By Olivia Alabaster
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BEIRUT: “If water resources become even more limited, it could destabilize the Arab region and destabilize peace,” according to one of the speakers at this year’s German-Arab environmental conference, held at the Lebanese American University (LAU) Byblos campus on Monday.

Fathi Zereini, from the German-Arab Society for Environmental Studies, stressed the need for better awareness of the issue and the need for countries to work together to find a solution to the problem of water scarcity.

This year’s event, the Fifth Environmental Symposium of German-Arab Scientific Forum for Environmental Studies, focused on the effects of global warming on water resources across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the LAU Byblos campus, and one of the chairs of the event, Fuad Hashwa, explained why the issue of water scarcity is perhaps the most serious challenge facing the entire Arab region. “The Arab world has 5 percent of the world’s population but only 1 percent of re-sanitized water,” Hashwa said. “Arabs cannot afford to waste a single drop of water.”

He told The Daily Star that while Lebanon is fortunate to have more water resources than neighboring countries, the country still has to develop a responsible attitude to water.

“We need to re-think the whole situation and try to cut our water use,” he added.

Ralf Klingbeil, from the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, explained why the issue of water shortages must be taken seriously.

“In the MENA region there are the least fresh water resources per capita, by world region, and the region has also used up the largest proportion of its natural resources.”

Water shortages lead to drought, Klingbeil explained, which in turn makes agriculture increasingly difficult.

This leads to the widespread displacement of people, as witnessed in Syria over recent years, and now also in Iraq, Klingbeil added.

Talal Darwish, from the National Council for Scientific Research, explained how climate change, and in turn, drought, is affecting Lebanon.

“When we studied Lebanon from the air in May this year, 57 percent of the land was in drought conditions.

“And we saw the effects of this from the forest fires that spread throughout parts of the country this summer, which were exacerbated by the hot, dry weather and the mismanagement of conditions,” he added.

While there is no definite solution to the problem, and many hopes are pinned on the advancement of de-salination and water-conservation methods, there was widespread consensus that Lebanon was in need of a definitive water resources management plan.

Hussam Assad, from the Civil Engineering Department at the American University of Beirut, delivered a talk on the effects of climate change on water resources in Lebanon.

Assad said there was currently an inadequate national water infrastructure, and that a “water resources planning and management model must be developed for Lebanon,” before the finite resource runs out.