The Middle East is in turmoil in various ways, especially through the long-standing political crisis and conflicts affecting the people of the region. Widespread conflict and human rights violations, spurred by unsustainable water and energy supplies, coupled with climate change, are causing the displacement of the population, as well as environmental migration. Poor conservation of the environment and inadequate treatment of pollutants led to the degradation of chronically depleted water resources and the trans-boundary movement of pollutants from one political entity to another, endangering the drinking water quality and contributing to the ongoing conflicts in the region. Thus, the role of water in improving human lives has never been more important, as stated by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) . The sustainable management of water resources and the quality of water in rivers, lakes, and aquifers plays a key role in meeting the challenge of climate change and in achieving a secure food supply and improved public health.
The continuous and severe drought over the past few years has raised water scarcity issues and water quality degradation in the region is worsening. As noted by Tal and Abed (2010) and by Schoenfeld (2011), the possibility of dealing with these issues requires experts detached from the political conflict and able to work across geopolitical borders. The involvement of scientists from neighboring nations and the international community is considered the right avenue to address regional issues [2, 3].
To review these issues, a workshop titled, “Regional Cooperation and Sustainable Water Management of Transboundary Water”, was organized with the support of IUPAC’s Chemistry and the Environment Division. It took place in Malta, 10-15 December 2017, as part of the biennial Malta Conferences Foundation (MCF), MALTA VIII, “Frontiers of Science: Research and Education in the Middle East—a Bridge to Peace”. This continues previous initiatives, including a prior program of workshops in collaboration with the MCF on regional water chemistry which yielded positive results and several publications and presentations through IUPAC and at other international conferences.
The workshop was set against this background with the aim to use science to help build bridges across borders and cultures where other mechanisms are less effective. The participants included chemistry and environment researchers and scientists, government regulatory agencies, as well as non-governmental advisory bodies and advocacy organizations concerned with climate change, transboundary water resources management, and regional conflicts.
The workshop was planned to bridge the gap between the science and practice of water management in order to discuss and crystallize practical solutions that would help to achieve the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals for water and the following objectives:
- ·To establish a regional alliance of chemists and water engineers to interact and discuss the different aspects of hydrology and transboundary water quality.
- ·To encourage the multinational activities required to address regional challenges, facilitating the exchange of information and ideas on water chemistry, and harmonizing the approaches available for the scientific community to evaluate water suitability for human consumption and to handle multiple uses of water, while avoiding potential conflicts between the riparian countries.
- ·To highlight sustainable management strategies for resources that prevent the depletion of the transboundary surface- and groundwater aquifers and the deterioration of water quality, developing closer relations between neighbors and strengthening water security for all.
- ·To discuss selected case studies and potential mitigation strategies to motivate appropriate multinational actions against transboundary anthropogenic and emerging pollutants.
- ·To suggest supplementary research to confront issues of food and energy security, the environment, and climate change, as required.
- ·To recommend applicable standards, enabling valid water monitoring across the region.
During the workshop, over 50 professionals from the regional water community, including students and early-career scientists (supported by IUPAC) from universities and national institutes in 15 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries met for 4 days to turn water challenges and risks into an opportunity that delivers benefits well beyond the water sector and the region. In three different sessions, the speakers presented the issues of climate change and the consequence of water scarcity on water availability and water quality including:
- ·Water insecurity and prospects in the Middle East
- ·Water quality of critical transboundary water resources
- ·Going beyond aid for the development of sustainable wastewater treatment and water quality crisis in Gaza Strip (Case studies)
- ·Stock-taking and critical review of on-going research, evaluating water chemistry issues of relevance to the whole region
- ·Nano-filtration, bioremediation, and bio-sorption processes for the removal of chemicals and micro-pollutants from the soil and from aqueous solutions.
- ·Conservation of water resources and ecosystems, as well as reuse of wastewater and desalination technologies.
Mitigation measures and water treatment systems were presented, as well as soil and water pollution prevention systems, highlighting the use of nano-filtration membranes and bio-remediation for the removal of persistent pollutants. Posters displayed throughout the entire meeting included presentations on the impact of climate change, water and wastewater treatment systems, the removal of specific pollutants, and electro-chemical and electro-catalytic oxidation processes.
Round table discussions were organized to discuss and share new ideas and feasible innovative projects on some of the major water, wastewater, and environment challenges, as well as to foster new collaborations. The workshop addressed the challenges and risks and identified the opportunities to drive the regional agenda to meet the needs and expectations of the millions of Middle East citizens by improving water availability, quality, safety, and security.
The water professionals were briefed on the transformation of water in the Middle East, as outlined by presentations focusing on the delivery of water infrastructure solutions to fill the massive gaps in the provision of clean water around the region. This was followed by a discussion on how management programs can lead water utilities in emerging economies to deliver vastly improved services, even to the poorest in society.
Participants argued that business as usual is not an option if we are to achieve universal access to water and sanitation at the scale that lies ahead. Therefore, it is critical to explore innovative chemical and engineering sciences to help us reach the SDGs, and to seek out non-traditional ways of providing and funding water and sanitation for all. New policies, technology, and management systems are required to improve the regional ecology, as well as social equity, and to empower water professionals to find solutions to:
- ·climate change
- ·urbanization and demand for food and energy
- ·release and dumping of hazardous chemicals
- ·disposal of untreated waste from industrial, urban and agriculture
- ·devastation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
Good governance, involving the public, the private sector, local communities, and transboundary cooperation are fundamental elements to achieve sensible water withdrawals, water conservation, and rational use, including:
- ·Applied advanced irrigation and agricultural production systems
- ·Advanced treatment of wastewater, allowing complete reuse
- ·Extending waste to energy and resources recovery
- ·Accelerating brackish groundwater and sea water desalination
In the Middle East, poor governance, population growth, global warming, and the denial of water and food supplies fuel conflicts, making population displacement and environmental migration prevalent. Signs of climate change are everywhere: long droughts, rising seas, violent storms, melting ice, and the flooding of coastal zones are apparent. These events affect high- and low-income countries across the world. All face water catastrophes, as recognized by the Paris Agenda and the UN SDGs in 2015, and the World Economic Forum in 2016. All see water management as a key to meeting the world food and public health safety, placing water at the top of global risks.
- ·Today, more than ever, water scarcity and global warming are at the top of the global agenda. The world is confronted with security and strategic issues: water scarcity is a factor of tension and conflict.
- ·In the Middle East, environmental degradation, high population growth, fast urbanization, and the displacement of refugees are all causing economic, political, and environmental distress in the region and beyond.
- ·Adopting active regional hydro-science diplomacy would lead to a fruitful collaboration among the riparian countries, securing water for current and future generations.
As further dissemination of this workshop, a chapter titled, “Impact of Persistent Droughts on the Quality of the Middle East Water Resources”, will be published in an upcoming book edited by Satinder Ahuja .
References and Further Reading
Tal, Alon and Alfred Abed Rabbo (2010). Water Wisdom: Preparing the Groundwork for Cooperative and Sustainable Water Management in the Middle East. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Schoenfeld, S. (2011). Environmental Peacebuilding in the Eastern Mediterranean, York University, Toronto, 8 Apr 2011; http://www.mei.edu/content/environmental-peacebuilding-eastern-mediterranean
Satinder Ahuja (ed). Evaluating Water Quality to Prevent Future Disasters. (in preparation) Amsterdam: Elsevier (Separation Science and Technology Series)
Al-Ghazawy, O. (2013). World Bank backs Red-Dead Sea canal. Nature Middle East, 5 Feb 2013; https://doi.org/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2013.19
Brochmann, M. & Gleditsch, N. P. (2012). Shared rivers and conflict—a reconsideration. Political Geography 31(8), 519–527.
Dinar, A., Blankespoor, B., Dinar, S. & Kurukulasuriya, P. (2010). The impact of water supply variability on treaty cooperation between international bilateral river basin riparian states. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series 5307.
Shevah Y. (2015). Water Resources, Water Scarcity Challenges, and Perspectives. In S. Ahuja, J.B. de Andrade, D.D. Dionysiou, K.D. Hristovski, and B.G. Loganathan (eds). Water Challenges and Solutions on a Global Scale. Chapter 10, pp 185-219. ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 1206. https://doi.org/10.1021/bk-2015-1206.ch010 (online 3 Dec 2015); https://iupac.org/project/2008-003-3-600