Report: A water crisis is creating nightmare conditions across the Middle East

Report: A water crisis is creating nightmare conditions across the Middle East

Shafaq News / That the wars of the future will be fought over water, rather than oil - is an adage that feels like an increasingly terrifyingly reality as every year goes by. Especially across the Middle East and North Africa, that are on the frontline of the world’s climate crises.

This year in particular, water has been come a worryingly scarce resource as wars, crumbling infrastructure and in some instances unprecedented economic collapses have led to rolling power outrages that have become disastrous when coupled with record high temperatures.

It has sparked unrest in countries from Sudan to Iran - and triggered cross-border conflict. It will only get worse as the summer and the miseries drag on.

And while The Independent has long sounded the alarm about this, with extreme climate events appearing across the world that is in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue is far more urgent.

If people lose access to safe water it will make halting the spread of the coronavirus even harder. As second and third waves of the deadly virus take hold globally Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes can no longer be met with a disinterested shrug. In many countries, where vaccine roll outs will only begin in 2022 or later, it is often the only defence they have against the disease.

You may find it surprising it is Lebanon, perched on the Mediterranean that is uniquely desert-less for this part of the world and instead rich with mountains, forests, lakes and streams, that is the latest nation dealing with a water crisis. On Friday, the United Nations’ children's fund, Unicef, warned that the Lebanon’s’ water supply system is on the verge of complete collapse. In just a few weeks four million people, including one million refugees, are at risk of losing access to safe water, because water pumping will gradually cease across the country.

If the public water supply system collapses, Unicef estimates that water costs could skyrocket by 200 per cent a month because families will be forced to find water from alternative or private water suppliers. For many of Lebanon’s extremely vulnerable households, this cost will be too much to bear - water will cost two and half times the the monthly average income, which is staggering.

At the heart of the water crisis in Lebanon is a very manmade problem: the country’s economic collapse – which according to the World Bank is the among the world’s worst in the last 150 years.

It has bankrupted the state so much that swathes of the country do not have mains power. Even those who afford to buy access to private generators, have little power amid massive shortages in the diesel needed to power them. Piling further pressure on water system is the lack of funding to fix crumbling infrastructure and supplies such as chlorine and spare parts.

But it’s not just Lebanon’s whose water system is on the brink. In Iran this week Amnesty International said they have verified footage proving eight protesters have been killed during a deadly crackdown against rallies over severe water shortages in the country’s southwest province of Khuzestan, home to Iran’s Arab minority. Iranian state media claim the total is lower, at three, and that "unknown people" are responsible.

People had taken to the streets across dozens of towns due to the escalating drought, which environmentalists say the state has failed to handle, as temperatures have pushed towards 50 degrees.

Across the border in Iraq water shortages have also driven people to the streets particularly in the south of the country - where the historic marshlands have been steadily drying out. Water shortages have also set Iran and Iraq are frequently at odds over water issues. Iraq depends on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for nearly all of its water. But Iran is building dams to redivert some of that water, causing alarm and creating major water shortages for Iraq.

Similar issues have blown between Iraq and Turkey over rivers. In Syria, the UN has also warned of severe droughts because water levels in part due to the levels of Euphrates are lowering. It has meant that war-blighted Syria currently ranks seventh on a global risk index of 191 countries most at risk of a “humanitarian or natural disaster event that could overwhelm response capacity”.

A comprehensive solution to scale back the devastating impact of the climate crisis, conflict and corruption is of course the only way out of this nightmare. But in the interim, with coronavirus still stalking the earth, now more than ever we need to invest in WASH programmes before it’s too late.

Source: The Independent

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