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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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Chapter 8 by Piia Moilanen and Ulla-Maija Mroueh discusses the need to mobilize funding for the water sector in four countries of the Levant. Because water infrastructure is deficient in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in particular, there is a need for massive investments in water infrastructure over the next decade. However, the limited public funding resources are a significant obstacle to developing the necessary water and sanitation services. The authors argue that increased private sector participation in these countries’ water and wastewater utilities sectors is therefore acutely needed. The authors present desalination as a promising but relatively expensive technology for tackling water scarcity in the region, and argue that the role of financing mechanisms will become increasingly important, as other options for additional supply are exhausted.

Through an analysis of the potential for private sector participation in investments in the water sector in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Israel, the authors illustrate the different situations in which the countries currently find themselves in relation to the ability to secure private sector funding.

Finally, the Conclusions chapter briefly discusses the complexity of the Levant region’s water problems, as illustrated by the report.

It also touches upon the water and climate change nexus, and suggests potential lessons from the countries in the region, which neighbouring states might find beneficial in their intensifying FIIA REPORT 25/2010 19 quest for sustained water security. As the studies in this report demonstrate, tackling the Middle East’s water management and governance problems and enhancing its adaptation capability to climate change are two sides of the same coin. In seeking solutions to the multiple water-related problems, states need not necessarily look far afield, as examples of positive practices and developments have already begun emerging in different countries and on different levels. It is these local practices, combined with assistance from the international community, including Finland, that can help establish the foundation for sustainable water security in the Levant.

20 FIIA REPORT 25/2010Hannu Juusola

1 The internal dimensions of water security: the drought crisis in Northeastern Syria When analyzing water as a political and conflict risk factor in the Middle East, scholars typically emphasize the inter-state dimensions of this question and concentrate on the transboundary water resources in the area. This is, of course, a relevant and important point of view, given that many of the region’s central waterways are shared by several riparian countries. Yet, as argued in some recent studies, the internal, often local, conflicts over water and the consequent insecurities can pose a greater challenge for the Middle East than inter-state water conflicts.12 In this chapter, a concrete and acute water crisis in the Syrian northeast is described and analyzed regarding the possible consequences of drought for the country’s internal stability and the legitimacy of the regime. Since climate change is likely to cause recurrent droughts in the Middle East, the management of their consequences will certainly be of the utmost importance for the governments also in terms of their internal legitimacy.

An arid country

Most of Syria is either arid or semi-arid, a factor which strongly affects renewable water resources in the country. Water in Syria is obtained from three main sources: rainfall, surface water, and groundwater.

The average annual rainfall is about 256 mm, ranging from up to 1500 mm in the coastal region and along the Turkish border in the north to less than 200 mm (about 55% of the country). Only 15% of 12 See e.g. Jan Selby, ‘The Geopolitics of Water in the Middle East: Fantasies and Realities’, Third

World Quarterly, 26:2 (2005), p. 243; Jessica Barnes, ‘Managing the Waters of Ba’th Country:

The Politics of Water Scarcity in Syria’, Geopolitics 14 (2009), pp. 510–511.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 21 the area receives more than 350 mm of rain per year. Rainfall is also characterized by a considerable variation from year to year. According to a recent estimate, there has been a trend towards less rainfall since the early 1980s. As for the surface water, there are 16 main rivers or tributaries in Syria, the primary ones being the Euphrates, the biggest river in Syria, and the Tigris, both being shared with Turkey and Iraq. In the case of the Euphrates, there are provisional bilateral agreements between Syria and other parties regarding the sharing of water, whereas in the case of the latter, no formal agreement is in place. Unofficially, Turkey allows Syria to draw water from the Tigris for irrigation. The third most important river is the Orontes (al-Asi), which is, in turn, shared with Lebanon and Turkey. There is an agreement originating from 1994 between Syria and Lebanon regarding the allocation of Orontes flows, the only more official agreement Syria has with neighbouring countries. Even though there is no acute conflict over these transboundary waters, the attainment of formal multilateral agreements regarding water-sharing is vital for Syria, since more than 70% of the country’s water originates outside its borders. It is generally believed that an agreement on firm and official water-sharing deals between Syria and its neighbours will be a difficult task to accomplish.13 A key problem with groundwater is that many of Syria’s main aquifers are nonrenewable. Further, groundwater aquifers are very often overpumped, a fact which has resulted in the considerable deterioration of water quality and quantity in the aquifers. Nontraditional water resources have thus far played a very limited role in Syria. For instance, desalination is not employed as a water source and wastewater treatment plants are few.14 13 Yousef Meslmani, Vulnerability Assessment and Possible Adaptation Measures of Water Resources. Initial National Communication to UNFCCC (UNDP Syria, 2009), pp. 7-9, 21; John Dagge, ‘Parting the Waters’, Syria Today 57 (January 2010), 28-31; Kevin Freeman, ‘Water Wars? Inequalities in the Tigris-Euphrates River Basin’, Geopolitics 6:2 (2001), pp. 137-138.

14 For the foreseeable future, desalination can be a solution only in countries, notably the Gulf states, where the population lives along the coast at low levels, energy is very cheap, and no other solutions exist. / For data on water resources in Syria, see: Meslmani, Vulnerability Assessment, pp. 4–11.

22 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 All in all, the per capita available water resources in Syria (860m³/ year) are well below the international water poverty standards (1000m³/year), even without taking the rapidly deteriorating quality of the water resources into account.15 Syrian water resources have diminished considerably due to the demographic change, recurring droughts and problems of water management. An example of the latter is the drying up of the River Barada, the primary water source of Damascus. As is the case in the Middle East in general, water sources in Syria are mainly used for irrigation. In the Syrian case, the percentage is almost 90. Since 2002 at least, there has been a deficiency between used water and the available water resources. It is only on the coast and in the Aleppo area that the water balance is not deficient. In the coming 20 years, it is estimated that the water deficiency will triple, even without any increase in water demand. 16 Yet, with the growing population and the increasing water demand in industry, an overall increase is very likely. The fact that many rivers, lake dams and groundwater aquifers are polluted adds significantly to the problem. Climate change is projected to further aggravate the situation. In addition to decreasing precipitation, climate change is also likely to worsen the quality of groundwater, as coastal aquifers may be contaminated by intruding seawater. 17

Severe drought in the northeast

A document by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies characterizes Syria as ‘currently experiencing the dramatic effects of a drought that has been affecting the country since 2006’.18 Many areas have been affected, but the northeastern alJazira region has been hit particularly hard by the drought. According 15 Ibid., p. 11.

16 Ibid., p. 14.

17 Dia El-Din El-Quosy, ‘Fresh Water’, Mostafa K. Tolba and Najib W. Saab (ed.), Arab Environment: Climate Change. Impact of Climate Change on Arab Countries. 2009 Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, p. 76.

18 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, ‘Syria: Drought’ Map (3 August 2009). http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/HHOO-7UKL8A?OpenDoc ument&query=syria. Accessed on 15 August 2010.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 23 to government and UN estimates, as much as 95% of the affected population lives in the northeast. The drought adds to the significant water problems in this traditional breadbasket of Syria, which has already been heavily affected by water scarcity on previous occasions.

A case in point was the complete drying up of the lower reaches of the Khabour River, the main tributary of the Euphrates in Syria, in the 1990s. A major reason for this was overpumping on both the Turkish and Syrian sides of the border for irrigation and, particularly, the construction of the Basel al-Asad dam south of al-Hasake. In June 2010, the World Food Program (WFP) started distributing food to up to 200,000 people in the vast semi-arid provinces of al-Hasake, alRaqqa, and Deir al-Zor in an attempt to prevent severe malnutrition and starvation. This was the second time food had been delivered since the UN launched its Syria Drought Response Plan in 2009. Yet, according to WFP estimates, many more are in need of aid, but cannot be helped due to insufficient funding. The difficulties in obtaining adequate funding from international donors may be partly connected to the political tensions that still exist between Syria and the United States.19 One should bear in mind that even before the drought the northeastern region was the poorest area in Syria. While poverty declined in most of Syria between 1994 and 2004, in the northeastern provinces of al-Hasake, al-Raqqa, and Deir al-Zor poverty intensified both in terms of incidence and severity. All over the country, the number of landless people has increased in the past few decades, but especially so in the northeast. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, ‘water shortages and the drying up of groundwater wells, coupled with persistent droughts’ are among the main causes of rural poverty in Syria.20 19 On the drought in the northeast, see The National, ‘110 000 in Syria “will be deprived of food aid”’ (27 June 2010); The Daily Star, ‘Job-hunting Syrians head for cities amid severe drought’ (June 23 2010), p. 9; New York Times, ‘Water Crisis grips Syria’ (2 March 2010).

20 See: Rural Poverty Portal, ‘Rural Poverty in Syria’ http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/ web/guest/country/home/tags/syria. Accessed on 18 August 2010.

–  –  –

The boundaries and names shown and the designations used in this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs or the authors, and are for illustrative purposes only.

Map 2. Syria and its provinces Social consequences of the drought As a consequence of the drought, Syria’s food security is becoming increasingly compromised and internal population movements are threatening social stability in urban centres. In addition, the production of key agriculture products such as wheat, barley and cotton fell dramatically, forcing the government to import wheat from abroad in 2008 for the first time since the 1990s. In 2008, barley was even more affected than wheat, with a crop failure of as much as 90%. Since barley is the most important crop used for animal feed, the failure has major repercussions for the raising of cattle.21 The fact

21 IRIN News (30 June 2008) www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=790. Accessed on 17September 2010.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 25 that in 2010 as much as one-third of Syria’s wheat crop has been damaged by a wheat rust disease (Yellow Rust) further worsens the situation. The government has announced that due to the disease, wheat production in 2010-2011 could decline by 18% compared to the previous year.22 Consequently, the General Organization for Grains in Syria revealed that wheat had to be imported for a third consecutive year to meet local demand. The situation is worst in the Hasake province. It is assumed by the agricultural research centre ICARDA that ‘drought conditions masked the rust’, which resulted in a worse situation in Syria than in other affected areas such as Iran and Iraq.

Despite the problems, however, both the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Syrian authorities maintain that there is no immediate threat to food security.23 As opposed to wheat, the cotton crop is likely to be good this season (2010-11), at least according to the official estimates.24 The social consequences of the drought in the badly affected areas are dire since the rural population hit by the drought has lost practically all means to sustain its livelihood. At least 2 to 3 million people are food insecure. In the al-Jazira region, 70% of livestock have perished in the crisis. There are indications of a drastic increase in nutrition-related diseases, as well as full-blown malnutrition.25 The drought in the al-Jazira region and elsewhere has triggered a mass migration of people to the urban centres of Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama, which are already overcrowded. It is estimated that several hundred thousand people, up to over a million, have abandoned their homes in the northeast and are now seeking a livelihood in the 22 Baladna, ‘Syria’s wheat crop damaged by virulent disease’ (6 June 2010), p. 10.

23 IRIN News, ‘Syria: Yellow wheat rust hits supplies’ (19 August 2010) www.irinnews.org/ Report.aspx?ReportId=90220. Accessed on 19 August 2010.

24 al-Thawra, ‘Mahsul al-qutn bi-halati jayyidah’ (16 August 2010), pp. 1 and 11.

25 UN, Syria Drought Response Plan 2009-2010. Mid-Term Review (February 2010); Unicef, ‘Alongside Syrian health workers, UNICEF battles varied causes of malnutrition’ (18 August 2010), http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/syria_55611.html. Accessed on 20 August 2010;

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