«Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water Security in the Levantine Middle East Mari Luomi (editor) Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water ...»
The main focus for most Middle East countries in addressing the water challenge has been, and still is, on the supply side. Raising water prices and an improvement in water efficiency through network rehabilitation and the installation of meters and irrigation scheduling in agriculture should be elements in a sustainable solution.
In most cases, an improvement in water efficiency will not suffice, and countries will still need to invest in supply-side measures such as desalination. Despite its relatively high unit costs, desalination can provide an inexhaustible water supply to municipalities located on the coast. The high water transport costs are an additional obstacle in the inland cities, but in countries with a severe water shortage, like Jordan, the transportation of desalinated water from the seaside may be the only viable solution. Although future developments in desalination technology and related renewable energy applications will probably reduce the cost of desalination, they will obviously not be able to address all water shortages. Of the four countries examined, Israel and Jordan have invested in increasing their desalination capacity during the last decade, and both have set targets to further increase the capacity by 2020. In Syria and Lebanon, future plans remain uncertain, although it is estimated that there will soon be no other options for satisfying the growing water demand. This applies particularly to Beirut.
The water sectors in Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon need strategic financial planning to attract sufficient funding for their massive water infrastructure investments. They need to become more innovative in adopting and integrating different financing mechanisms from tariffs 124 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 to development assistance and private investments. The role of private sector investments is assuming particular significance in enhancing investments, which all four countries have already realized. Israel, and to a lesser extent Jordan, have already gained positive experiences with PPP. In Syria, and especially in Lebanon, the sector is still not attracting significant interest due to weak legal frameworks and the poor transparency and accountability of the management system.
Although Syria seems to be willing to open up its water sector to private participation, and Lebanon already has a parallel off-network private market, the development of an adequate framework for PPP is likely to be a long process in both countries. In contrast, Jordan has already recognized the necessity of creating clear procedures and a sufficient legal framework to encourage private sector participation.
One can expect that the new PPP legislation for its part will increase the attractiveness of the water sector and even contribute to the implementation of the planned water megaprojects.
Conclusions – Multiple challenges ahead Towards enhanced water security?
As this report has demonstrated, the list of pressures confronted by Levantine, and more generally Middle Eastern, governments is long and growing. Challenges range from dwindling fossil fuel and water resources, growing and young populations, political instability and conflicts, unsustainable natural resource consumption patterns and growing demand, the need to create economic growth and employment, and the necessity for economic and political liberalization to, more generally, dealing with the broader forces of modernization and globalization. Since in most states the main driver of policymaking tends to be internal stability and regime survival and since the region’s water-related problems are so pervasive, it is argued that water security should be at the top of state agendas. However, water is still, in many cases, secondary to other policymaking issues.
Indeed, many of these society-wide pressure dynamics bear important linkages to water security and sustainability: the lack of cheap energy makes desalination an expensive option; growing populations demand increasing amounts of water; low economic growth and a one-sided economy restrict the amount of funding resources available for investments in the water sector; the lack of democratic stakeholder engagement in the water sector, including NGOs and other interest groups leads to ineffective and undemocratic water governance; while a general distrust in the government fosters a culture of negligence towards water conservation measures.
Equally importantly, modernization entails adopting modern water management practices and shifting the focus from supply to demand.
The list of necessary improvements for local governments is therefore equally long: strategic planning in the water sector should be increased and a cross-sectoral approach that involves all the different ministries working on water issues should be adopted. Increased 126 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 cooperation and coordination among authorities and stakeholders is needed, too. New technology in the areas of desalination, wastewater treatment, and additional supply projects is also in demand, as is increased capacity, in the form of scientific studies and water sector capacity-building. The sharing of up-to-date government statistics and studies locally and internationally is essential for better planning and proper policies. Demand-side management should be instilled in government thinking and water tariffs with cost recovery should be installed, notwithstanding the potential political costs of this.
Current national food self-sufficiency policies should also be seriously reassessed with regard to their negative impacts on water security.
Engaging citizens and extending participation beyond government institutions can also contribute to improved water security.
Awareness-raising on water conservation should be promoted both top-down, by the governments, and bottom-up, by NGOs and possibly even religious organizations, in order to root out the prevailing culture of wasting water. In general, an expanded role for water-related civil society actors is needed for water policies to be as equitable as possible. While keeping this principle in mind, the economies, in many cases, need to further open up and allow for private sector participation so as to mobilize funding for the necessary infrastructure investments.
Finally, the countries of the Levant need to build up regional cooperation, in water issues and beyond, with an eye on preventing water scarcity from becoming an element that tips the scales in favour of increased instability within and among the region’s states. As one of our training course participants, Anna Savolainen, pointed out during our trip to Lebanon: in the Middle East, most problems are linked to water, but at the same time, these problems are not solved with water alone. In other words, fixing the Levant’s water insecurity needs to be part of broader societal reform and regional integration processes, and vice versa.
FIIA REPORT 25/2010 127Climate change multiplies the existing challenges
The Middle East is regarded as one of the regions in the world most vulnerable to the potential negative consequences of climate change. Resource-scarce, poor and weak states will bear the brunt in particular. Moreover, climate change is expected to interact with existing problems and pressures, multiplying these and further complicating an already complex situation.
As already noted by regional experts, water is the first victim of climate change in the Middle East; it is the medium through which climate change will hit the region’s populations the hardest. As a consequence of decreasing precipitation and changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of water, the existing scarcity is expected to deteriorate further, leading to and interacting with increasing pressures on both human security and state stability.
At present, in Jordan, the world’s fourth water-poorest country, the situation is already so severe that the country’s Minister of Environment has described water scarcity as the ‘single most important constraint to the country’s growth and development’. 316 According to the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, acute water scarcity and deteriorating quality of water, as well as profligate consumption patterns, are among the Middle East’s main climate change-related sustainable development challenges.
Other challenges are similarly linked to water and they include rapid population growth (2.3% on average), political instability, and environmentally unsustainable production and consumption patterns of energy. Also, low institutional and legislative capacity and competitiveness, fragmented social policies, and lack of financial resources act as obstacles to sustainability. 317 Water and climate change-related challenges in the region are therefore inextricably linked when it comes to solving either one of the two.
Since around 2007, climate change has been described in Western security literature as a ‘threat multiplier’ that has the potential to complicate pre-existing problems and instabilities, thereby inducing 316 Minister Khalid Irani at the Ministry of Environment of Jordan, Jordan’s Second National Communication to the UNFCCC (2009), foreword.
317 Presentation by Tarek Sadek, ‘Climate Change and Sustainable Development in the ESCWA Region’, UN-ESCWA. Presentation for the course’s participants in Beirut (21 May 2010).
128 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 ‘multiple chronic conditions’. 318 In the case of the Middle East, rising temperatures are expected to pose the worst direct threat to the region’s development and stability. According to projections, climate change in the Middle East is expected to lead to an average temperature rise of 2.0-3.7°C by the 2050s or 3.2°C by the 2070s, while precipitation is generally projected to decrease, albeit with large spatial variability. An increase in extreme temperatures and incidences of extreme weather events is also considered possible. 319 If this materializes, it will have a number of physical, socio-political and economic consequences for water security.
Firstly, a rise in average temperatures will decrease water availability and increase demand, particularly in irrigation agriculture, as well as cause desertification. Climate change is also expected to directly and indirectly impact on both the quantity and quality of water supplies. Adverse effects will be felt in both groundwater and renewable water resources, such as rivers, and may even extend to desalination plants. Other significant consequences are increased flooding and a rise in the sea level, which in the case of the Levant would mainly reduce the groundwater quality through increased seawater intrusion in countries like Syria and Lebanon.
This, in turn, according to recent studies on the Levant region, could potentially lead to a number of negative social consequences, including increased internal and external political tensions and instability stemming from migration, unemployment, poverty, and health risks, among others. Climate change is likely to accelerate the speed at which the region’s governments need to solve their looming water insecurity, and the inability to provide water for their populations would seriously undermine the legitimacy of any government, democratic or authoritarian. The militarization of water resources is also mentioned in the existing literature as a related threat. Anticipated economic impacts in turn range from agricultural 318 CNA Corporation, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change (Alexandria, VA, 2007), p. 6.
319 Cruz, R.V., Harasawa, H., Lal, M. & Wu, S., ‘Chapter 10: Asia’ in M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, (eds.) Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Met Office, Climate Change and the Middle East (2009).
FIIA REPORT 25/2010 129 losses to damage to coastal settlements, infrastructure and tourism.320 In other words, the negative consequences of climate change on water will not only be an issue of environmental policymaking, but a society-wide challenge.
However, as some regional experts have reiterated, pre-existing water problems, such as high demand, low quality and over-pumping are currently more serious threats to the water supply than climate change. 321 Distribution problems, untreated wastewater, high agricultural use due to food self-sufficiency policies, and an almost exclusive emphasis on supply management instead of demand, are currently posing threats to both the populations and the environment of the Levant.
Water is the region’s weak spot in the fight against climate change.
Hence, the countries of the Levant need to prepare for it. This is best done by drafting adaptation strategies based on sound scientific data and implementing preventive adaptation measures both society- and sector-wide. It is evident that the better the states manage their water scarcity, the better they will be prepared for weather climate change, too. In other words, taking immediate action to enhance the adaptation capacity of states in the Middle East is not only justifiable by the precautionary principle, but by present-day water security challenges.
Lessons to be learnt?
To end on a positive note, as this report has shown, there are already many promising developments and practices in the region that neighbouring states could learn from. The remarkable recovery of Turkish-Syrian relations during the last decade offers hope for a peaceful solution to bilateral water scarcity-related problems in the future as well. Regional cooperation and integration in the Levant is still in its infancy and mainly led by Turkey, a non-Arab state, but the 320 Sadek, ‘Climate Change and Sustainable Development’; Hamed Assaf, ‘Governments should practice “water demand management” to rescue region’s water resources’, Issam Fares Institute Research and Policy Memo No. 2, American University of Beirut (January 2009);
Brown and Crawford, Rising Temperatures.
321 Assaf, ‘Governments should practice’.