News / Middle East

    Mideast Water Shortages Threaten Millions

    Sana'a residents collect drinking water during a city-wide shortage, Yemen, May 29, 2011.
    Sana'a residents collect drinking water during a city-wide shortage, Yemen, May 29, 2011.

    At Cairo's posh Gazeera Club, workers leave the showers running as they sit nearby drinking tea and chatting. Large quantities of water pour down the drain as water pipes around the city and its suburbs run dry.

    For inhabitants of Cairo’s poor neighborhoods, water only infrequently arrives via government pipes. In order to cook and stay hydrated, says resident Hossam Abdel Razaq, housewives trek to a local water dealer and buy the precious liquid for 25 cents. When water does briefly flow, he adds, kids run to the faucets to drink.

    A regional problem


    Due to increasing populations, climate change, poor infrastructure and inefficient use of resources, serious water shortages are threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the Middle East.

    In Egypt, government statistics indicate the country uses 55 billion cubic meters of water per year, 87 percent of which comes from the River Nile. But conflict with neighboring states upriver, however, is creating tension and could exacerbate the crisis.

    Governments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Sudan argue that they should get a larger share of the Nile's waters, but Egypt and Sudan insist that a British colonial agreement gives them the right to use most of the Nile's waters.

    Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at the University of Exeter in Britain, says Egypt is paying a price for years of benign neglect of southern neighbors.

    "What we're harvesting now is decades of bad foreign policy when it comes to the central African and southern neighbors," he says. "During Mubarak's time there was the complete ignoring of development projects, of cooperation, and there was this superiority-inferiority complex reflected in foreign policy towards neighbors in the south, especially Ethiopia, Rwanda, southern Sudan and Sudan. There was this assumption that they were allies and friends during [President Gamal Abdel] Nasser's time and that [would] remain the situation regardless of how Egypt treated them."

    Although Ashour notes that youth leaders of the January revolution met with presidents of both Ethiopia and Uganda in a goodwill gesture to repair strained ties, water, he stresses, remains "pretty much one of the most sensitive national security and foreign policy issues for Egypt."

    The first major city to go dry?

    Across the Red Sea in war-torn Yemen, residents of the capital Sana'a say government water comes to their houses "so infrequently” they are "forced to pay to haul it in from outside the city by truck."

    United Nations Development Program statistics also indicate that levels of Yemen's 21 main aquifers are falling by seven meters per year on average, leading some experts to speculate the country will be completely out of potable water within five to 10 years.

    Hakim Almasmari, Editor in Chief of the Yemen Post, says "less than 10% of the country gets its water from the government" and that “Sana'a could be the first capital in the world to run out of water." He blames poor infrastructure and the culture of Yemen's ubiquitous narcotic qat tree for the problem.

    "First of all, there's no real infrastructure that can help in using the rain-water appropriately, and so everything that is being used in Yemen is the underground water," he says. "Seventy percent of that water goes to qat plantations, and Yemenis seem to be growing it more and more every day."

    To the north in Lebanon and Syria, where it rains more frequently, poor infrastructure prevents capture of considerable quantities of rainwater, which ends up in the sea. Professor Louis Hobeika, who teaches economics at Lebanon's Notre Dame University, also points out that water is priced inexpensively, which encourages people to squander it.

    "People abuse the consumption of water because the price is low, and there is no metering system," he says. "For example, in Lebanon we don't have meters in the use of water. We pay an annual fee and it's independent of how much water you consume, which is frankly ridiculous. It pushes people to over-consume and to waste it."

    An exacerbating factor

    Although Lebanon and Israel have a history of quarreling over water from southern Lebanon's Litani River, Hobeika stresses that bad political relations between most countries in the region tend to exacerbate the crisis wherever it persists.

    "Economic and political relationships among countries in the Middle East is usually bad and, therefore, water is one of the sources of conflict in the region," he says. "The water of the Litani River in Lebanon is one of those important examples of current and especially potential conflicts between us and Israel."

    correction 12/10/11 - 'downriver' changed to 'upriver' in 4th paragraph

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora