In Search for Water Diplomacy
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Hedayat Fahmi, Director for water resources planning department of Iran’s Energy Ministry believes that addressing the dust issue requires engagement with neighboring countries and exercising diplomacy of water.
“We need to use water diplomacy,” Fahmi told the Islamic Republic News Agency in a recent interview.
“We need to enhance political relations among regional nations to increase the environmental water shares,” he said.
“This can be done only through establishment of regional cooperation,” he added
According to Fahmi, till 2045, the Middle East is expected to see a 60 percent rise in its demand for fresh water.
“This is while, based on expert analysis, over the same period climate changes and drought are going to contribute to the shrinkage of fresh water resources in the region by 10 percent,” the university lecturer said.
This could potentially increase the possibility for regional conflicts, as some speculations suggest that the Islamic Awakening in the Arab countries was influenced by water shortage, he warned.
Nimrod Raphaeli Senior Analyst (emeritus) at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) remains to be of the same view, arguing that water is vital for peace.
“Water is the key to war or peace. Borders can be redrawn, refugees resettled, trade barriers removed, and agriculture reformed and made more efficient,” Raphaeli said, in an article released by MEMRI, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, organization that investigates US policies in the Middle East.
“In the words of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study, 'Water is power - and when water is in short supply, power relations figures prominently in determining who gets access to water and on what terms,' he wrote.
Our studies show that 60 percent of the dust storms affecting Iran originate from neighboring Iraq, while Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are respectively responsible for 16, nine and two percents of the dust storms hitting Iran, Fahmi said.
“Of course, eight percent of the dust clouds hovering over Iran are estimated to have their origins in the main land, a figure now tends to increase to stay at 12 to 20 percent due to consecutive years of drought and earth’s erosion,' the he added.
Over the past decades drought and shrinking rivers running through the region have prompted countries to try to confiscate as much water resources as they could to guarantee the vital wherewithal for furthering their development.
Governments across the increasingly arid region have been constructing as many dams as they could to capture waters in the rivers flowing along their territories.
Turkey, for example, started back in 1960s, the Southeastern Anatolia Project, or Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi (GAP) in Turkish.
Then Turkish President Suleiman Demirel, a trained engineer, launched the ambitious project to materialize a dream by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to better integrate eastern Anatolia into the rest of Turkey and generate economic development through the construction of irrigation projects.
The major project, known shortly as GAP, includes 22 large and small dams and 14 hydroelectric plants all built to trap waters from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowing in eastern Turkey before reaching Iraq and Syria.
The project encompasses nine provinces in Turkey and 10 percent of the country’s territory, Fahmi said.
“Turkish officials, launching the project, came up with a famous slogan, namely a barrel of oil for a barrel of water,” he said.
But according to the Iranian Energy Ministry official, the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, with the latter first running through Syria, are also expected to quench Iraq’s thirst for water.
The Ataturk Dam, the biggest in the Middle East and the ninth largest in the world and with a regulated storage capacity of 37 billion cubic meters has decreased the amount of water flowing along Syria and Iraq from an annual 33 billion cubic meters to just nine billion cubic meters.
Over the past years, Syria has also constructed dams on the Euphrates. The Baath, Halabiye, Tishrin as well as Lake Assad are among some of the constructions aimed at increasing the country’s share of water from the presumably endless source of fresh water.
Climate change is a global issue and its dire ramifications are expected not to solely affect individual nations.
The Middle East overwhelmed with ethnic and religious conflicts and already acquiring the title of a hotbed for terrorism and terrorist activities, now is facing a more terrible threat, this time from changes in the climate.
Apart from their short-term consequences, drought and dust storms, over long run, tend to act as a weapon of mass destruction, affecting millions of people in the region.
“The Middle East region, which is already one of the most volatile regions in the world, could become even more volatile if millions of its people cannot find water to drink, let alone to grow food,” Raphaeli said.
*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.