by Hana Namrouqa | Mar 23, 2013

ISTANBUL — Water experts and policy makers from five regional countries are in the process of setting up a new council to regulate sharing of trans-boundary water resources.

The council, comprising high-level members from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, will draft policies for regional water and for creating cooperation between countries that share joint water resources.

Setting up the council was one of the recommendations of the “Blue Peace: Rethinking Middle East Water” report, which seeks to turn water from a cause of conflict into a source of peace and cooperation between countries in the Middle East.

“The council will be tasked with drafting cooperation policies, studying the water situation of each country and proposing mechanisms to improve it and overcome water-related challenges,” Maysoon Zu’bi, a member of the Blue Peace core group, told the press.

She made the remarks on the sidelines of the “Blue Peace in the Middle East: International Media Conference”, which was held in Istanbul last week.

The conference was co-hosted by the Turkish Review journal and the India-based think tank Strategic Foresight Group (SFG), in partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Bahçe?ehir University also helped host the event.

The Blue Peace report, launched in 2011 by SFG, proposes that water in the Middle East can be used as an opportunity for achieving peace and development rather than be treated as a problem and a source of conflict.

The report treated countries covered by the study in distinct circles of cooperation; the first encompasses the northern countries, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, while the second includes Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The report’s authors suggested creating a cooperation council for the northern countries tasked with standardising measurements of quality and quantity of water resources, combating climate change and drought, and promoting research in environment-friendly and energy-efficient water technologies among other tasks.

In her address at the conference’s inaugural session, HRH Princess Sumaya, president of the Royal Scientific Society, said the Blue Peace project seeks to ensure a safe and equitable future for the region, noting that the initiative is admirable and timely as it aims at saving the region’s people from a “dangerous and uncertain future”.

“We are meeting to highlight a process of depletion and unjust distribution that is well advanced, added the princess, who represented HRH Prince Hassan at the event.

It is estimated that in just 20 years, some 300 million people in the Arab world will live under conditions of water scarcity, with an average of about 500 cubic metres of water per person per year, which is half the threshold of 1,000 cubic metres per capita per year that is set as the demarcation line of water poverty, she added.

“Water scarcity is perhaps our region’s most pressing challenge, yet it gets little diplomatic attention,” Princess Sumaya underscored, noting that the region can overcome such challenges if countries act in conjunction with their neighbours and with the support of the international community.

“… Such are challenges that only science empowered by policy can solve, therefore we must engage our scientists and researchers with policy makers and civil society, so they become part of a third-sector solution to a universal problem,” the princess said.

Local and international academics, politicians, analysts and journalists participated in the two-day conference to tackle the issue of water in the Middle East, with participants warning of potential water shortage and stressing necessary measures to avoid drought.

Turkish Review Editor-in-Chief Kerim Balci said the event sought to prepare the ground for sharing experiences in managing regional water resources through cooperation.

Underscoring the media’s role in promoting and spreading knowledge and experiences regarding the issue of water management, Balci said they aim to create awareness and sensitivity in the media about the water issue, which he described as the most critical issue for the region’s future.