In selected shared water resources in the escwa region

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Hazem Bader S. HIRZALLA - Water resources Expert

Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) is made up of thirteen member countries, namely: Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The region covered by the ESCWA member countries is about 4.75 million square kilometers and 97.7 per cent of this area is desert. Water is a valuable resource and its development and management require considerable investment. Climatic conditions, availability of water resources, socio-economic conditions, national borders, conflict of interest and politics play an important role in hindering development in many countries of the ESCWA region. Water resources issues are probably more significant in this region than in any other part of the world. When present and projected water requirements for all purposes are compared with the available ground- and surface-water resources, serious questions arise concerning the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of existing water-resources development and water-use patterns. Under existing patterns of water use, it is unlikely that the expansion of irrigated agriculture can proceed without water-shortage problems. Additionally, increasing water scarcity in the region is likely to impose significant constraints upon meeting growing domestic and industrial demand. Some of the member States of ESCWA have met demand by securing water supplies through desalination of sea and brackish ground-water, as well as reclaimed waste water.

In the Arabian Peninsula subregion, surface-water resources are limited and rely on irregular, sporadic and un-predictable flood occurrences. Ground-water and non-conventional water resources (desalinated water and treated sewage effluent) are the major components of the water supply in the subregion. The main producing aquifers are composed of: Paleozoic sands; Mesozoic sands and carbonate rocks; and Tertiary carbonate rocks and Quaternary alluvium. Ground-water quality generally deteriorates as one moves from the mountain ranges towards the inland basins or sea coasts.

The limited water resources of the subregion have not been able to meet the increased water demands. This situation led concerned authorities, particularly in the Gulf States, to initiate the production of additional water resources to meet their water demand through the desalination of sea and brackish ground water.

In the Northern and North-east subregion which encompasses Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and Egypt, surface-water resources predominate, though ground-water resources do occur and are well developed in some member countries. Surface-water resources in the subregion are appreciable and are represented by the following main rivers: Nile, Euphrates, Tigris and tributaries, Yarmouk, Orontes, Barada, Litani, Hasbani, Jordan, and others. Efforts to regulate flood waters and develop surface-water resources have been remarkable in the subregion, as represented by Al-Tabaka Dam in the Syrian Arab Republic, Qaroun Lake in Lebanon, and other projects in Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. Ground-water resources occur in Paleozoic sandstones, Jurassic-Cretaceous-Palaeogenic carbonate rock aquifers, Tertiary volcanic rocks and Quaternary alluvium. The quality ranges from excellent to brackish.
ESCWA countries are classified into three groups.
Group I countries are situated in arid zones and they lack sufficient natural water resources and fertile soil; in addition, they suffer from adverse climatic conditions. They have to desalinate sea water to obtain most of their fresh water needs and to reuse sewage effluents to meet the needs of their high rate of population growth and rapid development. All group I countries share the western coastline of the Arabian Gulf. Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have long coastlines on the Arabian and Red Seas.
Group II countries are situated in relatively arid zones and include Jordan, Palestine and Yemen. These countries have a better natural water potential than those in group I, but they all face imminent water shortages.

Group III countries are situated in semi-arid zones and include Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. The most important water resources problem of this group is that they share among themselves and with neighbouring countries a substantial percentage of their surface water. The water resources of group III are adequate only for the present decade and if they conserve, develop and manage these resources.

Studies have indicated that countries in this part of the world are now, or are expected to be by the year 2000, at a point where total demand for water will be about equal or exceed the estimated available resources. In some ESCWA countries, water shortages are already a reality. Some others have almost fully developed their fresh (renewable) water resources. Depletion of non-renewable water resources due to over-pumping from exploited aquifers is also a serious and common phenomenon. Consequently, degradation of water quality, due to increasing salinity is also common in a number of countries in the ESCWA region.

The largest user of water in the ESCWA region is agriculture, and many of the Western Asia countries follow subsidy and incentive policies in this sector. It is now proven that such policies hamper agriculture development on the long run by encouraging increased water application rates and subsequently depleting aquifers, diminishing streams flows, and causing water logging and soil salinity. Additionally, rapid urbanization, and improvement of the quality of life in terms of health, sanitation and social services, have resulted in sharp increase in water demand for municipal purposes. Together with industrial and agricultural uses, high demand for water has caused imbalance between water availability and water requirements for socio-economic development.

Major surface and groundwater resources in the region are shared between countries lying both within and beyond the region. The most significant river basins are those of the Jordan, Nile and Euphrates/Tigris, all of which are subject to continuous riparian issues. A significant agreement exists only in respect of the Nile, and then only between two countries (Egypt and Sudan). Extensive aquifers are shared by countries in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Syria and Jordan, yet agreements on abstractions from these aquifers do not exist.

Lack of appropriate cooperation and coordination at regional and interregional levels in the field of shared water resources is a problem and a source of worry. This issue is highly affected by the prevailing political situation in the region, as well as within adjacent regions. Mutual cooperation and coordination in managing the shared surface and groundwater basins would help achieve sustainable development within the region to ensure rational development, utilization and conservation of the water resources, taking into consideration a variety of related aspects under the socio-economic factors prevailing in the concerned countries.

The estimated available water resources, based on the various hydrological and hydrogeological investigations carried out in the ESCWA region, may be summarized as follows :



A Available

154 BCM

166 BCM

B Balance

11 BCM

- 13 BCM

The table above provides an idea of the importance of the close relation that exists between water resources availability and present and future water demands. Many member States in the ESCWA region will reach their development limits by the year 2000, owing to the acute water shortages which is even now a reality in the GCC member countries, Jordan and Yemen. In other cases, the estimated demand for agricultural water will not be met at all, preventing some countries from achieving food self-sufficiency, if present regional water-use practices continue.

It is worthy to mention here that the available surface-water resource in both the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, and to a certain extent in Egypt and Jordan, may not be the same in the future, as a result of the water resources development activities which are being practiced in the neighboring upstream countries sharing the same water sources and to the absence of registered riparian rights.
The volumes of the estimated available groundwater resources in the region, are based mostly on reconnaissance investigations. Groundwater over-exploitation due to excessive and uncontrolled pumping, as well as deterioration in water quality, are common features observed in many regional basins such as those in Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Groundwater quality is deteriorating due to sea water intrusion into the coastal plains aquifers in Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. All these factors have resulted in a progressive reduction in available groundwater resources in the ESCWA region, to the extent that sustainable agricultural development may be hindered in the future. Expensive non-conventional water resources are being produced in desalination plants to meet the increasing water demands in the region, particularly in the GCC member States. Surface water resources are increasingly vulnerable to pollution from different sources.

Great efforts are being made in the ESCWA region to develop additional water resources. In all large river basins, major storage reservoirs have been built or are under construction (the Euphrates, the Nile and the Tigris) in other parts of the region (the Syrian Arab Republic, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) a number of smaller dams are at different stages of planning or execution. In addition to the large river basins shared by several countries which form the main water resources for these countries, there are 37 groundwater basins considered as shared basins.


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