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Syria reservoir dries up for first time


Water supply in the Levant like in the whole of the MENA region, is raryfying especially in Syria where a reservoir dries up for the first time.

The above image is that of a rowing boat that lies grounded on the exposed lake bed of Syria’s Duwaysat Dam reservoir after it dried up completely for the first time in its 27-year history Abdulaziz KETAZ AFP.

Duwaysāt (Syria) (AFP) – Low rainfall, structural damage and extraction by struggling farmers have emptied a key reservoir in northwestern Syria, leaving it completely dry for the first time, farmers and officials told AFP.

With man-made climate change increasing the frequency of drought and wildfires worldwide, Syria is experiencing one of its driest and hottest years on record after historically low rainfall last winter.

The reservoir formed by Al-Duwaysat Dam in Idlib province, a key irrigation source for thousands of farmers, has completely dried up for the first time in its 27-year history.

The exposed lakebed is parched to a crisp in many places, a sinister expanse littered with stranded rowing boats, animal skulls and dead trees.

A few shallow pools remain, around which small flocks of sheep graze on new shoots.

According to the World Bank, the reservoir has a capacity of a 3.6 million cubic metres (38.8 million square feet) and is mainly used for irrigation and water supply.

“Because of drought and low rainfall, we can now walk on the floor of the reservoir,” its managing engineer Maher al-Hussein said, recalling that it was full to capacity just two years ago.

Low rainfall last winter left the reservoir half-full and all the water was used for irrigation by farmers trying to save their crops, Hussein said.

Damage to the main pipeline that feeds water from the reservoir to irrigation networks has led to significant leakages, further reducing the volume that reaches the fields, he added.

A shepherd waters his flock from the small pools that are all that is left of the reservoir following successive years of low rainfall Abdulaziz KETAZ AFP

“It is the first time the reservoir has dried out since it was built in 1994,” Hussein said.

He said around 800 families depended on the reservoir to irrigate 150 hectares (370 acres) of farmland.

“For 10 years we have come to this reservoir,” said cattle farmer Abu Joumaa. “If God does not send us good rainfall that could fill the reservoir this year… people won’t be able to grow crops they rely on to make a living.”

© 2021 AFP

Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events


A greater number of Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events. It is a story by Kareem Botane and Robert Edwards in Arab News and it does give us a down to earth picture of this region of the MENA as illustrated by the image above of AN Photos/Kareem Botane.

All along the banks of the once-mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years.

  • Once flourishing communities along Tigris River face existential crisis as high temperatures become the norm
  • Iraq’s President Barham Salih says climate change is by far the most serious long-term threat facing the country

MOSUL / BOGOTA: Caked in the fine yellow dust kicked up by his tractor-drawn planter, Farman Noori Latif jumps down to survey his work. He has spent the morning sowing wheat seed on his farm near the banks of the Tigris River, just south of Mosul in northern Iraq.

It is late in the season to be sowing wheat, but the 30-year-old has been holding out for a much-needed spell of autumn rain. The earth might still be parched under the baking sun but it is now or never if he wants his crops in the ground before winter sets in.

“Today is November 2 and the weather is hot. It shouldn’t be like this,” Latif told Arab News as he inspected the soil he and his family have farmed for four generations. “We are supposed to have this weather in September, not now.”

Latif is not alone in fighting a losing battle against the elements. The UN Environment Program’s sixth Global Environmental Outlook report, published in 2019, ranked Iraq fifth on the list of countries most vulnerable in terms of water and food availability and extreme temperatures.

All along the banks of the once-mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years, forcing many among the rural population to abandon the land in search of work in the cities.

“We have lost everything due to the lack of rain and the hot weather,” Ameer Khthr Yousif, a 30-year-old farmer and fisherman selling his catch on a Qayyarah roadside, told Arab News.

“We farmers depend on the Tigris River for our agriculture. If the situation continues, everyone here will leave farming to find other sources of income.”

Average temperatures in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and extreme heat events are becoming more frequent. According to the World Bank, mean annual temperatures in Iraq are expected to rise by 2 C by 2050, and mean annual rainfall to decrease by 9 percent.

Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years, according to the UN, leaving the country’s aquifers unreplenished and raising the salinity of the remaining groundwater.

“The groundwater has dried out here,” Latif said. “I have a well that is 30 meters deep without any water in it. All the wells here have dried out. Even if there is water in any of these wells, it will be red in color or salty.”

Hazim Mahamad Ebrahim, 60, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Soil degradation is causing dust storms to increase in scale and frequency. Between 1951 and 1990, Iraq experienced an average of 24 days a year with dust storms. In 2013, there were 122, according to the UN.

In an op-ed for the Financial Times, published on Oct. 31 to coincide with the start of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said the economic and environmental effects of climate change are “by far the most serious long-term threat” facing the country.

“Very high temperatures are becoming more common, drought more frequent and dust storms more intense,” Salih said. “Desertification affects 39 percent of Iraq’s territory and increased salinization threatens agriculture on 54 percent of our land.”

Neighboring countries are also experiencing more frequent droughts and rising temperatures, leading to regional water disputes. Iraq’s water ministry said this year that water flows from Iran and Turkey had fallen by 50 percent during the summer.

“Dams on the headwaters and tributaries of the historic Tigris and Euphrates Rivers — the lifeblood of our country — have reduced water flow, leading to shortages,” Salih said. “According to Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, our country could face a shortfall of as much as 10.8 billion cubic meters of water annually by 2035.”

Farman Noori Latif, 30, a farmer and contractor from the village of Muhssin, Qarach area, Makhmur, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Salih said he is all too aware of the threat climate change poses to a country utterly reliant on oil revenues, whose booming youth population is simmering with pent-up frustration.

“Iraq’s population is projected to double from 40 million people today to 80 million by 2050, just as our income, largely based on oil production, will be drastically reduced as a result of the world abandoning fossil fuels as it moves to sustainable, clean energy,” he said.

“The loss of income may very well result in migration to cities whose infrastructure is even now incapable of supporting the existing population. This migration may well result in extremism and insecurity as young people are unable to find jobs that give them a decent standard of living.”


* Average temps. in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees since 1921.

* Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years.

* In 2013, Iraq experienced at least 122 days with dust storms.

Mohammed Abdullah Ibrahim, who has farmed his patch of land in Qayyarah for decades, said he has seen dramatic changes in the climate during his lifetime.

“I have been a farmer since the 1970s and I have never seen it this bad before,” the 64-year-old told Arab News.

Water shortages have forced local farmers to abandon many of the water-intensive fruit and vegetable crops once grown here. Among those that still grow, yields have halved, said Ibrahim.

“Before, it was sufficient,” he added. “You could grow enough and make a profit. In the past, we were employed only in farming; we did not need a job or salaries. But things have changed now. We have to find another job to make a living.

“If the situation continues like this, we will be entering a very dark future. The young generation will end up unemployed.”

Ibrahim’s neighbor, Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, has also observed a significant change in the local climate. “The heat wave we had last year, we have never had it like that before,” he told Arab News. “I am 56 years old; I have never experienced heat like that in my life.

Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, 56, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. Credit: (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

“I know many farmers who have left their land and given up on farming. If the situation continues, I am afraid we will all move to the cities and leave farming behind, migrating from the villages because there will be nothing left for us to stay for.”

It is not only arable crop farmers who are struggling in the fierce heat. Sparse pasture, limited fodder and a shortage of fresh water have forced livestock farmers to sell or even cull their animals.

“Our animals have begun dying due to drought and the lack of rain,” Jamal Ali, a 49-year-old shepherd from Makhmur, told Arab News.

“Animals are very expensive these days. We have to buy fodder for our sheep and cows because our land cannot produce enough food for them due to the late rainy season and drought. We had to sell our sheep in order to compensate (for the loss). We have lost 50 percent of our income from animals and farming due to climate change.”

Dehydration has led to serious veterinary health problems among livestock, affecting their reproductive health.

“The changing climate has created many diseases among the animals,” said Ali. “The most common is birth defects. It is all due to the lack of rain and water.”

Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, 51, a farmer and mayor of Hoot Al-Foqani, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, mayor of the Qayyarah village of Hoot Al-Foqani, said the federal government in Baghdad has done little to subsidize farming and help prevent climate-induced rural displacement.

“We have lost more than 100,000 hectares of land due to the lack of rain and water. We have fewer animals compared to before, especially sheep,” he said.

“About 50 or 60 farmers have left here so far. We need support from international organizations as we already know that the government has limited capabilities. We hope they can do something for us, otherwise, the number of animals and farmers will decline in the coming years.”

Although the Iraqi government has launched a UN-backed National Adaptation Plan to improve the country’s resilience to climate change, few of the benefits have trickled down to sun-scorched farming communities along the Tigris.

Kneeling in the powdery earth to uproot a spindly yellow plant, Latif said Iraq’s farmers urgently need outside help if their way of life is to survive the relentlessly changing weather patterns.

“We have lost our hope in the Iraqi government; we want foreign countries to help us,” he said. “We do not have any other means of making a living. Farming is our only hope and without it, I cannot imagine how it will be.”


Sinkholes on receding Dead Sea shore mark ‘nature’s revenge’


Let us find out why Sinkholes on receding Dead Sea shore mark ‘nature’s revenge’. Really? The explanation is on Phys.org.

The above image is for illustration and is of NRDC Maps.

In the heyday of the Ein Gedi spa in the 1960s, holidaymakers could marinate in heated pools and then slip into the briny Dead Sea. Now the same beach is punctured by craters.

A spectacular expanse of water in the desert, flanked by cliffs to east and west, the Dead Sea has lost a third of its surface area since 1960.

Hikers walk next to sinkholes in the southern part of the Dead Sea.

The blue water recedes about a metre (yard) every year, leaving behind a lunar landscape whitened by salt and perforated with gaping holes.

Going forward, “you might be lucky to have a channel of water here, that people will be able to put their toes in,” laments Alison Ron, a resident of Ein Gedi who once worked at the spa.

“But there will be a lot of sinkholes.”

The sinkholes can exceed 10 metres (33 feet) in depth and are a testament to the shrinking sea. Receding salt water leaves behind underground salt deposits. Runoff from periodic flash floods then percolates into the ground and dissolves the salt patches. Without support, the land above collapses.

Ghost town

At the Ein Gedi thermal baths, the roughly three kilometres (two miles) of rocky sand that now separate the spa from the shore are dotted with holes and crevices.

Further north, a whole tourist complex has turned into a ghost town, disfigured by craters and enclosed in fences. The pavement is gutted, the lampposts overturned, the date plantation abandoned.

The Dead Sea has lost a third of its surface area since 1960, receding by about a metre every year.

Ittai Gavrieli of the Israel Geological Institute told AFP there are now thousands of sinkholes all around the shores of the Dead Sea, in Jordan, Israel and the occupied West Bank.

They reflect human policy that has literally decimated the flow of water into the Dead Sea. Both Israel and Jordan have diverted the waters of the River Jordan for agriculture and drinking water. Chemical companies have extracted minerals from the seawater.

Climate change further accelerates evaporation. In Sodom, Israel, southwest of the Dead Sea, the country’s highest temperature in over 70 years was recorded in July 2019—49.9 degrees Celsius, or nearly 122 Fahrenheit.

‘Nature’s revenge’

Gavrieli said the Israel Geological Institute is monitoring the formation of sinkholes from space but it is not an exact science.

He said they are certainly “dangerous” but also “magnificent.”

There are now thousands of sinkholes all around the shores of the Dead Sea.

“It has potential to become a tourist attraction, if you’re willing to take the risk on one hand and if insurance issues are clear,” he said.

Much too perilous, answers Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the NGO EcoPeace, for whom the sinkholes are “nature’s revenge” for “the inappropriate actions of humankind”.

“We will not be able to bring back the Dead Sea to its former glory,” he said. “But we are demanding that we stabilise it.”

His organisation, comprised of Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists, advocates increased desalination of seawater from the Mediterranean to relieve pressure on the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan, which could then flow back to the Dead Sea.

EcoPeace would also like the industry to be “held accountable” by paying more taxes.

Inescapable decline

Asked by AFP, a spokesman for Jordan’s water ministry offered no detailed fix for the crisis. Instead, he said the donor community should play a “vital role” in sparking interest “to find reasonable solutions to the Dead Sea problem”.

A hiker stands atop crystalised minerals in the Israeli Kibbutz Ein Gedi area on the shores of the Dead Sea.

In June, Jordan abandoned a long-stalled proposal to build a canal with Israel and the Palestinians to carry water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Instead, Amman announced it would build a desalination plant to supply drinking water.

Even if the canal had been built, it could not have saved the lake on its own, said hydrologist Eran Halfi of the Dead Sea-Arava Science Center.

“The Dead Sea is at a deficit of one billion cubic metres per year and this was supposed to bring 200 million cubic metres,” he said. “It would slow the drop but not prevent it.”

So is the Dead Sea doomed to evaporate? Scientists say its decline is inevitable for at least the next 100 years. Sinkholes will keep spreading over the century.

However, the lake could reach an equilibrium because as its surface decreases, the water becomes saltier and evaporation slows down.

Scientists say the Dead Sea’s decline is inevitable, and that sinkholes will keep spreading over the next 100 years.

In Ein Gedi, Ron said that forecast gave her little satisfaction. By diverting rivers and building factories, she said, “man has interfered”.

“We have to be ashamed of ourselves that we have allowed this to happen,” she said.



A new model could help stall shifting sand dunes


EurekAlert Publication of this article on a new model could help stall shifting sand dunes as proposed by the University of Cambridge could interest scientists and environmentalists, etc. of the MENA countries.

A new model could help stall shifting sand dunes, protecting infrastructure and ecosystems

The above image is for illustration and is of Berber Planet.

Cambridge scientists have used downscaled laboratory models to show how sand dunes move through a landscape, revealing the conditions that determine whether they will pass through hurdles in their path – like pipelines or walls — or get stopped in their tracks.

The team’s experiment – which featured mock-up obstacles of varying size and shape – shows that large obstacles are the most effective at halting the migration of a dune, especially when they are ridge-shaped, like a wall, rather than smooth and cylindrical, like a pipeline.  

The model, published in Physical Review Fluids, is the first to describe interactions between sand dunes and obstacles.

By analysing how currents are deflected in the presence of an obstacle, they were also able to develop an efficient, data-driven tool which aims to forecast how a dune will interact with its surroundings.

The research could help in the design of more effective barriers that can, for instance, stop sand dunes invading agricultural land. It could also be used to protect sand dunes and their unique ecosystems from damage.

“Moving sand dunes impact people and their livelihoods directly; across the world and in a range of environments,” said lead author Karol Bacik, who conducted the experiments as a PhD student in the Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). “By revealing the physics behind dune-obstacle interactions, this work gives us the guiding principles we need to divert or halt dunes – mitigating damage.”

As deserts continue to expand, sand dunes pose an increasing risk to the built environment: swallowing up roads and houses whole as they engulf the land. In a similar way, dunes on the seabed can block shipping routes and even compromise the safety of underwater cables and pipelines.

But in certain locations, rather than stopping the sand dune moving, it can be preferable for a dune to move through an obstacle as quickly as possible. Take pipelines, for instance, which can be damaged if buried under the weight of a stationary dune for too long.

Bacik’s work shows how obstacles of varying design should be selected to fit the desired outcome, “If you want the dune the pass, make the obstacle as smooth and rounded as possible – if you want to halt it, make it as sharp as possible,” said Bacik.

The research is one of a series of experiments Nathalie Vriend – who is based jointly at Cambridge’s BP Institute for Multiphase Flow, the Department of Earth Sciences and DAMTP – has been leading experiments to understand why sand dunes move like they do. “Sand is fascinating: pour some from your hand and it flows like a liquid….then, when it lands, it makes a solid heap,” she said. “But toss it into the air and it blows along like a gas. It’s ability to morph between states like this makes it a real challenge to model how sand moves.”

The team made a ring-shaped tank to contain their sand dunes, which can travel in circuits, almost like a ‘merry-go-round’. By submerging the dunes in water, and disturbing the flow with paddles, they were able to reconstruct how the dunes are moved by water currents. They then put obstacles of varying size and shape in the path of the moving dunes to observe their effect.

“We can see evidence of sand dunes moving right in front of us, but what’s fascinating is their movement is all down to the hidden flow of water currents or wind patterns,” said Bacik, “You can’t see the curling tails of turbulence until you use a visualisation technique…and its only then, once you have done a fluid analysis, that you can really understand why sand dunes move like they do.”

The researchers’ ultimate goal is to model sand dune movements in more complex and realistic, three-dimensional, landscapes in addition to exploring the wind-blown dunes found in deserts. Ideally, they would like to be able to pinpoint a location on a map, input information on weather, air or water currents, and predict whether a dune would pass over a specific obstacle. Although these numerical simulations would be more complex, their new experiments serve as an important validation benchmark for continued exploration.

Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future


A write up that is concerned not only about the Middle East but the whole of the MENA region was authored by Kelly Boyd Anderson in the Arab News. It is about those Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future. Are these as realistic as they should be?

Are those Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future

The Middle East and North Africa region has long thwarted efforts to predict its future. However, while there will always be unpredictable events, identifying the trends and other factors most likely to shape the region’s outlook is a helpful place to start.
There are multiple regional analyses and foresight projects from think tanks, educational institutions and other experts, including the EU Institute for Security Studies, the Middle East Scholar Barometer, and the Middle East Institute. Drawing on these and other studies, there are several factors that many experts believe will be key in shaping the MENA region over the next five to 10 years.
Global factors will affect the region; in turn, MENA will have an impact on the world. One major shift with global consequences is the rise of regional powers with the resources to pursue their own interests and exert influence abroad. Regional powers will increasingly shape the region’s future and how it interacts with global actors. The regional countries will have to manage changes in America’s role, along with China’s growing power.
Climate change is another trend with global and regional effects. MENA will experience some of the most severe consequences of climate change. The region’s resilience will depend on how successfully its governments improve infrastructure, pursue sustainable development and implement adaptation strategies over the next decade.
At the same time, as a major source of hydrocarbons, the region contributes to climate change and must be part of global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. There is significant potential for the region to become a leader in renewable energy and in technologies to limit emissions, but governments need to increase investments in these areas.
The pandemic will have long-term impacts on global business, economics and health, and these will affect MENA. The pandemic accelerated or shifted global developments in business, economics and technology that will have consequences in the region, including advances and changes in artificial intelligence, supply chains, travel and more. These global shifts will create opportunities and risks for governments and businesses. In particular, developing high-quality, accessible digital infrastructure is key to ensuring the region can compete globally.
Other factors that will shape the future are specific to the region. Demographic change will continue to play a major role in MENA’s economic and social context. The region’s population growth has started to slow, but its famous “youth bulge” will remain important over the next decade.
The region still has an opportunity to benefit from a “demographic dividend,” but this will require urgent job creation, including educational reforms to better prepare young people for the workforce. Migration within and out of MENA will be another key demographic factor, with impacts beyond the region.
Unfortunately, war and its aftermath will also play a crucial role. The conflict in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands, caused widespread displacement inside the country and historic refugee flows to other countries and left 90 percent of the population living in poverty.
Libya, too, has experienced civil war. Ending and recovering from these conflicts will require enormous resources over the coming years, with long-lasting social, economic and political consequences.
There is also a risk that areas of instability could descend into war. Iraq and Lebanon are experiencing violence and widespread dysfunction, with the potential to again become conflict hotspots. Many countries across the region face governance crises, being unable or unwilling to respond to the public’s needs and concerns.
While the initial political changes that stemmed from the 2011 Arab Spring protests have been rolled back, the uprisings demonstrated that popular movements are important players in the region. Many countries have continued to experience significant protests. In a Middle East Scholar Barometer survey earlier this year, 30 percent of experts said that the “uprisings are likely to return within the next 10 years,” while 46 percent said that the “uprisings never stopped and are still ongoing in different forms.”
Global and regional economic factors will also drive change. Youth unemployment is one of the region’s greatest challenges, making job creation and educational reform essential. Aging infrastructure, uneven access to the internet, food insecurity, and large fiscal deficits are other key issues.

One major shift with global consequences is the rise of regional powers with the resources to pursue their own interests and exert influence abroad.

Kerry Boyd Anderson

However, the region has significant economic opportunities, including a young population that is interested in entrepreneurship and is familiar with digital tools, the potential to expand women’s participation in the workforce, and significant space to expand the private sector. The extent to which governments and businesses implement policies to utilize these opportunities and manage the challenges will determine much of the future.
There are many other relevant factors, including the closing window on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the role of violent extremist groups such as Daesh, the challenges and opportunities of increasing urbanization, and the uneven distribution of assets and risks around the region.
The future is impossible to predict. However, by identifying the trends and factors that are likely to shape the coming years, leaders can prepare to mitigate risks and build on opportunities. People can have conversations about what type of future they prefer and work toward it, rather than being carried along by the tides of history.

Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 18 years of experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica. Twitter: @KBAresearch