Why shared water resources could become a source of conflict between nations of the Arab region

UNESCO WorldWater Day is observed annually on March 22 to highlight the significance of freshwater and advocate for sustainable management of freshwater resources. (AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2024

Why shared water resources could become a source of conflict between nations of the Arab region

  • Water scarcity is common across the Middle East and North Africa owing to high temperatures and limited rainfall
  • As climate change depletes rivers and aquifers, experts warn a failure to jointly manage resources could provoke conflict 

DUBAI: Water scarcity and mismanagement are pressing global issues, made worse by a warming climate which is depleting the world’s freshwater sources at an alarming rate. Despite this, international cooperation on water security has been left wanting.

More than three billion people depend on water that originates outside their national boundaries, yet just 24 countries have cooperation agreements in place on their shared water resources. 

Transboundary water resources make up 60 percent of the world’s fresh water. Some 153 countries contain at least one of the world’s 310 transboundary rivers and lakes, as well as 468 inventoried transboundary aquifer systems, according to the UN.


• March 22 is World Water Day.

As climate change depletes these resources, water could become a major source of conflict between nations in the years to come.

“Some of the most prolonged conflicts in the Middle East include poor transboundary relationships,” Alicia Dauth, a senior consultant and member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, told Arab News.

Alicia Dauth, senior consultant at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. (Supplied)

“Unfortunately this can cause armed conflict, exasperating tensions and displacement of a country’s people and water resources.”

Historically, water conflicts arise when two or more countries fail to collaborate or jointly manage a shared water source, be it on the surface, like a river, or underground, such as an aquifer.

Instead, said Dauth, they prioritize their individual social and economic interests, disregarding collective welfare, leading to long-term tensions.

“Water cooperation is an approach which the International Centre for Water Cooperation refers to as their method to address transboundary management for shared water resources. This can be done through formalized frameworks and joint institutions,” she said.

Negotiations involving Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) exemplify the difficulties associated with effective management of shared water resources.

This picture taken on November 11, 2019 shows a view of an agricultural field in Jureif Gharb district of Sudan's capital Khartoum. Water scarcity is common across the Middle East and North Africa owing to high temperatures and limited rainfall. (AFP)

The large hydropower project located near the Ethiopian-Sudanese border on the Blue Nile has become a significant source of tension among regional states. Downstream nations like Egypt are particularly concerned about the impact on their water supply.

Water scarcity is a common problem across the Middle East and North Africa region, owing to high summer temperatures and low rainfall. 

Jonathan Hirasawa Ashton, Middle East spokesperson for industrial supplier KROHNE Group, believes the issue calls for closer cooperation between states combined with new technology and greater public awareness

“The water crisis, exacerbated by climate change, mismanagement and geopolitical tensions, requires an urgent, multifaceted response that leverages technological innovation, international cooperation and a culture of conservation,” Ashton told Arab News.

A shepherd watches over his herd of sheep sitting on cracked earth at al-Massira dam in Ouled Essi Masseoud village, some 140 kilometers south of Casablanca, on March 6, 2024. (AFP)

Failure to address the shared problem of water shortages could harm the region’s economic development, public health, and stability.

“The Middle East, rich in history but arid by nature with 11 of the 17 worst affected countries in the MENA region, faces dire consequences if its water scarcity issues remain unaddressed,” said Ashton.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Middle East is one of the most water-scarce regions in the world with average annual water resources per capita at 550 cubic meters. 

“This is half the 1,000 cubic meters per capita threshold for water scarcity according to the UN’s Water Stress Index,” Helen Bali, head of water for the environmental consultancy WSP Middle East, told Arab News.

This photo taken on February 2, 2024, shows Iraqi villagers walk past the river of al-Qasr on the outskirts of the village of Kenana in the southern al-Gharraf district, which suffers from water scarcity and pollution. Locals use artesian wells in the heart of the river to pump water used for washing after filtering it. (AFP)

“Climate change is expected to exacerbate this situation, and the Middle East is anticipated to be one of the regions most affected by any increases of heat and water stress associated with climate change.”

Bali believes that promoting greater transboundary water cooperation among countries that share water resources is crucial for protection and conservation. 

Fortifying water security requires a comprehensive approach which includes governance of water resources, infrastructure development for water transmission and distribution, tariff reform, and addressing non-revenue water that goes unaccounted for, she said.

“This can involve establishing joint institutions, mechanisms and agreements for water management, monitoring, and sharing, based on the principles of international law and mutual benefit,” she added. 

Bali warns that a spike in temperatures will influence climate patterns and could trigger reductions in net rainfall across the region. At the same time, the region’s projected population growth will increase existing pressures.

Helen Bali, head of water for the environmental consultancy WSP MiddleEast. (Supplied)

“Under these conditions, fossil aquifers will be further depleted, meaning they are yielding less and less water in proportion to the populations they serve,” said Bali.

Measures to address this might include “the implementation of sustainable extraction practices, the promotion of water conservation, and the use of modern technologies for efficient water use and management,” she added.

Acknowledging the pressing need to tackle water scarcity ahead of the 11th World Water Forum to be held in Saudi Arabia in 2027, the Kingdom has established the Global Water Organization, headquartered in Riyadh.

This initiative aims to collaborate with governments and organizations worldwide to tackle water challenges. It also seeks to facilitate the exchange of expertise, promote technological advancements, encourage innovation, and share research to achieve sustainability.

Another initiative proposed by the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is the installation of low-level underground dams on wadis and the diversion of their water into aquifers for future use. 

With a capacity of 79.2 million cubic meters of water, the Wadi Qanuna Dam in Makkah province is considered one of Saudi Arabia’s largest barrages. (SPA)

“Rain is scarce in Saudi Arabia, and when rain does come the water is frequently not fully captured,” said Bali. “One solution to regenerating water resources in depleted aquifers is to expand upon this initiative.”

New technologies could be leveraged in cities to ensure water is sufficiently cleaned to avoid aquifer contamination, while measures can be implemented to boost rainwater harvesting and to make it mandatory for stormwater tanks to focus on replenishing aquifers.

“Recycled water needs to be considered as valuable as potable water,” said Bali. “The associated increases in available recycled water can then be used in more industrial uses such as district cooling, manufacturing, and to irrigate crops that are not intended for human consumption.” 

With the majority of water usage in Saudi Arabia allocated to agriculture and the country’s expanding green spaces, there is a pressing need to prioritize the use of native drought-tolerant plants. 

With Saudi Arabia's green spaces expanding,  there is a pressing need to prioritize the use of native drought-tolerant plants. (Supplied)

Additionally, finding alternatives to cultivating water-intensive crops is crucial to maintaining the nation’s food security aspirations while conserving water resources.

“Using irrigation systems that utilize modern technologies, such as moisture monitoring, can help the Kingdom mitigate water loss in farming activities,” said Bali.

On an individual level, everyone can play a part in reducing water consumption and waste management.

“Water is a valuable and irreplaceable essential resource and yet we have forgotten the extensive efforts it takes to get that water to our taps, not to mention embedded water,” said Dauth. 

“Everyone’s water footprint counts.”

Turkiye to send navy to Somalia after agreeing oil and gas search

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia September 7, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 July 2024

Turkiye to send navy to Somalia after agreeing oil and gas search

  • Turkiye has become a close ally of the Somali government in recent years. Ankara has built schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provided scholarships for Somalis to study in Turkiye

ANKARA: Turkiye is set to send navy support to Somali waters after the two countries agreed Ankara will send an exploration vessel off the coast of Somalia to prospect for oil and gas.
President Tayyip Erdogan submitted a motion to the Turkish parliament late on Friday, seeking authorization for the deployment of Turkish military to Somalia including the country’s territorial waters, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
The move came a day after the Turkish energy ministry announced that Turkiye will send an exploration vessel off the coast of Somalia later this year to search for oil and gas as part of a hydrocarbon cooperation deal between two countries.
Earlier this year, Turkiye and Somalia signed a defense and economic cooperation agreement during Somali defense minister’s visit to Ankara.
Turkiye has become a close ally of the Somali government in recent years. Ankara has built schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provided scholarships for Somalis to study in Turkiye.
In 2017, Turkiye opened its biggest overseas military base in Mogadishu. Turkiye also provides training to Somali military and police.


Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer

Updated 20 July 2024

Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer

  • UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule called on Algeria to “address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges”

ALGIERS: Eight Algerian activists from pro-democracy protests that toppled the country’s last president have been placed in pre-trial detention while six others were released under judicial supervision, one of their lawyers said Friday.
The activists were arrested between July 8 and 15 in Bejaia, some 220 kilometers (136 miles) east of the capital Algiers.
Mira Mokhnache, a university professor and human rights defender, along with seven other activists were placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday by an investigating judge at the Sidi M’Hamed court in downtown Algiers, according to lawyer Fetta Sadat.
The protest movement, known as Hirak, broke out in February 2019 and forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down two months later.
The movement continued to press for deep reforms, but it waned during the Covid pandemic.
The National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD) said that among the eight convicted was a man who was released from prison last month after three years of imprisonment over ties to the pro-democracy protests.
A 16-year-old whistleblower who documented Algerian political prisons on his Facebook page was among those released under judicial supervision, according to Sadat.
Local media said the group was being prosecuted under a 2021 law amendment relating to “terrorism.”
Last year, a United Nations expert called for the repeal of the article that “broadened the definition of terrorism,” and urged Algerian authorities to pardon people convicted or detained over their involvement in the pro-democracy protests.
UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule called on Algeria to “address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges.”
Dozens of people are still detained in Algeria over links to Hirak or human rights activism, according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees.
In February, rights watchdog Amnesty International said that five years after the protests erupted, Algerian authorities had “escalated their repression of peaceful dissent.”
“It is a tragedy that five years after brave Algerians took to the streets in their masses to demand political change and reforms, the authorities have continued to wage a chilling campaign of repression,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, Heba Morayef.
The North African country is readying for presidential elections set to take place on September 7 as the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune remains its frontrunner.


Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials

Updated 20 July 2024

Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials

  • A security source confirmed the blast, adding that it “occurred in a warehouse storing equipment that belongs to Hashed Al-Shaabi”

BAGHDAD: An explosion ripped through “logistics” warehouses belonging to former pro-Iran paramilitaries south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Thursday, officials said.
“At 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT)... an explosion occurred in logistics warehouses belonging to the 42 Brigade... in the Yusufiyah area, south of Baghdad,” said the Hashed Al-Shaabi — an alliance of pro-Iranian former paramilitary groups now integrated into the regular army.
The cause of the blast was not immediately known, and the Hashed said it assigned a committee to investigate.
Firefighters were battling the blaze, it added in a statement.
A security source confirmed the blast, adding that it “occurred in a warehouse storing equipment that belongs to Hashed Al-Shaabi.”
A Hashed official said he did not rule out the possibility of an “air strike.”
In April, one person was killed and eight wounded in a blast at a military base housing Hashed groups in Babylon province, south of Baghdad.
An investigation found the blast was caused by munitions stored on-site, not by an air strike.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi is an integral part of the Iraqi security apparatus under the authority of the prime minister.
It includes some pro-Iran groups which have carried out dozens of attacks against US forces in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The latest blast comes after two drones were launched on Tuesday against an Iraqi base used by US-led troops without causing any damage.


Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike

Updated 20 July 2024

Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike

  • Israel has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory, where fighting raged on Friday

TEL AVIV: Israel threatened reprisals Friday after a drone claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels penetrated its vaunted air defenses and killed a civilian in a Tel Aviv apartment building near a US embassy annexe.
The attack drew condemnation from UN chief Antonio Guterres and an appeal for “maximum restraint” to avoid “further escalation in the region.”
The pre-dawn strike came hours before Israel suffered another blow, a ruling by the UN’s top court that its occupation of the Palestinian territories was “illegal” and needed to end as soon as possible.
The advisory opinion of The Hague-based International Court of Justice is not binding, but it comes amid mounting international condemnation of Israel’s handling of its war on Hamas in Gaza.
The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas hailed the court’s decision as “a victory for justice.” Hamas said it puts “the international system before the imperative of immediate action to end the occupation.”
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has overseen a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, insisted: “The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land.”
The Houthis are one of a number of Iran-backed armed groups around the Middle East that have claimed drone and missile attacks on Israel in retaliation for the Gaza war.
The group, which controls swathes of Yemen, including much of its Red Sea coast, has previously claimed attacks on Israeli cities including Ashdod, Haifa and Eilat, but Friday’s strike appears to be the first to breach Israel’s sophisticated air defenses.
The Houthis fired at Tel Aviv a “new drone called ‘Yafa’, which is capable of bypassing the enemy’s interception systems,” their spokesman Yahya Saree said.
An Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a “very big drone that can travel long distances” was used in the 3:12 am (0012 GMT) attack.
He said the drone was detected but due to “human error” the alarm was not raised in time, and it slammed into an apartment building.
Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel believed the drone used was Iranian-made and upgraded so it could reach Tel Aviv from Yemen — at least 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) away.
Medical services said one civilian was killed and four people suffered “relatively minor” injuries.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed revenge.
“The security system will settle the score with all who try to harm the state of Israel, or sends terrorism against it, in a decisive and surprising manner,” he said in comments posted on social media platform X.

In grainy security camera footage, the buzz of what appeared to be the drone was followed by an explosion that shook the building and set off car alarms.
The blast occurred about 100 meters (yards) from a US embassy annexe, said an AFP journalist who saw broken windows along the street lined with apartment blocks.
“It woke me up because the vibration of the sound was like a 747 (jet) coming in,” said Kenneth Davis, an Israeli who was staying in a hotel opposite the building which was hit.
“And then the explosion... everything blew out in the room,” he told AFPTV.
Since November, the Houthis have also carried out dozens of drone and missile attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they claim is Israeli-linked.
The United States and Britain launched a campaign of air strikes in January to deter the attacks on shipping.
The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory, where fighting raged on Friday.

Residents said clashes were heard between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army, with explosions and shelling in the Tal Al-Hawa district of Gaza City.
The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s housing and other infrastructure, leaving virtually the entire population displaced and short of food and drinking water.
Many are living in unsanitary conditions. Health authorities in Gaza and Israel said on Thursday that poliovirus had been detected in Gaza sewage samples.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that no cases of the highly infectious disease had been discovered in Gaza so far.


Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks

Updated 20 July 2024

Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks

  • Houthis in recent weeks have become more adept at inflicting damage on their targets

CAIRO: Yemen’s Houthi militants hit and damaged a Singapore-flagged container ship with two missiles on Friday as they escalate attacks on global shipping over Israel’s war in Gaza.
The overnight assault on the Lobivia cargo ship came as the Iran-aligned Houthis also claimed responsibility for a fiery, long-range aerial drone strike in the center of Tel Aviv that killed one man and wounded four others.
The Houthis in recent weeks have become more adept at inflictingdamage on their targets. In June, the militants struck the Greek-owned Tutor coal carrier with missiles and an explosive-laden remote-controlled boat, causing it to sink.
Tutor was the second ship sunk in the Houthi campaign against commercial shipping, which since November has killed at least three sailors and upended global trade by forcing ship owners to avoid the Suez Canal trade shortcut.
“Their capacity, their access to more sophisticated weapons, has only increased over the course of this conflict,” said Gerald Feierstein, director of the Arabian Peninsula Affairs Program at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree in a television speech on Friday said the group launched the Lobivia strikes, adding that the assault also included drones. The manager of Lobivia did not immediately comment.
Lobivia was in the Gulf of Aden when the missiles struck two areas on its port side, the Joint Maritime Information Center (JMIC) said in an incident report.
The ship was located 83 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s port city of Aden during the attack. All crew are reported safe and the ship was returning to its last port of call, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said.
“The ship was transiting northeast along the Gulf of Aden when a merchant vessel in the vicinity observed ‘light and blast’ where the ship was located,” British security firm Ambrey said.
The ship appeared to perform evasive maneuvers immediately and switch off her automatic identification system approximately an hour later, Ambrey said.
On Tuesday, the Houthis hit the Liberia-flagged oil tanker Chios Lion with a drone boat, causing damage to the port side that left an oily trail that experts said appeared to be fuel.
Britain and the US have conducted retaliatory strikes since February, shooting down drones and bombing attack sites in Yemen.
That has come at a significant cost, said Feierstein, who was the US Ambassador to the Republic of Yemen from 2010 to 2013 under President Barack Obama.
“We’re basically spending a million dollars every time we shoot down a Radio Shack drone. That’s wearing on the Navy and wearing on our supplies,” he said.