Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Accord or Discord on the Nile? – Part I

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Its always a good day when nations come to terms over shared fresh water resources, especially in the more parched regions of the world. Hence, it was a wonderful turn of events when various news agencies (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here) reported recently that the nations of the Nile River Basin had reached an accord over the waters of one of the most disputed rivers in the world. On 14 May 2010, the countries of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed the Agreement on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework (CFA); Kenya added its signature five days later.

To read it in the news release of the Nile Basin Initiative, a partnership created in 1999 among all of the Nile riparians minus Eritrea (which has observer status at the Initiative) to seek this very accord, readers might think that all serious controversies had been resolved by the nations that share the waters of the Nile (the five that signed the CFA plus Burundi, D.R. Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, and Sudan). Behind the veneer, though, the achievement remains hamstrung by the ages-old controversy plaguing many riverine nations on transboundary watercourses – the upstream-downstream dispute. As reported, though possibly understated, by some of the news agencies, the most downstream riparians on the Nile River are refusing to join their upstream neighbors in the agreement. Both Egypt and Sudan, who have already allocated around 90% of the Nile’s waters between themselves under a 1959 treaty (Egypt also claims a veto right over upstream hydro projects under a 1929 agreement with Britain, the region’s former colonial overseer), have raised serious objections to the new agreement.

Sudan and especially Egypt have long claimed historical rights to the waters of the Nile River based on their dozens of centuries of use and reliance on the watercourse. Their argument is grounded in the notion that older, established rights are superior to more recent claims and is akin to the prior appropriation system used in most of the western United States. Moreover, both countries are highly dependent on the Nile’s waters for maintaining their development and living standards and Egypt has raised the specter of national security as justification for defending its claims.

The difficulty with this position, at least from the perspective of the upper riparians, is that because Egypt and Sudan have made claims to the vast majority of the Nile’s waters, little is left for the peoples of the other eight nations. Moreover, international water law has tended to shun absolute claims of right and has opted for more flexible principles, such as equitable and reasonable use, which allow the possibility that nations’ rights to shared waters may be adjusted in response to changing circumstances.

Egypt, however, has also raised a more novel argument by differentiating between the Nile River and the Nile Basin. While the former carries between 90-100 billion cubic meters of water down the watercourse, the latter actually receives some 1,660 billion cubic meters of rainfall, 85 percent of which falls on the Ethiopian high plateau and the rest over the other upstream nations. Those upstream riparians, Egypt contends, should focus their efforts and claims on developing the vast volume of untapped waters that are otherwise lost to evaporation and infiltration. Notably, Egypt has offered to cooperate on and assist with such water development projects.

As it stands, five nations have signed the CFA and Burundi and DR Congo have indicated they may add their marks in the near future. Actual ratification, though, is the gold standard in international law and the CFA requires six ratifications before it can come into force. To date, none of the Nile riaprians have ratified the accord.

And, what about the accord itself?  Surprisingly, it is nowhere to be found. An extensive online search for the CFA found no direct or indirect hits (other than the news stories about the agreement). It also revealed that even the upstream nations who signed the agreement have not provided its text on their official websites. Moreover, queries to colleagues and contacts around the world, some of whom are well placed, produced nothing (well, almost – see my next IWLP blog posting).

Why would countries sign on to a new treaty, announce the event in a very public process, and then neglect to provide the text of what they agreed to? It seems a rather strange set of circumstances. Of course, this merely may be a pardonable oversight. Moreover, it may be that the text of the CFA is available elsewhere (though, none of my contacts can figure out where). Nonetheless, in this modern information age where public access is often defined by availability on the Internet (even in Africa), and where nearly every bit of text produced on Earth that is fit to print appears first on the Internet, the CFA is conspicuously absent.

The exclusion of the CFA from the public, though, is likely a function of the ongoing upstream-downstream discord that remains among the Nile’s riparians pitting Egypt and Sudan on one side and the remaining riparians on the other. Maybe the Nile Basin nations want to present a more harmonious front when revealing the treaty, or maybe they fear scrutiny of the agreement before it is finalized. Yet, agreements forged behind closed doors, even those that merely give the appearance of secrecy, often falter because of the lack of public support. And since it is the people of the Nile that are at the core of this agreement and who stand to benefit from a more cooperative sharing of the watercourse, the agreement should be made public even though it has yet to be endorsed by all of the Nile Basin governments.

To date, with one exception (by Business Daily Africa.com, which, for a business-oriented publication, offered a surprisingly rosy assessment of the accord), there has been no review or assessment of the rights and obligations that would be created under this new arrangement. Having finally procured a copy of my own, here is my brief take on the CFA.

Radio Broadcast of Presentation: “Scarcity, Conflict, & Security: The Future of Water for Israel & Her Neighbors”

Monday, October 5th, 2009

A few months ago, I was invited to give a talk to the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland on Scarcity, Conflict, & Security: The Future of Water for Israel & Her Neighbors. A flyer on the program can be found here. A local radio station – KBOO FM – recorded the presentation and, supplemented with a follow up phone interview, have presented extended excerpts on their Shalom Portland radio show. The 35 minute broadcast can be heard via Shalom Portland website (under the audio tab) as well as here.

In this presentation, I focused on the resources available to both Israelis and Palestinians and the difficulties that such scarcity creates for the region. I also offered a brief discussion on possible mechanisms for enhancing the availability of water resources for both peoples. In addition, I discussed my brief role in track II negotiations over transboundary fresh water resources between civil society representatives from both sides. Those negotiations, held in Maryland last year, were arranged under the auspices of the Geneva Initiative, which recently released their complete model Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement. The GI’s model agreement incorporates annexes on all of the major issues dividing the two parties, including the one on shared water resources. You can find my comments on that annex here.

Geneva Initiative Releases Water Annex to Model Israel-Palestinian Peace Agreement

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Yesterday, September 15, 2009, the Geneva Initiative released its long-awaited Annexes to its Model Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement. Among the various annexes was one pertaining to water. While not the most legally artful agreement, the accord is a remarkable and positive development in the pursuit of peace between the two peoples.

Among the more interesting points is the recognition by both parties that they both possess rights to water in water resources that traverse their political boundaries. This includes the Mountain aquifer and its various sub-basins, the Coastal Aquifer, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea.  This point has been a particularly important issue for the Palestinians who strive for nationhood and the respect due a sovereign people.  A related and equally crucial issue for the Palestinians is the acknowledgment in the accord by Israel that a “just and rightful” allocation of water between the two peoples requires a “re-division” of shared water resources in favor of the Palestinians. The Palestinians have long claimed that Israel has taken more than its fair share and ignored the Palestinians’ rights to the water in the region.

In response, Israel’s concerns about the contamination of its water supply are partly addressed in the provisions related to both parties’ obligation to void causing significant transboundary harm via shared waters. The definition afforded to the term “harm” in this provision is rather broad in scope and encompasses detrimental effects not only to people and property, but also to the natural environment. Israel has voiced considerable misgivings about the Palestinian’s ability to manage wastewater and other pollutants in the highlands of the West Bank (part of the presumptive Palestinian State).  This region is the recharge area for the Mountain Aquifer and any inflow of pollutants (which is already occurring to some extent) threatens Israel’s water supply in the lower reaches of the aquifer below Israel proper.

One other noteworthy provision in the Water Annex is the creation of a Joint Water Commission, which in its initial stage, would have some authority to adjust water allocations between the two states in response to “significant hydrologic and climatic changes.” What this may mean in practice remains to be seen, however, the creation of a joint commission composed of three representatives from each side with a voting “neutral chairman of another nationality” suggests a serious desire to develop a fair mechanism for cooperative water management and allocation.

Although a full analysis of the annex is beyond the scope of this simple posting, it suffices to say that the accord is a positive development in the search for peace in the region. That is not to say that the Water Annex (as well as some of the others) is not fraught with problems.  In fact, there are numerous inconsistencies and amalgamation of disparate concepts that will require refinement, harmonization and clarification.

Nonetheless, the document and the entire model agreement signal a willingness to compromise by both sides, at least on the part of civil society. As with all of the annexes spearheaded by the Geneva Initiative, this document is the product of negotiations by Israeli and Palestinian civil society members (rather than politicians or diplomats), every day people who were fed up with the unending stalemate at the official levels. By sidestepping the political process, they sought to avoid the rhetoric and seek a compromise in the spirit of fairness and mutual respect. Their efforts deserve recognition not only by the press, but also by their fellow citizens and elected representatives on both sides.

I must note that I had the honor of serving as one of a number of neutral advisers in the initial negotiations of what became the Water Annex. In addition, while all those involved in the development of this model water accord should be commended for their efforts, it is noteworthy that the Annex was prepared in memory of Palestinian, Dr. Fadia Daibes Murad. It is truly a fitting tribute to her efforts.

Terry Spragg Comments on Water, Peace and the Middle East

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Terry Spragg, inventor of the Spraggbag, sent me an e-mail responding to my previous posting on Water, Peace and the Middle East. I thought it worth sharing.

 

Dear Gabriel,

 

Using waterbag technology to transport Turkish water to Israel and Palestine can eliminate many of the political and economic issues raised in your recent editorial, and by Dr. Shuval, in your comments on the excellent NEW YORK TIMES editorial, “Water for Peace” (July 13, 2009) written by Stanley Weiss.

 

(Your readers can visit YouTube and insert the words, “Spragg Bag” in the selection box to see a video of television news coverage of a demonstration of this technology, or link to www.waterbag.com for photos and more information.  For more a more detailed analysis of the economic and political possibilities that will result from a successful waterbag operation in the Middle East, your readers may want to read the selections from the novel, WATER, WAR AND PEACE, that appear on this website.)

 

“Spragg Bag” technology can be visualized as a modular fabric pipeline that can easily and inexpensively move large quantities of water through the ocean in an environmentally safe manner, using large waterbags connected together in long waterbag trains with the world’s strongest zipper.  Waterbag economics are easy to calculate.  Waterbag technology is easy to demonstrate.  It is the politics of waterbag technology that is the most difficult issue that needs to be addressed.

 

As Prime Minister Netanyahu has correctly analyzed, Peace will not come to the Middle East without the development of a viable Palestinian economy.

 

A viable Palestinian economy cannot be developed without a reliable and economic water supply.

 

Transporting Turkish water to Israel and Palestine using waterbag technology is the least expensive and most politically viable way to develop a new water supply for the region.

 

This is an easy and inexpensive theory to demonstrate and calculate.

 

Dr. Shuval’s $0.50/m3 cost for desalinated water produced at the Ashkelon plant does not include capital costs, which would almost double this $0.50/m3 cost for desalinated water.  An email from Saul Arlosoroff (Director of Mekorot and Chairman of its Finance/Economic Committee) to David Brooks (Friends of the Earth, Canada) confirms this statement.  The Ashkelon plant received special financing considerations and natural gas concessions which are not available for the development of the new desalination plants currently under construction and being proposed in Israel.

 

Using Dr. Shuval’s economics, waterbag technology could deliver water from Turkey to Israel and Palestine in the $0.30/m3 to $0.40/m3 range.

 

Israel would prefer not to rely on Turkey as a source for some of its water supply.  All nations would like to be water independent.  However, military and trade relations between Turkey and Israel remain strong (setting aside the brief discussion between Erdogan and Peres at the recent World Water Forum in Israel).

 

Israel transports most of its energy from sources outside its boundaries using the seas.  Water transports using the seas should be no different.  The United States seems to be willing to protect Israel’s energy supplies.   Protecting Israel’s water supplies should be no different.

 

Israel proposes to build desalination plants to produce water for the Palestinians.  If the Palestinians are expected to rely on Israel for the development of a new water supply it would seem that Israel should be comfortable in relying on an outside source for a portion of its water supply. 

 

Waterbags delivered directly to the Palestinians can avoid this dependency issue.  The United States should commit to defending both these water supply transport systems in the name of national security.

 

Israel can use shipments of Turkish water directly to the Palestinians as a test case for Israel’s analysis of the economic and technical reliability of waterbag technology before it makes a commitment to purchase Turkish water.

 

The Palestinian concern that by accepting water from another source before it resolves its dispute with Israel over control of the West Bank and Gaza aquifers can be put to rest by using waterbag technology.  Israel should agree that transporting Turkish water to Palestine is only a test case to prove the economic and technical reliability of waterbag technology for both parties.  The acceptance of Turkish water by the Palestinians should have no relationship to the current dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians over the water in the West Bank and Gaza aquifers.

 

As the drought in the Middle East continues this argument should gain more acceptance by both parties.

 

Past failures of waterbag technology can easily be overcome by implementing a demonstration voyage of “Spragg Bag” technology between Turkey and Israel.  This demonstration voyage plan has been presented by Gershon Baskin (co-founder [1988] of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information [IPCRI], and a representative of Spragg & Associates) to various Israeli, Turkish, Palestinian, Jordanian and American government and business representatives.  If the political leaders in the region will publically announce their support for a demonstration of “Spragg Bag” technology in the Middle East to the media, then a demonstration of this technology should be able to be implemented with ZERO COST to the region’s governments.

 

Stanley Weiss is 100% correct in calling for the United States to take a leadership role in helping to develop a secure water supply for the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Water is becoming the most critical national security issue facing the nations of the Middle East, and therefore a critical national security issue for the United States.

 

The insidious nature of drought in the Middle East poses a major challenge for America’s security interests throughout the region.  American political and business leaders must be wise enough to anticipate these events.

 

As the drought in the Middle East continues, and recognizing that water may become the most explosive issue to be faced between the Israelis and the Palestinians, perhaps the Business Executives for National Security, lead by Stanley Weiss, will be able to take an active leadership role in gaining America’s political and technical support for demonstrating how water can be transported as a tool for helping to bring “Water for Peace” in the Middle East.

 

Terry also sent me a number of documents related to his comments. These include:

·         a letter from Israeli President, Shimon Peres to Terry;

·         a letter from research engineer, Cliff Goudey, of the MIT Sea Grant College Program to Terry regarding the control and stability of navigating such large bags across oceans;

·         a number of press clipping on the possible transport of water from Turkey to Israel and the Palestinian Territories; and

·         an e-mail from IPCRI’s Gershon Baskin to Terry discussing his July 2008 meeting with the Head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Dr. Shaddad Atilli.

Water, Peace and the Middle East

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Stanley A. Weiss offers a grave perspective of the water situation in the Middle East. He writes that “the region is headed toward a water calamity that could overwhelm all efforts at peace.” Ominous words, but sadly, true.

Weiss, however, also offers a prescription for averting the tragedy.  Among his recommendations, water-rich Turkey should become a purveyor for the parched nations of the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan, Syria, the future Palestine, and possibly others. While such solutions have been proffered in the past, couched in the language of “peace pipeline” and “water plan for peace,” the politics of the region have always thwarted their realization. My sense is that they will continue to do so into the future.

While Turkey does have prodigious amounts of water in relation to its land area and population, and certainly in comparison with its neighbors in the Middle East, transporting water from Turkey to where it is needed will require negotiations of Herculean proportion. As Weiss notes, a water carrier from Turkey will have to run through Syria and possibly Lebanon. Unfortunately, neither of these nations is known for their stability or international cooperation.  In particular, the ongoing tensions between Syria and Lebanon (e.g., over the murder of Former Prime Minister Hariri), Syria and Israel (e.g., over the Golan Heights), Lebanon and Israel (e.g., over Israel’s 2006 conflict with Hezbollah), and Israel and the Palestinians (e.g., over security, human rights, and independence) make any cooperation over water seem illusory.

Yet, it must be stated that the reason that such a scheme is unlikely to materialize anytime soon is not just because of regional politics. It is also due to a historically ingrained lack of trust among the region’s countries. In order to implement the Turkish water solution, the nations of the Middle East would have to become comfortable being dependent on Turkey having ultimate control over an indispensible resource. Iraq’s and Syria’s ongoing water relations with Turkey suggest anything but comfort with Turkey’s management of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (see my prior post). Similarly, given the route of the water carrier, some nations would also have to be reliant on the amiability of countries in whose territory the carrier would run.

It has been said multiple times: water is life. Without it, life ceases to exist. Hence, the question: what country would willingly place its life, its peoples’ lives, in the hands of a neighbor, especially one who may be unfriendly? I suppose nations in Europe and North America might be more inclined to accept such a precarious situation in order to ensure their water supply. These, though, are nations with a history of cooperation over security, shared resources, migration, and other issues. I have my doubts, however, about the nations of the Middle East. With their long record of enmity and conflict, any accord that creates dependency would necessitate a significant calamity (such as widespread famine), immense international pressure, or some advantage that the subordinate State could not refuse (no, I cannot think of any examples).

Pessimism aside, Weiss’ other recommendations do hit the mark. Israel should be convinced to share its water expertise and technology with its Arab neighbors. Israel has long been a leader in water management techniques and technology and such an overture would not only help alleviate water scarcity problems in the region, but also serve as a basis for further cooperative opportunities. The U.N. also should mobilize a global effort to improve desalination efforts to make them less expensive, less energy intensive, and more environmentally friendly. Lastly, a new effort on water management should be brokered between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to replace the failed Joint Water Committee.

In addition, though, steps must be taken to overcome the inherent lack of trust shared by the region’s nations as it relates to fresh water. Specifically, Europe and the U.S. should embark on a new strategy with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and with any other nation in the region willing to exchange peace for water, for a comprehensive plan for water management and provision. Such a plan should have two main tenets.

First, the plan should be based on the undeniable reality that there just is not enough water in the Middle East to support everyone’s population, developmental, and environmental needs. There is a dire need to develop new sources of freshwater through desalination of sea water and brackish aquifers, treatment and reuse of grey water (non-industrial wastewater generated from domestic processes), and the capturing of rain and flood waters that otherwise go unused. Hence, a key aspect of the plan would be to generate financial, technical, and management support from Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere to pursue these new water opportunities. It would also involve assistance in developing the necessary infrastructure needed to deliver the water to where it is needed.

The plan also would be founded on the principle that, to the extent possible, no nation should have the ability to control the flow of water into another nation. While the elimination of all control factors is likely unattainable, the reduction of some measure of countries’ dependence on water resources originating or flowing from neighboring states will go a long way to lessening both water stress and political tensions. This principle would be implemented through two alternate but not mutually exclusive approaches. The first approach is through the creation of bilateral or multilateral water management and allocation institutions that have some degree of independence in their operation. Existing institutions that might be look to as models include, among others, the Mexico-US International Boundary and Water Commission, the Franko-Swiss Genevese Aquifer Management Commission, and the Council of Ministers and High Commission of the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River. Preferably as a complementary approach, but possibly as an alternative approach if the institutional strategy is deemed unworkable, the second tactic would pursue the augmentation of local water opportunities in each country as well as the reassessment of access points and allocations of transboundary waters to provide each nation with enhanced water security. For example, desalination on the Israeli Mediterranean coast would be expanded to benefit Israel in exchange for the Palestinians receiving a greater share of the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank. A similar approach could be employed between Israel and Jordan on the Jordan River.

Weiss’ warning of the coming “water calamity” in the Middle East cannot be overstated. Water is a life issue. But, it is also subject to political, economic, and security concerns, climatic variability, and a host of societal, national, and international interests that threaten to overwhelm any effort to achieve a lasting peace in the region. Although water could certainly serve as a basis for peace in the Middle East, success will hinge on generating a level of trust and cooperation that has yet to be seen in the region.


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Turkey’s GAP project and International Water Law

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

The Greek paper, Kathimerini, reports that the water situation on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers is getting worse.  Iraqi dam storage is down 75% from 3 years ago, while the river flow in Euphrates has fallen by a similar percentage as compared with the year 2000.  And since rainfall in the region has been average, all finger’s point to Turkey and its ongoing hydro projects.

 

For the past 30-plus years, Turkey has been constructing a series of dams and related waterworks collectively known as the Southeastern Anatolia Project, better known by its Turkish acronym as the “GAP.” The 22 dams and 19 hydro-electric power plants are intended to expand irrigation by 1.7 million hectares in southeastern Turkey, and provide up to 27 billion kilowatt/hours of electricity annually.  While it is difficult to argue against the expected benefits to Turkey, the question is: “at what expense?”

 

Turkey is the upper riparian on both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which flow from Turkey’s eastern mountains down through Syria and into Iraq. The two rivers eventually join in southern Iraq to form the Shat al Arab before entering the Persian Gulf. Both Syria and Iraq, downstream riparians, have complained that Turkey’s GAP activities and the downstream impacts violate international law. The statistics presented in this article give their complaints credence.

 

The difficulty is that Turkey doesn’t seem to care. The country has long championed an absolutist international law perspective – absolute territorial sovereignty – that posits that sovereignty entitles states to unrestrained use of resources found within their territo­ries. They claim that since the majority of water originates within their territory (more than 95% for the Euphrates and some 43% of the Tigris), they should have the right to use it for their benefit.

 

This position is also seen in Turkey’s observance of (or lack thereof) the solitary bilateral water sharing agreement between Turkey and Iraq. Under the 1946 Treaty of Friendship, Turkey is obliged to inform Iraq of any projects it undertakes that are likely to affect the flow of the rivers. Turkey, however, has argued that its activities will only serve to improve water flow in the two rivers and has discounted evidence to the contrary.

 

Turkey was one of three nations (China and Burundi were the other two) that voted against the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention in the UN General Assembly. That instrument stands for the principle of limited territorial sovereignty and obligates states to an equitable and reasonable use of a transboundary watercourse as well as to ensure that activities within their territory do not cause significant harm to other riparian states. Both Iraq and Syria have ratified or acceded to that instrument. That the Convention has yet to go into force (see the Status of the Convention here and my recent post on the subject) is irrelevant as most of its provisions have the status of customary international law. Yet, Turkey continues to espouse its absolutist position.

 

The principal shortcoming of Turkey’s approach is that it is nearly alone in its championing of this approach, one that was discarded long ago by the vast majority of nations. China is the only other nation that I know of that continues to actively assert this position (primarily in relation to the Mekong River). Practically speaking, this absolutist approach disregards downstream consequences and the rights of downstream states to the use of the two rivers. As Turkey is nearly exclusively an upstream state in all of its transboundary rivers, it has not experienced life as a downstream riparian. I suspect that if Turkey had an opportunity to be reliant on an upstream state’s goodwill and good faith, it too would change its perspective (the US so did when it repudiated the Harmon Doctrine in its relations with Mexico when it later negotiated transboundary waters agreements with Canada; but that is a discussion for another time).

 

Possibly, Turkey will eventually find itself reliant on the goodwill and good faith of Syria and Iraq on other issues important to its interests, though, at the moment, I can’t think of any that could be used to counterweigh the water issue. It is more likely that Turkey will find itself reliant on the goodwill and good faith of other nations who might be sympathetic to the plight of Turkey’s downstream neighbors. Membership in the European Union – something Turkey may covet more than the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates – has often been suggested as the likely carrot for Turkey’s cooperation with Syria and Iraq. That, however, presupposes that the EU truly is interested in this dilemma. Given most of Europe’s disdain for the US’s activities in Iraq, there could be a leadership opportunity in the Middle East for the sidelined Europeans. Does Europe have the tenacity and determination to take on this challenge? If not, Iraq and Syria are in for a very long drought.

 

Thanks to Rich Rapier for sending me the link to the Greek article.

Jordan plans own Red-Dead canal without Israel

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

According to the Boston Herald and The Jordan Times, Jordan will pursue the long-talked about canal project between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea without Israel.  According to news reports, Jordan declared its intention this past Sunday at the 2009 World Economic Forum in the Middle East, held at the Dead Sea in Jordan.  The original plan had called for Jordan to cooperate with Israel on the canal and the World Bank was in the midst of assessing the feasibility of the joint project.  Now that Jordan has decided to go it alone, it has dubbed its project “Jordan National Red Sea Water Development Project” in order to differentiate it from the original “Red-Dead Canal” proposal.

 

The purpose behind the project is two-fold.  The first is to provide desalinated water to one of the most parched regions of the world.  Red Sea water will be channeled through pipelines to a desalination facility that, using the elevation difference between the Red Sea (at sea level) and the Dead Sea (approximately 400 meters below sea level), is expected to provide 120 mcm of fresh water annually by 2014, and eventually at full capacity, as much as 700 mcm.  The second rationale for the project is to revive the “dying” Dead Sea, which over the past 20 or 30 years, has lost about one-third of its area and dropped more than 30 meters.  The Sea has been desiccated for the same reasons that the Aral Sea has been drying out (see my prior post on the Aral Sea) – because of Israeli and Jordanian upstream diversions from the Jordan River (the Dead Sea’s principle source of water) that have reduced the river’s inflow to as little as five percent of natural historical natural flows (check out the website and Photo Album of Friends of the Earth Middle East on the Dead Sea). The idea is to take the salts removed in the desalination process and pump them back into the remaining waters used to fill the heavily saline Dead Sea (10 times the salinity of sea water).

 

That Jordan is going it alone may not be much of a surprise.  Jordan has been frustrated with environmentalists in Israel who have long challenged the plan as an environmentally destructive plan. They cite the different chemistries of Red Sea and Dead Sea water and the potential alteration of the chemical makeup that makes the Dead Sea so distinctive as well as the possible impact on currents in the Red Sea that could threaten the Red Sea’s unique coral life (see, for example, the campaign of Friends of the Earth Middle East).  Without the obstacles of the Israeli environmentalists, Jordan, which only has a nascent environmental movement, can move forward at its own whim.

 

Of course, a critical question will be whether Jordan can secure the necessary funds for the project, which is expected to cost around $5-$10 billion and to take 30 years to complete.  Without Israel and in the context of a peace initiative (some have dubbed the original Red-Dead Canal project as the “Peace Canal”), that may be difficult.  But that may be part of Jordan’s strategy to overcome the environmental opposition and pressure Israel to commit to the plan.  And Jordan’s tactic may be working.  Not long after Jordan’s announced its intentions to move forward with its own plan, Israel’s Water Authority expressed its hope that a cooperative arrangement could yet be achieved.  And Israel certainly has good reasons to want to take part in this project – while the majority of the benefits from a Red-Dead canal will accrue to Jordan, Israel would still benefit considerably from fresh water in its Arava Valley, as well as a revived Dead Sea.  According to the news reports, Jordan does not intend its new canal to replace the Red-Dead Canal Project.  Would that allow for the possibility of two canals?  Highly unlikely.

In memory of Fadia Daibes Murad

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

In memory of Fadia Daibes Murad

A few days ago, friends and colleagues commemorated the life of Fadia Daibes Murad, a Palestinian water law and policy expert who died in a car crash on her way back to Ramallah from the World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. Fadia had long been an advocate for Palestinian water rights in the difficult contest between Palestinians and Israelis. She had also been a stalwart voice on women’s issues and was widely known as an intelligent and articulate champion of human rights.

 

While I had heard about Fadia previously, I got to know her during our participation in Track II negotiations over water issues between Palestinians and Israelis under the framework of the Geneva Initiative. During that process, I found Fadia to be wonderfully energetic and approachable, someone with whom you could argue intelligently and not get caught up in idealism. While Fadia certainly held strong opinions about the Palestinian rights, water allocations, and related issues, she could also recognize and acknowledge opposing positions. Most important, she had a wonderful personality that welcomed conversation and that made everyone feel at ease.

 

I do not know what influence Fadia had on the Palestinian side. But from my discussions with some Israelis, I know that she found respect on that side. And that is the essence of the ongoing dispute – a loss of respect and trust that will keep peace at bay so long as both parties ignore each other’s human dignity and fail to recognize each other’s rights. I can only hope that for the sake of peace, the Palestinians and the Israelis have someone to fill her shoes.

 

I was not able to attend Fadia’s memorial, but her memory remains with me. Fadia’s untimely death is a tremendous loss to her family and friends. It is also a loss to those devoted to the cause of peace in the Middle East. Her absence will be sorely missed.

 

Here are a few links to some of Fadia’s recent work:

·         Interview at the World Water Forum in Istanbul where Fadia represented the Gender and Water Alliance on the topic of water and conflict from a gender perspective.

·         Statement of Dr. Fadia Daibes Murad at 5th World Water Forum.

Forthcoming lecture on “Scarcity, Conflict, & Security: The Future of Water for Israel & Her Neighbors”

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

For those of you who will be in the Portland, Oregon, area on June 1, I have been asked to give a lecture to the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland on Scarcity, Conflict, & Security: The Future of Water for Israel & Her Neighbors. The lecture will take place at the Benson Hotel, located at 309 SW Broadway in Portland, OR, 12noon to 1:30 pm. There is a $20 admission fee (unfortunately, I have no control over this). You can find a flyer about the program here and register for the program here.

Yes, this lecture was originally scheduled for May 19. However, I was just invited to serve on a UNESCO IHP delegation to a UNEP Conference on “Strengthening Transboundary Freshwater Governance – The Environmental Sustainability Challenge” to be held in Bangkok, Thailand. The Jewish Federation was very gracious about rescheduling my talk.

Israel Responds to World Bank Report on Palestinian Water Sector Development

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Israel recently responded to the World Bank’s Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development (PDF) (see the press release here), in which the Bank found that “the joint governance rules and water allocations established under the 1995 Oslo interim agreement … fall short of the needs of the Palestinian people” and that “the imbalance in power, capacity and information between parties, interim governance rules and practices have resulted in systematic and severe constraints on Palestinian development of water resources, water uses, and wastewater management.”

 

In its defense, Israel asserted that it “has fulfilled all its obligations under the water agreement regarding the supply of additional quantities of water to the Palestinians, and has even extensively surpassed the obligatory quantity.” Moreover, Israel alleged that the Palestinians “have significantly violated their commitments under the water agreement” by drilling “over 250 wells without the authorization of the joint water commission.” Israel also claims that the Palestinians have failed to construct sewage treatment plants as required under Article 40 of Annex III to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995 and are allowing “the sewage to flow unheeded into streams, polluting both the environment and groundwater.”

 

In a prior post, I noted that Friends of the Earth Middle East had called for the replacement of the Joint Water Commission with a new joint water management structure, describing the current Commission as a “failed mechanism.”

 

In support of its position, Israel’s Water Authority also published The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians (pdf), “a policy paper, prepared at the request of the Water Authority by a group of independent experts.”

 

In the interests of full disclosure, while I have lived in the United States for more than 30 years, I was born and initially raised in Israel.