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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs