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«Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water Security in the Levantine Middle East Mari Luomi (editor) Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water ...»

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84 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 Data management and distribution is still a major issue hampering water governance in both countries. Water data are usually delivered as soft copies and, due to the disintegrated administration, information is difficult to obtain. The development of a common database for the use of all parties involved in water use, planning, and control, which has been suggested in Lebanon, is a good idea.

Educating people to better understand the countries’ water shortage and pollution problems is an important ongoing task. In Syria in particular, the training of farmers in irrigation and water use is needed. Awareness-raising might also help in the enforcement of environmental regulations.

Reducing centralization and the overlap between different bodies and governmental agencies in Syria has been suggested by many authors. The enforcement of legislation in both countries also needs to be strengthened. In Lebanon, the situation is difficult because changes in the administration might shift the prevailing power balance, which is not seen as desirable by the government due to internal stability considerations.

–  –  –

6 Water governance under reform:

are the Arab societies ready for change?

The Levantine countries210 share many features with the entire MENA region.211 Besides many cultural and socio-economic similarities, this region is exceedingly deficient in water. Among the world’s macro regions, the MENA has by far the lowest supply of renewable water resources per capita. Its population, comprising 5% of the world’s total, has access to a mere 0.8% of the planet’s renewable water. 212 Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the water sectors within the region are under extreme pressure when it comes to meeting the demands of their soaring population and fragile water-stressed ecosystems.

These challenges have recently been juxtapositioned in various studies213 highlighting the vulnerability of the region to the threats of climate change, which may even jeopardize the region’s political and social stability.

The governance structures of water resources in the MENA countries are undergoing hefty reform processes, which aim at improving the sector’s efficiency, both in terms of water exploitation 210 In this chapter, the following countries are included in the definition of the Levant: Occupied Palestinian Territories (Palestine), Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

211 Besides those above, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region includes the following countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Yemen. Israel is not included in this analysis because its water governance and its externalities differ drastically from those of the other countries in the region.

212 World Bank, World Development Indicators on CD (World Bank: Washington D.C., 2006).

213 Oli Brown and Alec Crawford, Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions: Climate Change and the Risk of Violent Conflict in the Middle East (Winnipeg: The International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2009); Tolba and Saab, Arab Environment: Climate Change.

86 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 and human resources.214 The public organizations such as ministries are very large, and often criticized for being overstaffed. 215 Water supply within the region can be augmented by only a relatively limited volume 216 and the focus in water management is moving towards the management of water demand and the conservation of water resources. Water demand management is seen as a solution for various economic, social and environmental purposes. This entails facets such as a fee structure for water services, recycling approaches, regulation policies, improvements in water distribution networks, irrigation technologies and so forth.

Crucial to all of these is the human component. The technological and institutional developments underlying the various possibilities to manage water demand are all preconditioned and linked to the ‘human dimension’ of the water sector, much more so than has been the situation with regard to the conventional supply management.

Therefore, this chapter investigates the various facets related to this dimension.217 The scope of the chapter is the entire MENA region, as 214 Olli Varis, Water management by 2030: Drivers, critical issues and policies for the MENA Region. Water Governance in the MENA Region: Critical Issues and the Way Forward. An International Conference in Cairo, Egypt, 23-27 June 2007; E. Rached and D.B. Brooks, ‘Water Governance in the Middle East and North Africa: An Unfinished Agenda’. International Journal of Water Resources Development 26:2010, pp. 141-155.

215 Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation has over 70,000 employees. This Ministry is only one among the dozen ministries that are mandated to govern water issues in the country. With its sizeable public sector – which is increasingly argued to be seriously overstaffed, bureaucratic and inefficient – Egypt is not that different from the other 22 MENA countries.

216 World Bank, Making the Most of Scarcity: Accountability for Better Water Management in the Middle East and North Africa. MENA Development Report (World Bank: Washington D.C., 2007).

217 This article is based on the series of analyses that were made within the context of annual regional fora, organized by InWEnt capacity Building International Germany, Arab Water Council, and various regional partners since 2006. The fora have been summarized in the following documents: InWEnt, Water Governance in the MENA Region: The Current Situation.





Extended Report (Bonn: InWEnt Capacity Building International Germany, 2006); O. Varis and C. Tortajada, Water Governance in the MENA Region: Critical Issues and the Way Forward.

Extended Report (Bonn: InWEnt, 2007), Bonn; O. Varis and C. Tortajada, Water Governance in the MENA Region: From Analysis to Action. Extended Report (Bonn: InWEnt, 2009); O.

Varis and C. Tortajada, Water Governance in the MENA Region: Policies and Institutions.

Extended Report. (Bonn: InWEnt, 2010).

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 87 most of the features scrutinized are common to the whole region, with the Levant being no exception.

First, the demographic and socio-economic characteristics and related problems are scrutinized within the context of water resources management. After that, the chapter discusses two cultural aspects

that function as determinants of the ‘human component’, namely:

power distance and individualism vs. collectivism. These aspects are drawn from the model by Geert Hofstede218, widely used in cultural comparisons and in the analysis of organizational cultures. Finally, the chapter concludes that the water governance structures in the MENA region exhibit much inertia in these aspects, which has been largely neglected in the contemporary discussion on water reform, as well as in the recent water sector policy documents of the region that operationalize the reform.

The external environment: changes and challenges

The MENA countries, including those in the Levant, are undergoing a speedy transition process, both in terms of demography and socio-economic development. The population is still growing much faster than in most parts of the world, with the exception of SubSaharan Africa. In addition, the MENA region is characterized by the concentration of people in relatively small geographical areas, usually located around water resources, and extremely rapid urbanization.

In the years between 2000 and 2030, the region’s urban population is expected to roughly double from around 200 to 400 million, while the rural population will remain fairly stable. Urban growth is faster in the Middle East than in North Africa. In Syria, Iraq and Jordan, the urban population is expected to grow 2.2-fold within that period. In Palestine, growth will approach 3-fold whereas in Lebanon, it will be a modest 1.4-fold.219 Consequently, the age structure poses particular challenges to social and economic development, including water sector 218

G. Hofstede, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (Harper Collins Business:

London, 1994).

219 UN, United Nations World Population Prospects: the 2004 Revision (UN Population Bureau, New York, 2006).

88 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 development. Due to the soaring population growth rates, the proportion of young people is exceptionally high. Also, the size of the working-age population (15-64 years) keeps growing very quickly;

by more than 5 million per year. Illustrative of the dimensions of this growth is the fact that the region’s working-age population is growing much faster in absolute numbers than that of China, although the latter’s economy is growing much more rapidly and the total population is four times the size of that of the MENA region.

Consequently, the economy should be able to expand accordingly and provide urban jobs for these new entrants. So far, the region has not been successful in this endeavour, and unemployment has been escalating for some decades. With few exceptions, the official unemployment rates are double-digit, rising to over 30% in some cases. Moreover, the actual rates may be notably higher because of statistical biases.

The region suffers from a low level of investment, which is a significant contributory factor in the unemployment problem. 220 221 Net exports are negative; domestic demand exceeds production and the region exports less than it imports. Industrial production has grown by 1 to 4% per year since 2000 but the growth has been slower than the growth of consumption.

Economic development has not kept pace with the growth of the labour market nor with the overall global tendency, and the region’s economy can be regarded as stagnating. From 1980 to 2005 the region’s GDP per capita did not grow whereas the world average more than doubled. Trade, investments and industrial value added have all developed more slowly than the population has grown. Only environmental degradation has been growing rapidly, much faster than the world average or the region’s population. 222 The harsh equation of creating economic growth and employment is further convoluted by the generally low education level, 220

B. Lewis, ‘Free at last? The Arab world in the twenty-first century’. Foreign Affairs 88 (2):

pp. 77-88.

221 World Bank, Middle East and North Africa Region 2007 Economic Developments and Prospects (Washington D.C.: World Bank, 2007).

222 O. Varis and K. Abu-Zeid, ‘Socio-economic and environmental aspects of water management in the 21st century: trends, challenges and prospects for the MENA region’. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 25 (2009), pp. 507-522.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 89 which resembles that of Sub-Saharan Africa. Slums and social marginalization are on the increase. The average urban slum incidence in the region is 30.7%, but varies a lot between countries, being at its highest in Yemen (65%).223 Water is being utilized in large quantities for low-value uses in agriculture while urban areas keep mushrooming.224 In most countries, agriculture accounts for over four-fifths of all water withdrawals but contributes from only a few per cent to a maximum of one-fifth of the countries’ GDP. Even so, the level of self-sufficiency in agricultural products is far from possible due to the arid climate. Apart from its relatively small contribution to the national economy, agriculture, however, performs an important social function, providing rural employment, political stability and self-reliance in certain food items, but in macroeconomic terms it poses an enormous challenge.

A clear example is Syria, where the Ba’thist regime has heavily promoted water-intensive agricultural production for over four decades, not investing sufficiently in education or other economic sectors.225 Consequently, water use is exceedingly high and the country faces serious water-related shortages and challenges. At the same time, the economic development has stagnated.

Another example is the MENA region’s water-scarcest country, Jordan, where the agricultural sector accounts for 75% of all water consumption and produces a mere 2% of the GDP.

Increasing the volume of imports of agricultural products226 requires exports of goods and/or services to a greater extent in order to reach an exchange balance. Hence, the productive sector would require a strong growth trajectory. Therefore, we should ask how to develop the water sector so as to make the MENA region’s countries more attractive targets of productive investments and less dependent 223 UN-Habitat, Slums of the World: The Face of Urban Poverty in the New Millennium?

(Nairobi: UN Habitat, 2003).

224 Most of the endorsed issues by reform proponents such as decentralization, cost recovery, economic instruments, implementation of laws, private sector involvement, stakeholder participation, adaptation of costly, non-conventional water technologies such as recycling and desalination, and many others often have totally different shades in the informal sector than in the formal sector.

225 Barnes, ‘Managing the Waters’.

226 The region imports over 50% of its food. See: Brown and Crawford, Rising Temperatures.

90 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 on natural resources, such as water. As the region’s industrial development has suffered from stagnation in the past decades, there is certainly room for new industries227: one Malaysian or one Finn currently produces as many exportable high-tech products as 280 MENA citizens.228

Water sector under reform pressures

As the water sector’s external environment changes rapidly, the sector should react and, better still, be proactive and lead the policy progress and reform within the region. The performance of the sector is currently progressing229, but does not yet comply with internationally set targets.230 The ability of the governance systems to live with the present dynamism and to master change is a crucial element in the attempt to speed up the progress.



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