Every country in the world faces water-related challenges, underscoring our collective dependence on the planet’s most vital resource. But instead of pursuing the systemic changes needed to address this crisis, the world’s governments are bowing to corporate interests and settling for insufficient incremental reforms.
LONDON – In March 1977, representatives from 116 countries gathered in Mar del Plata, Argentina, for the inaugural United Nations Water Conference. At the time, the event received very little attention. Global politics was dominated by a handful of powerful countries, most of them in temperate regions where water scarcity, severe pollution, and flooding were not considered major issues.
The atmosphere at this year’s UN Water Conference, which took place in New York in March, was markedly different. Instead of apathy, there was a palpable sense that the water crisis is a global problem. Today, every country in the world faces water-related challenges, underscoring our collective vulnerability as the planet’s most vital natural resource is increasingly threatened. The robust engagement of the scientific community and civil society was also instrumental in shedding light on the far-reaching consequences of this crisis.
Unsurprisingly, the countries that were most at risk in 1977 are even more vulnerable today. The reckless exploitation of the planet has accelerated humanity’s breach of planetary boundaries. The long-anticipated sea-level rise is now submerging vast areas, while deserts are expanding at an alarming rate as water sources diminish and aquifers become depleted. Meanwhile, pollutants from human waste, along with the byproducts of industrial activities, contaminate our rivers, lakes, and oceans. At a time of growing scarcity, our seemingly insatiable thirst for consumption has aggravated these trends.
The fact that some remain unaffected by this crisis attests to their privilege. While many experience environmental degradation on a spiritual level, some of the world’s poorest populations face immediate and tangible consequences as they try to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
Much like the response to the climate crisis, the response to the water crisis suffers from a lack of global coordination and opposition from entrenched interests seeking to prevent crucial reforms. As the Indian environmental activist Vandana Shivaputs it, “When the rich, powerful, and dominant economic forces of society” exceed their fair share of Earth’s resources, “indigenous communities and minority groups are deprived of their share of water for life and livelihoods.” This, she writes, forces entire communities “to carry the heavy burden of water poverty.”
A recent petition proposed by prominent water-rights activist Rajendra Singh offers a potential path forward. Singh, chairman of the People’s World Commission on Drought and Flood, outlines ten critical transformations required to restore water harmony. By transcending anthropocentrism, his proposed pledge aims to rejuvenate the global water cycle and harness its immense power to promote the well-being of all living things.
At the heart of Singh’s pledge lies the bedrock principle of climate-oriented thinking: a complete system overhaul. This perspective views humanity as part of a much larger whole that encompasses the diverse species with which we share our planet. Instead of commodifying natural resources for profit and relentless consumption, this ethos encourages people to be mindful of the potential consequences of their actions and commit to repairing any damage they cause.
This raises three fundamental questions. First, what actions are required to address the global water crisis? Second, which key stakeholders must step up? Third, how can we ensure that these stakeholders implement vital systemic changes?
For too long, policymakers have emphasized minor changes in household consumption habits, thereby unfairly shifting the burden to families and communities whose contributions to the water crisis have been negligible. The root causes of water scarcity are large-scale industrial production, lack of attention to quality, and the failure to address rampant pollution. At the macro level, extractive industries and an economic system centered on profit maximization drive the increase in global temperatures, further disrupting water cycles.
While reducing household consumption is important, it pales in comparison to the potential impact of forcing corporations to adopt sustainable practices. But the increasingly symbiotic relationship between politics and big-business interests complicates this task. Instead of pursuing systemic changes, the world’s most powerful governments have opted for incremental reforms to create the appearance of commitment.
The recent UN Water Conference underscored the urgency of today’s crisis. If governments are unwilling or unable to pursue the necessary structural reforms, they must be replaced by political leaders with the vision and determination to overhaul the systems that jeopardize the natural resource sustaining all life on Earth.
Growing up in India, I observed the country’s relentless drive to catch up with wealthier economies. By investing in higher education, building roads and hospitals, and boosting economic growth through consumption and increased production, the thinking went, India could become richer and eliminate poverty. The mainstream education system frequently championed the commodification of nature, anthropocentric dominance, and extractivism. It revered the architects of our flawed economic system, treating their words as sacrosanct.
Indigenous communities have long warned that such “progress” was misguided, but they were dismissed as hidebound and out of touch with reality. As climate change disrupts water and food systems around the world, many now recognize the prescience of these warnings. Given that we might be the last generation capable of mitigating the worst effects of the water crisis, it is our responsibility to hold accountable those who are exploiting the planet for personal gain.
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The “Cizre Dam” project to be built on the Tigris River in Cizre was approved. Many settlements will be flooded by the new dam.
20 Aug 2023
The Tigris River passes through the Cizre region of Şirnak and runs along the borders of the Federated Kurdistan Region before flowing into the Persian Gulf. A new dam will be built on the Tigris River, which is considered the longest river in the Middle East with a length of 2,800 kilometres. The project is called “Cizre Dam” and was put out to bid on 24 May 2013, but was suspended due to various disagreements.
In the decision taken by the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change on 29 April 2019, the “Environmental Impact Assessment prepared and finalized for the Cizre Dam and HEPP (Energy, Drinking Water, Irrigation) to be carried out by the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSI) was found sufficient by the Investigation and Evaluation Commission and was accepted as final.”
The “Cizre Dam” will be the 10th dam on the Tigris River, and the second largest dam after the Ilısu Dam built on the river.
The project of the dam, which has been the subject of a harsh debate for years, was accepted on 16 August. However, it is not known when the construction of the dam will begin. As it happened with other dams, this new one will mean that many species living in the Tigris River will once again be in danger of extinction.
The Tigris River also provides water to the South Kurdistan Region and its government as well as the Iraqi government will face a major water crisis with the completion of the dam. It is claimed that the dam, which will be built with a height of 40 meters and a water storage volume of 381 million cubic meters, will be completed within three years.
AKP Şırnak MP Arslan Tatar announced on his social media account that the tender for the dam has come into effect and said: “The tender for the construction of the Cizre Dam and HEPP project, which was designed for Energy + Drinking Water + Irrigation purposes and is a key project within the scope of the South-eastern Anatolia Project (GAP), has been assigned. Construction work should begin as soon as possible and complete it within 3 years so to quickly start energy production.”
After the 14 May elections, the first act of the AKP in Sirnak was securing the tender for the dam project, despite the catastrophic effects it will have on the environment. According to the project, the dam is expected to be built below the town of Qesirk (Kasrik), which separates the Cudi and Gabar Mountains, and the village of Misûriyê. The project will also affect many roads, vineyards and settlements that, as it happened with the Ilisu dam, will be flooded.
A transboundary groundwater agreement between two adjoining countries in the Middle East could be a first in the MENA region. Here are some thoughts.
The above-featured image is for illustration and is of MEED.
Al Disi aquifer is an essential source of fresh water for the area between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, especially for this part of the land’s high temperature and dry climate. It is due to its efficiency in sustainable water development with the environmental and ecological balance. This aquifer lies in a massive area of almost all of Jordan and extends to the size of Tabuk in Saudi Arabia, compromising a confined groundwater aquifer. At the beginning of 1977, Saudi Arabia and Jordan started to extract water from the aquifer for different purposes. This situation had been changed in the early 80s when most of the water production from Disi was taken to the City of Aqaba, which depended on this water source mainly for municipal and local consumption at that period. The city of Aqaba is assumed to be an area of free trade that depends on many economic activities like tourism and investments, and from that era, the government and many research groups in Jordan knew the economic and ecological value of this source and both governments in 1983 started to use this water excessively in agriculture. For example, a Jordanian farming corporation (Rum Farms) increased its water abstraction from the Disi aquifer from 1.2 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) per year in the 80s to 55 MCM/year in 2001.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia increased its consumption from 50 MCM/per year in the 80s to 91 MCM in 2004 for agricultural use. The Government of Jordan changed its plans from using the aquifer water in irrigation and farming to providing water for domestic and municipal use in Amman in 2013 due to the increased pressure on water resources and the extreme shortage of drinking water. The government of Jordan undertook this project without the consent of its Saudi counterpart across the border. This negligence caused the World Bank not to support this project.
The importance of the Agreement of Al Disi Aquifer
This aquifer agreement represents one of the contemporary approaches to transboundary underground water management that focuses on allocating water abstraction in particular areas and avoiding vulnerable ones, which supports water management. The aquifer agreement is significant on the national, regional, and international levels due to the new perspective of water management that depends on the water allocation management approach, which recommends abstracting water from safe and economic locations.
At the national level, the agreement represents the ultimate solution for the two countries over-abstraction of the ground transboundary water. It can achieve many benefits for both parties and reduce the climate change impacts on water and ecosystems in general significantly, that each country, according to this agreement, has the right to utilize its water for domestic and municipal use; in this case, Jordan may continue to convey the groundwater in Al Disi-Amman Conveyance project also it is one step towards the sustainable water by cooperation in water utilization at the political level, which was violated by individual work of both parties by the private irrigation projects in the 80s causing overdraft for the groundwater in that area On the other hand, it is an evolution from unsustainable water projects, like the conveyance project of transferring water to Amman, to more transboundary cooperational water projects that use the water sustainably, especially that by the aquifer agreement that has many customary principles like no significant harm and equitable utilization.
At the international level, the aquifer agreement is considered a new international bilateral transboundary water agreement that contributes to the cooperation in underground water management between the two countries. The agreement is regarded as one of the leading transboundary groundwater bilateral agreements in binding the abstraction from a ‘protected area’ while defining the safe areas for pumping water, called’ management area’. The groundwater abstracted should be used for domestic purposes. Also, the agreement is very efficient in coordinating and technically managing the abstraction and use by the two parties of the joint committee, which control the safety, water amounts, and quality should be supervised, maybe in turn, through select experts and technical specialists from both countries to help in coordinating. According to many experts, like Elia M. Tapia-Villaseñor 1,*ORCID and Sharon B. Megda, the agreement between the two countries is considered a form of negotiation between informal parties at the political level and, therefore, could not be regarded as an absolute bilateral transboundary agreement.
At the regional level, the Disi agreement is still the new initiation for developing the regional cooperation agreement that might be a model in that area. Like the Guarani aquifer agreement in Latin America, it is believed to be the first attempt to power the parties to negotiate the critical and cooperative issue. Also, this agreement may be the initiative for the water unified management that relies on the technical problems by binding abstraction from the protected area whilst permitting to utilize from the management area, similar to those technical provisions in the Geneva aquifer. The fossil aquifer Al Disi like many transboundary aquifers between countries, like Northwestern Sahara Aquifer SASS, Tunisian and Nubian Sandstone between Egypt and Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System underneath Chad, Egypt, Libya, and Sudan, the World’s most significant non-renewable aquifer. These aquifers are essential to balance the sustainable development of nature. Furthermore, this aquifer is the only transboundary aquifer to have control over sediments when pumping water.
DW takes us to the hottest area to tell us how local people are putting their hands together for a better future for everyone at a time when realising that energy cooperation is a necessary step; it is about Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs jointly tackling climate change.
The Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. It’s already being hit disproportionately by rising temperatures, water scarcity and desertification. And the outlook for the future is grim.
These are all compelling reasons for experts in the region to collaborate more, say the organizers of a conference on agriculture, water and food security. The conference, which was attended by experts from Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and several Arabic and Muslim countries, aimed to develop practical programs to address regional challenges.
“So much can be done in this region by cooperating across borders,” said William Wechsler, senior director of the N7 Initiative which organized the conference held last week in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. The initiative promotes collaboration between Israel and Arab and Muslim nations that have signed the Abraham Accords, a deal brokered in 2020 to normalize relations between Israel and several Arab countries, including Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“For example, water can be made more available, food prices can be lowered, and people’s lives can be made more secure,” said Wechsler, listing the advantages of potential cooperations.
Wechsler believes agriculture is an ideal basis for climate change collaboration. Not only is it a field where progress can be made quickly, it could also have a big impact on people’s lives across the MENA region.
“If we miss the opportunity to address climate change now, the window of opportunity will eventually close,” Wechsler warned.
Although there are challenges to establishing governments and private sector cooperations, Wechsler believes those actively involved in tackling climate change and its effects are keen to work together.
“At the end of the day, scientists and engineers are practical people who are interested in solving problems, no matter where they are from,” Wechsler told DW.
Difficult to find funding for joint projects
For conference participant Faouzi Bekkaoui, the director of Morocco’s National Agricultural Research Institute, Israel has much to offer his country.
“Israeli expertise relates in particular to water usage efficiency, such as irrigation systems and developing more resilient crops and varieties,” he told DW.
Morocco is among the world’s most water-stressed countries, according to a World Bank 2022 report, and its agricultural sector is badly affected by the water shortage and climate change.
“Israel also made significant progress in biotechnology or genomics, and all these areas could be beneficial for Morocco, as well,” he said.
But funds for joint Moroccan-Israeli projects or academic exchanges are limited. Bekkaoui has now applied to the US-based Merck Foundation, which funds projects between Israel and the Arab countries that signed the Abraham Accords, for a grant.
The region lacks a tradition of cross-border academic cooperations.
“Most national research administrations … have limited pathways to grant research funding to foreign organizations,” said Youssef Wehbe, a researcher at the National Center of Meteorology in Abu Dhabi, in a recent podcast by the Middle East Institute.
Finding funding for cross-border projects to combat climate change is even more complex. During the World Climate Summit COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, richer nations agreed to provide adaptation funds worth $40 billion (€37.3 billion) annually for low- and middle-income countries from 2025 onwards.
But most of this finance is awarded in the form of loans for mitigation projects to reduce fossil fuel usage, such as installing solar panels or wind farms, which return a profit to lending nations, explained Wehbe.
In contrast, financing for adaptation schemes is low as they are “harder to fund and are less attractive to funding nations compared to the loan model, which returns a profit for these lending nations,” Wehbe said.
He calls for more globally oriented research programs targeting climate change “to solicit ideas from the international scientific community.”
Tackling climate change to reduce conflict
Agriculture and climate change expert Jamal Saghir, a professor at Canada’s McGill University and former World Bank director, also regards collaboration across borders as the best solution.
“Regional cooperation is always a win-win situation and much better than national or bilateral projects,” he told DW. “Most of the Mideast countries are not doing enough yet and climate change is much faster.”
The Middle East is warming at twice the global average. This is expected to fuel competition and conflict over dwindling resources – making it essential for the region to tackle climate change and its consequences such as more migration and unrest.
However, Saghir believes the region can leapfrog these issues through technology. Here he seesIsrael and the Gulf countries in a position to take a lead.
“Israeli technology is leading in desalination and irrigation and the region would benefit a lot from these methods,” he said. The United Arab Emirates, beyond their thriving oil business, have also made significant investments in renewable energies, he pointed out.
“Joint collaboration will lead to new ideas in research and development, which can then be implemented by several countries,” he said. “What are they waiting for? This could happen now.”
Building a basis of trust
Tareq Abu Hamad, executive director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel, believes tackling climate change together with other scientists across the region could turn into “a great opportunity to build trust.”
“We live in a small region that is considered as a hotspot when it comes to climate change, and we do not have any other option than cooperating with each other to deal with these challenges,” he said.
Alex Plitsas, who is involved in the N7 Initiative, was struck by one scene at the conference that filled him with hope.
“The most extraordinary thing I witnessed … in Abu Dhabi was when a male Arab diplomat from a Gulf state wearing traditional thobe & donning a kaffiyeh sat with a female Israeli entrepreneur and I late at night,” he wrote on Twitter, “as they worked to figure out how to make people’s lives better.”
MADRID, Dec 1 2022 (IPS) – Drought is one of the ‘most destructive’ natural disasters in terms of the loss of life, arising from impacts, such as wide-scale crop failure, wildfires and water stress.
In other words, droughts are one of the “most feared natural phenomena in the world;” they devastate farmland, destroy livelihoods and cause untold suffering, as reported by the world’s top specialised bodies: the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
They occur when an area experiences a shortage of water supply due to a lack of rainfall or lack of surface or groundwater. And they can last for weeks, months or years.
Exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, droughts are increasing in frequency and severity, up 29% since 2000, with 55 million people affected every year.
The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives, Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General
By 2050, droughts may affect an estimated three-quarters of the world’s population. This means that agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.
This means that about 71% of the world’s irrigated area and 47% of major cities are to experience at least periodic water shortages. If this trend continues, the scarcity and associated water quality problems will lead to competition and conflicts among water users, adds the Convention.
Most of the world already impacted
The alert is loud and strong and it comes from a number of the world’s most knowledgeable organisations.
To begin with, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on 29 November 2022 reported that most of the globe was drier than normal in 2021, with “cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and our daily lives.”
Between 2001 and 2018, UN-Water reported that a staggering 74% of all-natural disasters were water-related.
Currently, over 3.6 billion people have inadequate access to water at least one month per year and this is expected to increase to more than five billion by 2050.
In Africa, major rivers such as the Niger, Volta, Nile and Congo had below-average water flow in 2021.
The same trend was observed in rivers in parts of Russia, West Siberia and in Central Asia.
On the other hand, there were above-normal river volumes in some North American basins, the North Amazon and South Africa, as well as in China’s Amur river basin, and northern India.
The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives, said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“Changes to Cryosphere water resources affect food security, human health, ecosystem integrity and maintenance, and lead to significant impacts on economic and social development”, said WMO, sometimes causing river flooding and flash floods due to glacier lake outbursts.
The cryosphere – namely glaciers, snow cover, ice caps and, where present, permafrost – is the world’s biggest natural reservoir of freshwater.
Being water –or rather the lack of it– a major cause-effect of the fast-growing deterioration of natural resources, and the consequent damage to the world’s food production, the theme of World Soil Day 2022, marked 5 December, is “Soils: Where food begins.”
18 naturally occurring chemical elements are essential to plants. Soils supply 15.
Agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.
33% of soils are degraded.
In addition to the life of humans, animals, and plants, one of the sectors that most depend on water–crops is now highly endangered.
Indeed, since the 1950s, reminds the United Nations, innovations like synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides and high-yield cereals have helped humanity dramatically increase the amount of food it grows.
“But those inventions would be moot without agriculture’s most precious commodity: fresh water. And it, say researchers, is now under threat.”
Moreover, pollution, climate change and over-abstraction are beginning to compromise the lakes, rivers, and aquifers that underpin farming globally, reports the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Salinised and plastified
Such is the case, among many others, of the growing salinisation and ‘plastification’ of the world’s soils.
In fact, currently, it is estimated that there are more than 833 million hectares of salt-affected soils around the globe (8.7% of the planet). This implies the loss of soil’s capacity to grow food and also increasing impacts on water and the ability to filter pollution.
Soil salinisation and sodification are major soil degradation processes threatening ecosystems and are recognised as being among the most important problems at a global level for agricultural production, food security and sustainability in arid and semi-arid regions, said the UN on occasion of the 2021 World Soil Day.
Among the major causes that this international body highlights is that in some arid areas, there has been an increase in the amount of wastewater used to grow crops.
“The problem can be exacerbated by flooding, which can inundate sewage systems or stores of fertiliser, polluting both surface water and groundwater.” Fertiliser run-off can cause algal blooms in lakes.
Meanwhile, the amount of freshwater per capita has fallen by 20% over the last two decades and nearly 60% of irrigated cropland is water-stressed.
The implications of those shortages are far-reaching: irrigated agriculture contributes 40% of total food produced worldwide.
Soils are highly living organisms
“Did you know that there are more living organisms in a tablespoon of soil than people on Earth?”
Agricultural systems lose nutrients with each harvest, and if soils are not managed sustainably, fertility is progressively lost, and soils will produce nutrient-deficient plants.
Soil nutrient loss is a major soil degradation process threatening nutrition. It is recognised as being among the most critical problems at a global level for food security and sustainability all around the globe.
Over the last 70 years, the level of vitamins and nutrients in food has drastically decreased, and it is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide suffer from a lack of micronutrients, known as hidden hunger because it is difficult to detect.
“Soil degradation induces some soils to be nutrient depleted, losing their capacity to support crops, while others have such a high nutrient concentration that represents a toxic environment to plants and animals, pollutes the environment and causes climate change.”
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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