In the coming years, water is believed to be a more important geopolitical resource than crude oil, with demand increasing by more than 50% by 2030.
As climate change and higher consumption deplete already scarce water resources, especially in the MENA region, the risk of conflict over this vital resource is also increasing.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) wants to avoid this and provide water security through the Blue Peace Strategy, which promotes water sustainability as an asset for political and social peace.
Blue Peace has pointed out that access to water has been a cause of conflict and migration in the region, which has historically been fought over water. The ongoing political tension between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a recent example.
In Lebanon, water shortages caused by the country’s ongoing financial crisis and a poorly managed water system have led to a range of sanitation problems, especially for the refugee population.
“Although access to water and proper sanitation is a human right, water has also been weaponized recently: in 2017 alone, water was a major factor in open conflicts in at least 45 countries, including Syria, and has also led to direct attacks on The issue of water infrastructure,” André Wehrli, Blue Peace’s SDC senior water policy adviser, told Al Jazeera.
“Blue Peace aims to foster systemic water cooperation across borders, sectors and generations to promote peace, stability and sustainable development, thereby contributing to improved water, food and energy security, and in a changing climate Provide lasting ecosystem services.”
Bluepeace is currently active in Central Asia, West Africa and the Middle East, with over a decade of projects in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia and more.
“In practice, blue peace is advanced when different stakeholders come together to make equitable decisions about shared water resources and invest in promoting peace as a foundation for sustainable development, and vice versa,” Wehrli Say.
He added that Blue Peace highlighted various ways to prevent or reduce tensions over shared water resources, including diplomatic and political dialogue, technical exchanges and support, financial tools, capacity building and awareness raising.
SDC supports countries to manage their water resources more efficiently and reduce tensions between different users, such as private consumers, the energy industry and agricultural infrastructure.
A regional management committee composed of experts from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and SDC members has been overseeing the program since 2019, with coordinated support from the Turkish Water Institute SUEN until the end of 2022.
From 2019 to 2022, more than $4 million was allocated for the Middle East and North Africa project alone.
“The Middle East is one of the most water-scarce regions in the world, and the amount of water available, including rainfall and other sources, is less than 1,000 m3 per year,” Wehrli said. “Eighty percent of the available water in the region is used for irrigation, but it is largely inefficient and inefficient, with a very limited contribution to GDP.”
Other water-related issues in the region include desertification, he noted. “Desalination plants overuse water resources, and 70% of desalination plants are located in the MENA region, mainly in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait.”
Efforts to establish a baseline
In Lebanon in 2015, Blue Peace, in collaboration with the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and Litani, began to establish a baseline for the Orontes River Basin, assess water use and build an existing network of authorities from academia, civil society and public institutions .
In its current phase, Blue Peace Middle East has been working on establishing scientific baselines that can serve as a common basis for negotiations, such as in the Yarmouk River that flows through Jordan, Syria and Israel.
Its capacity-building programme includes the establishment of a water diplomacy centre at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, which provides mentoring and training workshops for water and environmental stakeholders in the region.
The new and improved particle filtration system has been used as a natural grey water treatment system, saving 33% of fresh water consumption and 35% of monthly water bills for houses using treated grey water.
The support of the water startup and its partner CEWAS continues, with the next phase starting in 2023.
Six rehabilitated water monitoring stations are being built to facilitate Iraqi-Turkish dialogue on the Tigris River that flows through the two countries. Blue Peace is rehabilitating four metering stations along the Tigris River to help obtain accurate water data to better inform water sharing between the two countries.
“We plan to further consolidate the regional mechanism and increase regional ownership – the potential outcome being a regionally owned blue peace mechanism that promotes systemic transboundary water cooperation in the Middle East,” Wehrli said. “This could also include increasing the membership of the regional mechanism to include more countries.”
Blue Peace estimates that by 2025, the region’s renewable freshwater supply will fall to less than a third of 1970s levels.
Therefore, sustainable water use is critical, and data exchange between countries that share water sources is essential for effective management. With the help of Blue Peace, countries can cooperate to help avoid water shortages.