Welcome to the Middle East Today

The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Apr 19, 2010

Water - Egypt Most Urgent Challenge

During the past few years, Egypt has been meeting with the Nile River Basin countries, which include the Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Eritrea. Sudan and Egypt are classified as the countries at the end of the Nile River flow.

In a previous post, a reference was made to the fact that Egypt and the Nile River basin countries signed a treaty in 1929 when Britain was the colonialist power in the region. The agreement allocated 55 billion cu. met. of water per year to Egypt. The agreement stated that no project that can threaten Egypt’s water share should be undertaken by any member. The Nile River basin countries want a reevaluation of the 1929 agreement in order to develop their own agricultural and economic projects. A number of foreign countries are already involved in various projects of the Nile River basin countries. These include Israel, the U.S., China, Egypt and other states.

At a recent conference that was held in Sharm el-Sheikh (almasry-alyoum.com April 14, 2010), no agreement of understanding between Egypt and the Nile River basin countries was achieved. The meeting ended without any consensus of water sharing.

Some water experts suggested putting aside the 1929 agreement and instead creating an International Legal Commission to recommend how the Nile River water should be allocated. The committee would be the sole authority to come up with the rules of regulation in order to avoid conflict among the countries that are sharing the Nile River water. The focus of such a proposal is to accommodate economic development and cooperation among all the countries that rely on the Nile River for their survival. Egypt in particular is at the end line of the flow of the Nile River and its water is a matter of life and death for the country.

Furthermore, Egypt should start developing a new water strategy in light of its population growth and the increasing demands for water. It should also be taken into consideration that Egypt’s share of the Nile River water might decrease due to future increase of water consumption by the Nile River basin countries.

The Egyptian government should re-examine its water management policy and develop a new strategy that will meet the new challenges. For example, the agriculture sector consumes nearly 80% of the water supply in Egypt. A new technology is required that should be implemented to save water, but at the same time produces crops needed to feed Egypt’s increasing population.

Furthermore, a nationwide program to raise awareness of Egypt’s water poverty is necessary to enlighten the public, especially in urban areas where people are under the illusion that there is plenty of water available. Conservation should be a must policy and an increase in the water consumption bills must be adopted.

I am of the opinion that the Nile River basin countries will put their interests ahead of Egypt’s interests in term of their economic development. These countries are encouraged by foreign governments, in particular Israel’s, to proceed with their development. Again, the Egyptian government should be prepared to face the forthcoming challenges.

Apr 12, 2010

International Orphans Day

Many countries worldwide just celebrated International Orphans Day. The majority of the orphans in Arab countries are a result of war. Nevertheless, there are orphans who have lost a father, mother or both as a result of sickness and disease or accidents. However, the majority of Arab orphans lost parents as a result of war conflicts such as the civil wars in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq. There are no accurate statistics that reflect such tragedy. Nevertheless, the vast majority of orphans are those whose countries were invaded by foreign troops. An example is the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Other examples include is the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip in 2008. Both invasions left more than two thousand people dead. The number of people who left children behind is to be investigated.

The biggest tragedy is the Iraqi war’s consequences on the civilian population, which was reported by Dr. Omar Al-Kubaisy to the European Parliament (3/20/2009). He stated that the war, among other things, led to two million widows and five million orphans.

During President George W. Bush’s last trip to Iraq (Dec. 09), an Iraq journalist named Muntaathar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at the president during a press conference. After throwing the first shoe he shouted, “This is a message of retaliation on behalf of the widows of Iraq.” After throwing the second shoe, he shouted, “This is on behalf of the orphans of Iraq.” According to Arab culture, the biggest insult to a person is to be hit with a shoe.

Mr. Al-Zeidi is an investigative journalist who was well aware of the tragic lives the Iraqi widows and orphans were experiencing on a daily basis.

The Guardian Newspaper (4/6/2009) stated, “Iraqi babies for sale.” The article referred to a senior police officer who said that at least 15 Iraqi children were sold per month, some overseas and some internationally, some for adoption and some for sexual abuse. The reporter interviewed Sarah Taminn, 38, a widow and mother of five from Bable, who said she had already sold children, ages four and two, in the past year. She is living in a displacement camp without a job or support. “I love all my children. I know that the families who adopted them will give them a good life, food and an education that I could never give.”

How can such personal suffering caused by such invasions ever be repaired?

Apr 10, 2010

The Arab World – Water Scarcity and Sea Water Flooding

Recently, a conference was held at the Alexandria Library (April 1-2, 2010), which was sponsored by the Egyptian government and the U.N. The conference objective was to discuss the consequences of the global weather changes on the Arab world. Scientists and water management experts discussed three topics. The first issue is the increasing global temperature and its impact on the climate in the Middle East region. Experts predicted less rainfall and an increase in dryness that will enhance more desertification. Keep in mind that more than two-thirds of the land in the Arab world is already classified as desert. The decrease in rainfall will also lead to less renewable fresh water and this will impact the underground water reserve. Arab states are already water poverty stricken.

The participant also used a report that was published by “IPEC” which was the result of extensive research studies sponsored by international governmental organizations. The research focused on the consequences of global weather and environmental changes on Arab states economic developments. The report was published in 2009 and reflected that the Arab countries will be most affected by environmental changes. Most important, the increase in temperature will cause a decrease in rainfall that will enhance dryness and desertification. The decrease in renewable water resources will reach dangerous levels by the year 2025. The report noted that the Fertile Crescent, which includes Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine will lose its land fertility as a result of droughts. The second issue the water management experts noted is that the population of the Arab world constitutes 5% of the world population. However, they have only 1% of the global fresh water resources.

They called on authorities to impose strict water rules to save scarce water resources. The traditional water consumption habits must change.

Furthermore, the experts recommended that the agriculture sector, which consumes around 80% of the water, should change its irrigation methods to save water. New technology is available and it should be adopted to ensure the production of food in the Arab world. In Egypt, 40% of the labor force is engaged in agricultural activities and contributes 18% to its national economy.

Some of the experts suggested an increase in the price of water use, but no consensus was reached. The third issue the participants discussed is the impact of seawater flooding seashores of Arab lands. The scientific report revealed that the sea water level will increase by an estimated one meter. This will lead to the flooding of more than 41,500 square kilometers of seashore lands. The countries that will be affected most are Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates.

The report noted that 12% of Egyptian agricultural lands (Delta region) will be covered by seawater and more than six million people will be forced to flee the region.

Finally, the experts recommend that Arab governments should start preparing for such future possibilities (almasry-alyoum.com, April 1-2, 2010).

The information discussed at the conference should be publicized to Arab populations, especially in countries that will be affected by the global weather changes. The Egyptian government, which has already acquired the experience of building underground walls between Gaza and Egypt, should apply that knowledge to build above ground walls to prevent the seawater flooding in the Delta region.

Apr 8, 2010

Water Scarcity in the Gulf Region

According to the 2009 Arab Human Development Report by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), all of the Gulf states are water poverty stricken. Recently, the 9th Gulf states regional conference on water was held in Muscat, Oman (3/22/2010). The main objective of the meeting was to discuss water shortages and the development of a strategy for a better management of water resources. In light of population growth, increasing tourism and the economic development of industries and agriculture, a new strategy is required. More than 400 experts attended the conference in addition to public officials from the Gulf states.

Some experts emphasized that water consumption per individual in the Gulf states is among the highest in the world and that a better management system is needed badly. Furthermore, a complete system of sanitation and sewage networks should be constructed. Water recycling should be a priority for at least agricultural use. At the present, more than 30 stations of water desalination are in the Gulf region producing fresh water at a cost of one dollar per sq. met. Nearly 70% of water desalination projects are located in the Gulf region. Some experts promote passive energy sources such as the sun as a source of energy to cut the high cost of water desalination.

In addition, experts urged Gulf state governments to establish a joint water network connecting Gulf states in light of the growing population and the development of industries, agriculture and tourism.

The Gulf region rainfall is meager and it is among the driest areas in the world. Nearly 95% of the land is classified as desert.

Jordan - Water Poverty

In the previous posts, references were made to Jordan’s water scarcity. It is listed among the five countries with the least availability of fresh water worldwide. The shortages of water in Jordan began a few decades ago, when Israel diverted most of the Jordan River water into Israel. What is still flowing in the river is highly polluted and unfit for human use. In addition, the meager flow of water led to the sinking water level of the Dead Sea. It has been projected that the Dead Sea will dry out by the year 2050 unless new water flows into it.

The scarcity of water in Jordan should be viewed in light of the continuous population growth of 3.5% per year. Jordan’s population is around 6.5 million. Also, 92% of its land is desert. The renewable water in Jordan has been estimated at 150 cu. met/per person/per year.

In light of such a situation, the Jordanian government has adopted a strategy which reflects the following:
1) The Jordanian government began to implement the strategy of connecting the Gulf of Aqaba with the Dead Sea by constructing a canal that will pump 130 million cu. met./per year into the Dead Sea.
2) The government will also construct a desalination plant in Aqaba that will provide 240 million cu. met. of fresh water per year through the canal which will be completed by the year 2014. The cost of this project will be $2 billion.
3) The Jordanian government also signed a contract with South Korea to build a nuclear plant that will generate electrical power that the country needs badly.

When complete, the two proposed projects will enable Jordan to meet its pressing shortages of water as well as meet the needs of its growing population, which is expected to double within twenty years.

Let me also point out that the Jordanian government has one of the best water managements in the Arab world. However, the government should encourage people to limit the number of births per family. Family planning and birth control should be implemented in order to minimize the impact of water scarcity at the present and in the future as well.

Apr 7, 2010

Egypt Water Poverty

In the previous post, references were made to Egypt as one of the 18 Arab countries that are classified by the U.N. as poverty stricken states. The U.N. defines water poverty level as 100 cu. met. of water/per person/per year.

Egypt’s level is 700 cu. met./per person/per year. New information, which has been revealed by the Egyptian government, is that Egypt will experience water shortages equal to 15.2 billion cu. met. of water by the year 2017. Furthermore, Egypt is expected to consume 86.2 billion cu. met. of water in 2010. The Nile River will provide only around 71.4 billion cu. met of water. The shortage will come from the underground water reserves. (almasry-alyoum.com 3/23/2010).

The Nile River is the major supplier of water to the 84 million Egyptians based on the 1929 treaty with the Nile River basin countries. The Nile River sources are beyond Egyptian national boundaries. In previous posts, references were made that Egyptian government officials have been meeting with their counterparts from the Nile River basin countries to re-examine and re-evaluated the 1929 Nile River water sharing with Egypt. As of April 2010, no agreement has been reached. Let me remind the readers that without the Nile River flowing through, there will be no more Egypt as we know it. Furthermore, the majority of the Egyptian population is under the illusion that the Nile River provides all the water needed.

Recently, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the U.N. and UNICEF sponsored an awareness campaign about the fact that Egypt is facing a critical state of water shortages. The emphasis was placed on better water use and the prevention of water pollution. The U.N. Water Report reflects that Egypt, India and some other countries have entered the yellowish water stage. This means that the Nile River water is already contaminated. Water contamination causes the death of 30-60 people per 1000 population.

The Nile River is unfortunately polluted by industrial and agricultural waste and chemicals that find their way into the above and underground water sources. In addition, the Egyptian public also contributes to the pollution of the Nile River.

The Egyptian population in general is not familiar with their ancient history. The ancient Egyptians viewed the Nile River as religiously sacred and protected it from being polluted. The Nile River was considered the source of their existence. The modern Egyptian population, especially in the rural sector of the society, is a major contributor to the contamination of the Nile River.

It has been reported that nearly 40% of the Egyptian population still lacks the basic sewage and sanitation systems. This situation is a source of contamination. Furthermore, garbage collection has been a major problem in Egypt. Some of that human waste tends to find its way into canals as well as the Nile River. Who is to be blamed for such an environmental disaster? The public, or the government, or both. The preservation and protection of the Nile River is in the interest of all Egyptians. It also should be noted that Egypt is the most important country of the world in terms of its historical antiquities and for the fact that it became the birthplace of human civilization more than 5,000 years ago. Cleanliness and the preservation of the Nile River environment will also enhance tourism, which Egypt also needs.

U.N. Report – Water Poverty in the Arab World

In the previous post, references were made by the U.N. Global Water Report that more than 40 countries are experiencing water shortages. The report revealed that if all the fresh water on the planet were divided equally among the global population, there would be 5,000-6,000 cu.met. of water available for every person every year. Unfortunately, fresh water resources are distributed very unevenly. The U.N. report defines “water poverty” as any state that has less than 1,000 cu.met.per person/per years as “water poverty stricken”. Based on that definition, 18 out 22 Arab states have a lower level of water availability for their population. Furthermore, 60% of the fresh water in the Arab world its sources starts beyond its national boundaries. Sudan is the only Arab country that is more secure in terms of water availability. The rest of the Arab countries tend to be part of the dry region. Most of the rainfall tends to take place along the seashores. Nevertheless, the availability of fresh water fluctuates from country to country in that region, due to the imbalances between availability of water and demands.

For example, Jordan is classified as among the 10 states with the lowest availability of fresh water in the world. According to the 2009 Arab Human Development Report by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), Jordan had some 150 cu.met. of renewable internal fresh water resources per capita in 2005. It is the sixth worst in the Arab world after Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Furthermore, the scarcity of water in the Arab world is going to get worse, unless the governments of Arab states start to immediately adopt a water strategy to meet the future challenges of water scarcity. The Gulf states have already begun a seawater desalination program to meet the water shortages in their part of the Arab world. It has been noted that nearly 70% of water desalination in the world is taking place in the Gulf region. These states have the two important ingredients: money and oil. Unfortunately, the rest of the Arab world needs to put their resources in order to meet the future challenges, which they are experiencing at the present time. These include:

1) Population growth, which is expected to double by the year 2030 to reach around 650 million people.
2) The rapid urban growth as a result of the influx of people from rural areas into urban centers. This will also increase the demand for fresh water.
3) The impact of global weather and the increase in temperature will intensify dryness and desertification. We have already referred to the fact that more than two–thirds of Arab land is barren desert.

In the next post, the focus will be on Egypt, the most populated Arab country.

Apr 6, 2010

International Water Day

The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon celebrated the annual International Water Day (March 22, 2010). The objective behind such an event, which started in 1993, is to create a global awareness about the conditions, scarcity and availability of fresh water for human use worldwide.

The U.N. report reveals that water is available only to 87% of the world population. 13% of the global population (884 million people) is deprived of fresh water for their human needs. One third of that group is living in Africa. Furthermore, the U.N. study reflects that more than 40 countries worldwide are experiencing shortages of fresh water. Water shortages will intensify as a result of urban expansion and world population growth, which is projected to reach around 9 billion people by the year 2050. Both factors will increase water consumption and pollution simultaneously.

Water contamination is already creating major problems in many parts of the world. The U.N. report revealed the following statistics:
1) 2.5 billion people have no sanitary sewage systems and 70% of the water used by industries is mixed with above ground water resources.
2) Nearly one million tons of polluted water find their way into the underground water resources.
3) Industry and agriculture produce two billion tons of waste on a daily basis worldwide.
4) The polluted water is a major source of sickness and diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea. This affects around 4 billion people and causes the deaths of 1.8 million children per year, or at that rate, one death every 20 seconds.

The death figures are more than all the casualties of war and violent crimes combined around the world. This is an insult to humanity. It is much cheaper for states to prevent and stop water pollution from happening in the first place, than to pay a high price to purify and clean polluted water. Many countries, such as China, India, South Africa, Mexico and in particular, the Middle East and North Africa (which will be focused on in the following post), suffer from water scarcity.