STOCKHOLM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) have catalogued trans-boundary surface and groundwater resources in the parched Middle East.
Launched during the World Water Week in Stockholm on Tuesday, the Inventory of Shared Water Resources in Western Asia provides accurate and up-to-date information crucial to inform stakeholders and foster dialogue in one of the driest parts of the world.
“This unique publication in its groundbreaking information and distinctive preparation process that actively involved ESCWA member countries will provide new insights for future research on shared water resources in the region and will serve as a basis for continuing regional cooperation on water as well as other natural resources that are strategic for this region and often of shared nature,” said Roula Majdalani, director of the Sustainable Development and Productivity Division of UN-ESCWA, in a statement.
“This is not the end – this is really the beginning of the dialogue,” she said during the launch.
In the Middle East, where an estimated 66 percent of the freshwater originates outside the region, interest in the region’s shared waters resources has grown in the recent years. However, research and data collection focused largely on surface water bodies and disputes related to the Euphrates, Tigris, Nile and Jordan river basins.
The importance of the independent inventory, which covers 26 shared surface and groundwater bodies in Western Asia, was clear to Middle Eastern policy makers.
“The major issue on our country (is) the Jordan river. There is no common figure among us and the Israelis and maybe also between the Jordanians, the Lebanese and the Syrians, about how much water is there,” said Dr. Shaddad Attili of the Palestinian Water Authority. “At the negotiations, before we start fighting and debating, we have to have (...) data,” he said.
Nearly all Arab countries suffer from water scarcity, meaning that water supplies in those countries are less than 1,000 cubic metres per person per year and at least 12 countries suffer absolute scarcity with under 500 cubic metres per person.
Conflicts in the region further stress water resources in countries that receive displaced populations.
One of the key findings of the inventory is the largely neglected fact that water quality in the region is rapidly deteriorating and is eclipsed by concerns over quantity.
The inventory also points out that there are more shared water resources in Western Asia than was generally assumed and the lack of accurate data hampers joint water management.
Another finding stresses that it is already too late to save some shared waters and countries need to cooperate more closely in order to sustain the shared resources that remain.