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Syria reservoir dries up for first time

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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

‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’

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‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’ story published on IPS is not an exceptional story. All republics of the MENA region have put up efforts at establishing a stable and representative rule that has proven universally unsuccessful.  Have they become therefore failed states living on borrowed time?

Let us find out in this remarkable article.

The image above is for illustration and is of the UNEP.

‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’

By Theodore van der Pluijm

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, Nov 9 2021 (IPS) – Tensions and hostilities persisted until early 2019 when the regime of Omar al-Bashir – to a large extent symbolized by oppressing minority groups in the Darfurs, Blue Nile state and South Kordofan – finally ended. Meanwhile, many inhabitants of the Nuba Mountains and other parts of South Kordofan, had escaped to South Sudan, which had become independent in 2011. There, they found, however, a country with even more interethnic strains and assaults, resulting, in addition to the innumerable internally displaced persons, the flight of 2.3 million citizens to six countries in the region. An area characterized by perpetual political and ethnic tensions which often resulted in border crossings in opposite ways. The present case of refugees from Ethiopia to the Republic of Sudan is an example of this phenomenon in the IGAD-region. (The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is an eight-country trade bloc in Africa that includes governments from the Horn of Africa, the Nile Valley and the African Great Lakes. Its headquarters is in Djibouti City).

The author on the road between Dilling and Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan in February 1999. Through the ‘Juba Peace Agreement’ of October 2020, internal reconciliation would finally be realized in The Sudan. By this, creating an environment in which sustained rural and agricultural development programs could be implemented without major ideological or inter-ethnic frictions, including in Darfur and in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan.

The Transitional Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok aimed at political and ethnic appeasement in order to foster development initiatives all over the country. However, the military coup led by general Al-Burhan arrested Hamdok and all other civilian members of this interim government. Once again, many people went into the streets to protest. Once more demonstrators were arrested or killed. In addition, during the past two weeks, the pressure from outside has gained momentum. The US and other countries, now even including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have urged Al-Burhan to release all persons and to return to civilian rule with Hamdok as Prime Minister.

The book ‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’ – published in May 2021 with 142 pp. containing a large number of pictures taken in the field – is about efforts by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a United Nations specialized agency and financing institution, aimed at designing of and monitoring the implementation of agricultural and rural development projects in the Republic of The Sudan. The country has ample natural resources for achieving food security and adequate income and living standards for the entire population, including the inhabitants of rural areas where there are no armed conflicts.

More specifically, the purpose of this book is to show how local data are collected as indispensable tools for the preparation of new development projects or for the supervision of on-going investment programs. Considering the latter, the book starts with the process of data-gathering during a supervision mission for the World Bank-led Southern Region Agricultural Project (SRAP) in October 1980, about two years after its start. This promising region-wide scheme, however, had to be terminated already in 1984, an effect of the conflict between the central government and forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

The way of assembling information during the formulation mission in early 1999 for the design of the South Kordofan Rural Development Project is reflected in parts Three, Four and Five of the book. During meetings in villages and hamlets, we were impressed both by the willingness of the local authorities to provide maximum information and the friendliness and openness of the inhabitants – families and individuals – in the way they received us and provided their opinions.

This project started its promising operations at the end of the year 2000. However, also in this case, during its implementation, time and time again, project activities have been affected by armed conflicts between government forces – frequently assisted by militias – and insurgents, historically located in the Nuba Mountains and other zones of South Kordofan. However, different from the SRAP, its implementation could continue. Nevertheless, as part Six in the book explains, time-wise and regionally, project activities had frequently to be halted in order to avoid clashes and combats. Moreover, in the final stages of 2012-2013, project activities had to be stopped, when, despite the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CAP), hostilities in South Kordofan expanded significantly.

(On 19 December 2018, a few weeks before starting this book, I visited the ambassador of the Republic of Sudan in The Netherlands. During an informative, frank and pleasant meeting, I stressed that the time had come for President Omar al-Bashir to change his policies radically. Evidently, I was completely unaware that on the very same day in the historic city of Atbara, massive protests took place. These eventually triggered demonstrations and protests all over the country in which women played a major role. Finally, on 11 April 2019 Al Bashir was arrested. A promising era could commence).

The author of the book is a former United Nations IFAD senior official who was Director of the Near East and North Africa Division., in addition to other responsibilities.

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Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events

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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.”

FASTFACTS

* 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.”

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Regional Integration in the MENA region

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Opinions|World Bank

Some views expressed in this article are by David R Malpass, President of the World Bank Group and posted on Al Jazeera‘s blog tell us that the World Bank is concerned with the Regional Integration in the MENA region, hence a call for action.

MENA countries are on the cusp of important regional integration initiatives that will provide much needed efficiency gains, diversification, trust building and green growth.

Published On 28 Oct 2021

Countries of the MENA region today have a strong economic incentive to accelerate their efforts at regional integration, writes Malpass [Johannes P Christo/Reuters]

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a region of abundant human and natural resources, shared culture and languages and a well-established heritage of skill in trade. With a total population close to that of the European Union, the MENA region is, however, the least economically integrated in the world. As they strive to create more jobs, attract more investment, boost growth and recover from the pandemic, countries of the MENA region today have a strong economic incentive to accelerate their efforts at regional integration.

The MENA region has been at the crossroads of regional trade throughout history. Countries have previously established a host of multilateral, regional, and bilateral trade agreements, with limited tangible outcomes. The benefits of regional integration include growth spillovers, larger markets, and production scale economies. These are well recognised by MENA economists, traders and farmers alike. What is lacking is not a rationale or capacity to integrate, but rather a sense of urgency to prioritise and move forward with integration.

Opportunities for regional integration include energy and water and certain geographic regions within MENA. These would benefit from advanced dialogue, foundational technical work, and the promise of strong and near-immediate positive economic impact.

With the exception of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the energy sector in MENA is interconnected but not integrated. This means only two percent of the electricity produced in the MENA region is traded between countries each year. Recognising the benefits, the Arab Ministerial Councils for Electricity (AMCE), under the League of Arab States (LAS), has prioritised the establishment of a Pan-Arab Electricity Market (PAEM). The World Bank is engaged in this initiative and has been offering technical assistance and advice. Indeed, the PAEM has the ambitious objective to increase cross-border electricity trade from the current two percent to 40 percent by 2035. This will equip the MENA region with one of the largest multi-country integrated systems in the world – producing a total generation capacity of more than 600 gigawatts by 2035.

In North Africa, scaling up existing regional energy with Europe’s Mediterranean countries should also be expanded. At my recent meeting with Arab Governors during the World Bank Group Annual Meetings, I emphasised the need to sustain and accelerate these critical regional energy initiatives and to prioritise actions that will help alleviate demand and supply imbalances across many countries of the MENA region.

The fact that most of the MENA region’s water is shared also presents an opportunity to accelerate regional integration efforts. In the MENA region, all major river basins, tributaries, and groundwater aquifers are considered shared waters. As pressure increases due to climate change, population growth and development it will become increasingly important to develop adequate frameworks for advancing regional cooperation. There is a broad range of global examples that showcase the power of water as a catalyser for cooperation. As a result, strengthening transboundary water cooperation can be a powerful tool not only for improving water security in the countries in the region, but also for promoting economic prosperity and greater cooperation.

Finally, and as described in the recent update of the World Bank Group’s approach to Regional Integration in Africa, it is critical to strengthen and enable the strong historical and socioeconomic linkages that exist between countries of the Maghreb and those of sub-Saharan Africa. In anticipation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), now is the time to expand and deepen existing platforms for regional cooperation, including in agriculture and digital sectors where progress is most needed, and to explore additional opportunities for regional integration between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

While the challenges of establishing – and sustaining – regional trade, infrastructure and institutions are significant, MENA countries are on the cusp of important regional integration initiatives that will provide much-needed efficiency gains, diversification, trust-building and green growth – all of which will play a catalytic role in economic growth and poverty reduction in MENA. The World Bank Group is ready to play a part in furthering this forward-looking agenda.


David R Malpass, President of the World Bank GroupDavid R Malpass was named President of the World Bank Group in April 2019. Malpass previously served for eleven years in US government roles at the US Treasury, State Department, Senate Budget Committee, and Congress’s Joint Economic Committee. In between government service, he worked for twenty-four years on Wall Street as a top-ranked economist, a columnist with Forbes magazine, and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal. Malpass earned a degree in physics at Colorado College as a Boettcher Scholar, an MBA from the University of Denver, and studied as a Mid-Career Fellow at Georgetown University.

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

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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.

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