubic meters now, already below the level of water scarcity, to below 500 cubic meters as early as 2015, defined as severe water stress. World average is 6500 cubic meters. Major water sources are from outside Arab borders or shared, and most available water resources are already developed

Not only does the Arab world suffers from physical scarcity of water resources it is plagued with bad management, wasteful practices and fragmentation of efforts. To be fair and honest, this region has witnessed some of the most interesting trials for sustainable water management using non-conventional water resources, engaging in public-private partnerships for water resources and utility management and mobilizing communities through awareness, education and media campaigns. The cumulated efforts of local professionals and communities, in addition to the evolution of policies, legislation and practical guidelines on sustainable and integrated water resource management have all contributed to a paradigm shift in water policy and planning.

Yet there is something essential missing. The preferred options for water management in the region still depend on engineering solutions and megaprojects that will move water from source to consumption points through pipes and networks. This approach will eventually dry all water resources to the last drop. What this region needs is more involvement of natural resource management scientists and communities that focus on the protection and sustainable use of water resources rather than piping them with state-of-the-art technologies. Some of the best answers can be found in the form of ancient aqueducts developed by the native populations to adapt to arid conditions by sustainable use of natural resources including rainwater collection. Solutions can be found with more emphasis on community actions and ecological wisdom than engineering approaches.

Water is THE defining factor for peace and development in the Middle East. It lies at the heart of the complex political conflict in Palestine/Israel and is one of the most difficult issues to be tackled in the final status negotiations, if they ever launch. Bilateral relations between some neighboring Arab countries suffer from frequent deterioration due to the inability to reach binding and fair agreements for allocation and use of shared water resources.

I do not intend to mentions statistics and specific cases about the water situation in the region. The Internet is endowed with resources and research about water calamities in the Middle East and also with proven and potential solutions. This blog also contains a lot of stories and analyses about the water situation and will continue to do so. The main message from the post is that Arab countries need to adopt a more integrated approach to water management that will take into consideration the element of sustainability through introducing new and sometimes painful policy measures to guarantee adequate use of available water resources and to launch an honest battle against the corruption and misguided practices in the water sector that result in wasting precious resources. This transition can be derived by the adoption of a human rights approach to water management than engineering solutions. Such an approach will focus on the optimization of water allocation among the three main sectors of agriculture, domestic and industrial while taking care of the sustainability of water ecosystem and watersheds that should continue to provide water resources for future generations.

For a comprehensive outlook on the water situation in Arab countries, we can wait for the release of the 3rd annual report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) which will be focusing on water in the Arab countries for the year 2010. The report will be launched in Beirut during the AFED Annual Conference (4-5 November 2010). The report is designed to contribute to the discourse on sustainable management of water resources in the Arab world, stressing the urgent need for policy reforms.

posted by Batir Wardam