INTERNATIONAL. The Middle East is likely to plunge into serious humanitarian crisis due to depletion of water resources, unless remedial measures are introduced urgently, says a new Strategic Foresight Group report, The Blue Peace: Rethinking Middle East Water.
The report prepared by the Strategic Foresight Group, with support from the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and input from almost 100 leaders and experts from Israel, the Palestine Territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, also says that water crisis can be converted into an opportunity for regional peace.
The river flows in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan have depleted by 50%-90% from 1960 to 2010. The annual flow of the Yarmouk River declined from 600 MCM to about 250-300 MCM, while the Jordan River from 1300 MCM to 100 MCM. The water level in Barada River Basin in Syria has dropped from 50 meters below ground in 1990 to 200 meters at present.
The renewable freshwater resources in the Mountain Aquifer, shared by Israel and the Palestinian Territories, have been reduced by 7% since the Oslo Accords in 1993 and in the Western Galilee Aquifer by 15%-20%. This is assuming full recharge in a normal rainy year.
The water level in the Dead Sea dropped from 390 metres below sea level in the 1960s down to 420 metres below sea level at present and will be 450 metres below sea level by 2040. The water surface area has shrunk by a third, from 950 square kilometres to 637 square kilometres. If the surface water level in the Dead Sea continues to erode, it will be reduced to a lake in 50 years, and will eventually disappear altogether.
The Strategic Foresight Group recommends a Cooperation Council for Sustainable Water Management in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, building on cooperation between these countries in trade, transit, and energy.
The Cooperation Council will enable the countries to have common standards for measuring water flows and quality, develop regional models for combating climate change, spread new technologies, and facilitate basin level integrated water management.
The report also proposes confidence building initiatives between Israel and the Palestine Authority to agree on the status of water resources and method of functioning of the Joint Water Committee. It recommends decentralised waste water treatment plants for the Palestine Territories.
In the long run, it recommends that the threatened water bodies to be managed as Regional Commons and export of the waters from the Turkish national rivers via the Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley countries. The Blue Peace report suggests that such cooperative measures can lead to broader and sustainable peace between countries in the Middle East.
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