by Hana Namrouqa | Mar 21, 2015 | source: The Jordan Times

AMMAN — More than 40 million people in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey are water vulnerable, 3 per cent or 1.7 million of whom are in the Kingdom, according to a report on violence and water shortage.

“The Hydro-Insecure: Crisis of Survival in the Middle East” report said roughly 27 per cent of the Kingdom’s estimated 6.4 million population is hydro-insecure.

Although the Department of Statistics estimates Jordan’s population at around 6 million, officials have said that the actual number is closer to around 10 million, including refugees and other residents.

The report was compiled by the India-based Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) and launched by HRH Prince Hassan at the International Conference on Exploring the Water-Peace Nexus — Blue Peace in West Asia last Thursday.

It highlights that violence and water shortage are two principal drivers of displacement, and advocates for the prioritisation of regional strategies to respond to the needs of the hydro-insecure.

The report identified 30 hydro-insecure governorates in the Middle East, four of which are in Jordan — Irbid, Jerash, Mafraq and Tafileh.

Thirteen of the 30 hydro-insecure governorates share international borders, according to the report, which described cooperation across boundaries as indispensable.

“Hydro-insecurity does not occur in isolation but is accompanied by one or more issues such as poverty, war and conflict, low women’s development and environmental degradation,” the report said.

It identified Mafraq, some 80km northeast of Amman, as the most hydro-insecure governorate in Jordan.

“Along with hydro-insecurity, it faces low labour force participation levels of 36.4 per cent and a high poverty rate of 31.9 per cent. More than 60 per cent of its population is rural and it also hosts a large refugee population; roughly one out of every three people in Mafraq is a refugee.”

The report indicated that female labour participation stands at only 12.5 per cent in Mafraq, which also has the highest female illiteracy rate among the Kingdom’s hydro-insecure governorates, at 13.6 per cent.

“All four hydro-insecure governorates grow water-intensive crops, such as wheat and bananas, but most of the production is rain-fed. They face problems such as excessive irrigation, water logging, land salinity and water wastage due to lack of water-saving techniques.”

The report also identified women as the most vulnerable group in hydro-insecure governorates, particularly female refugees and refugee households headed by women.

Another vulnerable group is women in agricultural populations located in hydro-insecure governorates, it said.

“Female farmers make up about 10 per cent of the total number of farmers, but they are responsible for 60 per cent of agricultural work. Lack of control on or access to financial resources creates significant hurdles in accessing and managing water for them.”

‘Water and Violence’

SFG’s second report, “Water and Violence — Crisis of Survival in the Middle East”, indicated that since November 2014, almost 40 incidents have taken place in the Middle East where water was used as an instrument or a target.

Out of these, one-third of the attacks were engineered by the Daesh terror group and mostly in 2014, according to the report.

Daesh, which has captured the Tishrin and Tabqa dams in Syria, has for some time in the past gained control of the Fallujah and Mosul dams in Iraq as well as the Samarra barrage, SFG President Sundeep Waslekar said.

Daesh is mostly active in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, he added, highlighting that these two rivers are important for the entire human civilisation.

“It is vital not only for Iraq and Syria but also for the international community at large to protect these rivers,” Waslekar noted.

The report attributed the increasing use of water as a target or instrument of violence to several factors, including the fact that depleting water resources and growing scarcity makes water a highly vulnerable and equally effective weapon in Middle East conflicts.

In addition, water infrastructure in the region has poor quality maintenance which renders it vulnerable to attacks, according to the report, which also said that some types of damage to water resources can easily take place, such as contamination.

The report suggested solutions to prevent the use of water in violent conflicts, calling on the region’s governments to recognise involvement of water in violence as a priority in disaster management.

In addition, the report proposed the formation of a UN peacekeeping force for water and proposed the involvement of the International Committee for the Red Cross, which has a water security programme that can be further strengthened for protecting and rehabilitating water resources involved in violence.