The Roots of the Global Water Crisis


The above-featured image is for illustration and is of World Atlas


castellino1SAM PANTHAKYAFP via Getty Images_water

SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images


The Roots of the Global Water Crisis

25 September 2023
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.

10th dam to be built on the Tigris River


ANF reported that in ŞIRNAK, a 10th dam is to be built on the Tigris River, thus adding to the already high number of similar infrastructures along this river.

The above featured image is credit to ANF, Samir Muxif Ciburi: Cizre Dam is a major threat to Iraq


10th dam to be built on the Tigris River

The “Cizre Dam” project to be built on the Tigris River in Cizre was approved. Many settlements will be flooded by the new dam.


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.”

Ten dams

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


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.


MENA photographers reflect on environmental degradation

29 June 2023
The above image is for illustration and credit to Middle East Institute.
The Middle East and North Africa region is facing acute environmental degradation. A River Flows Downstream captures the lingering angst of ecological collapse through the lens of eight photographers from the region.

When the Middle East Institute, in partnership with Tribe Photo Magazine, invites eight photographers to collectively expose a brutalized nature in a new show in Washington DC, it’s hard not to succumb to eco-distress.

A River Flows Downstream curated by Roï Saade, centres ecological collapse – a reality hard-felt in the MENA region which is one of the most water-stressed areas in the world – and our gaze towards it.

“If the show’s title evokes the natural course of the water cycle – from cloud to river and sea – it also suggests a force that we can’t fight. In doing so, we fail to identify signs of hope and ways to apprehend an alternative to this accelerated decay”

We see the traces and evidence of this scarcity in Solmaz Daryani’s eerie series The eyes of the earth (2014-ongoing). In these photographs, the Iranian-born artist shows the changing, otherworldly landscape of a vanishing lake: Lake Urmia.

A highly saline body of water, the lake has rapidly shrunk from being one of the largest in the world to reaching an alarming status today, comprising of declining water levels, as well as red algae and bacteria proliferation.

Daryani, whose family used to own a hotel by Lake Urmia’s receding shore during the 1990s, has documented the strangeness of a place once so familiar and the many ways that people relate to this disappearance.

In Women swim in a shallow pond that is a remnant of Lake Urmia (2015), a woman bathes in the water. It could have been a holiday except that around her shallow water pool are salt and rocks, the remnants of former depths.

Her expression is one of bliss and stillness as if she’s experiencing something both sensual and spiritual. Despite this lyricism, the lake incarnates a sickly future and a radically altered local habitat.

Solmaz Daryani, From the series The Eyes Of Earth, “Women swim in a shallow pond that is a remnant of Lake Urmia” (2015)

Echoing with Daryani’s photograph of salt pillars (The stakes of a jetty covered in salt look like popsicles, 2014) is Reem Falaknaz’s The Tolerance of One Million Trees series (2016-2017) which captures isolated trees in an arid environment.

The trees are standing, against all odds, but their lifespan is uncertain. One imagines behind these singular shots a portrait of Emirati attempts made to combat desertification and sprawling urbanisation via afforestation. The trees are shaped by the wind and a cherished illusion that the desert can bloom.

While the region is commonly defined by such dry landscapes, sometimes warnings come from an excess of water, like a tap left open for too long. An unnatural abundance of water also threatens ecosystems that were once self-regulated.

For instance, the edification of dams has at times contributed to manipulating irrigation patterns while submerging villages and large swaths of cultural heritage.

Reem Falaknaz, The Tolerance of One Million Trees, Untitled (2016-2017)

It’s no exception in Türkiye, where photojournalist Emin Özmen directs his lens to the Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates river, part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project which includes dozens of other dams and hydroelectric power stations.

The impact of these mega-projects on people’s traditional livelihoods is immediately felt in The flock crosses Gerzan River, Turkey, Batman (2019).

There, sheep must swim to follow ancestral routes that were previously dry. The self-explanatory work The water level is rising in the reservoir lake of the Ilisu dam, near the mythical thousand-year-old caves of Hasankeyf, now totally submerged.

Hasankeyf (2020) bears witness to this physical and intangible destruction which transfixes our gaze like a form of sacrilege.

Emin Özmen, Farewell, Huseyin (8) stands in a part of the cave where he lives with his family and their herd. Batman (2021)

Zied Ben Romdhane’s Phosphate series (2014-2015) highlights the impact of the mining industry on southern Tunisian lives and its environment through the gripping, monochromatic lens of haunted vistas.

Phosphate contributes to 4% of Tunisia’s national wealth and it accounts for 15% of its exports. Yet Ben Romdhane’s landscapes are those of desolation. Concrete structures and corrugated material suggest an unfinished construction, an unsettling reality.

Zied Ben Romdhane, Phosphate 3, “Two farmers”, Mitlaoui, Tunisia, (2015)

The show, which also includes works from Hoda Afshar, who captures the rituals and chromatic intensity of islands off the Strait of Hormuz, Paul Gorra’s unbearably obscene transformation of Beirut river into open-air sewage as yet another sign of neglect, as well as Roï Saade and Tamara Abdul Hadi’s visual travelogue in the dusty, drought-affected Iraqi lands that the Euphrates nourishes less and less, crucially leaves us to wonder: how can we reasonably adapt to all this?

The desaturated photographs suggest that we don’t; we fade, like expired film. While the artists individually underscore the man-made violence perpetuated against nature in their respective countries, together they sketch an irresistible march unfolding across an entire region – beyond site-specific concerns.

This is also what the poetic title of the exhibition suggests. For Zied Ben Romdhane, A River Flows Downstream resonates with the philosophy of flux proposed by ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, in which nothing is said to ever stay the same. “The world is in constant motion, unlike photography which captures a specific moment in time,” he told The New Arab, hoping for the show to trigger conversations.

Reflecting on his “Phosphate” series on display, Ben Romdhane also notes that in a decade, “nothing has changed except for a decrease in production and the daily shut down of the mines” in the Tunisian regions of Gabes and Gafsa.

Phosphate production in Tunisia halved between 2010 and 2019, which directly impacts families whose income relies on the industry. Meanwhile, chemical pollution from the phosphate industry contaminates the air, water tables, and the sea.

If the show’s title evokes the natural course of the water cycle – from cloud to river and sea – it also suggests a force that we can’t fight. In doing so, we fail to identify signs of hope and ways to apprehend an alternative to this accelerated decay.

This lack of proposition embodies a parochial hopelessness, a further dispossession of our agency.

Saade sees the visual journey he presents as a “constellation of stories” that recalls “that water binds us together and that it’s key to our survival,” he told The New Arab. In some ways then, water is both a past and a future. Amongst so much strife and numbness, maybe it is our shared fate that ultimately unites people, we want to believe. But through this constellation, we collect more testimonies of fragmentation and despair.

Saade’s selection of long-term projects reinforces the value of deeply-researched, locally-rooted observations of these changing phenomena. Apart from Gorra’s Beirut photographs, other series date to several years ago. They signal ruminations and an obsession to probe, document, and bear witness.

These omens – often ignored until impossible to do so – haunt us in creating a new aesthetics, a metamorphosing, silent language for our collective resignation.

“A River Flows Downstream” is on show at the Middle East Institution in Washington DC through 13 October.

Farah Abdessamad is a New York City-based essayist/critic, from France and Tunisia.

Follow her on Twitter: @farahstlouis

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Global water reservoir volumes decline

Water reservoir volumes decline not only in the MENA region like this Syria reservoir drying up for the first time but all over the world.
Global water reservoir volumes decline despite construction boom – study

The image above is credit to Afrik 21

The Mooserboden water reservoir of Austrian hydropower producer Verbund is seen near Kaprun, Austria, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

SINGAPORE, June 13 (Reuters) – Global reservoir volumes fell during the last 20 years despite a construction boom that drove up storage capacity, a new study showed on Tuesday, suggesting that new dams will not be enough to solve growing strain on the world’s water supplies.

Satellite data showed that water sequestered in 7,245 reservoirs across the world fell from 1999 to 2018, despite a 28 cubic kilometre annual increase in capacity, a study published by Nature Communications said.

Climate change was a “critical factor” in reducing reservoir efficiency, said lead author Huilin Gao of Texas A&M University, but rising water demand also played a role.

“Even if temperatures stop rising, increasing demand and new construction are likely to continue,” he added.

The decline in storage volumes was concentrated in the south, especially Africa and South America, where water demand increased rapidly and new reservoirs didn’t fill up as quickly as expected.

The study did not account for the impact of sedimentation, a persistent problem that is predicted to cut storage capacity by a quarter by 2050, according to a January paper by the United Nations University.

Lengthy droughts have raised questions about the feasibility of large reservoirs. China saw hydropower output plummet last summer as a result of record-high temperatures across the Yangtze basin.

The International Hydropower Association said last week that new dams and reservoirs played a “crucial mitigating role in an era of increasing climate extremes”, making it easier to regulate water flows.

“As the climate gets more volatile, we will need more, not less, water infrastructure, with the bonus of much-needed low-carbon electricity,” it said.

China has also repeatedly said its enhanced ability to store and release water on the upper reaches of the Yangtze has alleviated downstream floods and droughts

Unlike many regions, China’s storage levels increased slightly over 1999-2018 as a result of higher run-off in major river basins, suggesting it will benefit from new reservoirs, Gao said.

“But this highly depends on future climate, especially since most regions have experienced decreasing run-off,” he said.

Reporting by David Stanway. Editing by Gerry Doyle.