Background of the water situation in West Asia
Within the West Asia region, water is one of the priority issues. The arid climate of the region means that the available, renewable freshwater resources are limited, standing at well below the 1,000m3 per capita per annum figure used to indicate chronic water shortage. The volumes of water withdrawn far exceed natural recharge rates, with the result that groundwater resources, both in terms of quantity and quality, are seriously threatened. If all the indications of UNEP’s GEO3 future scenarios of water demand in the region are correct, the pressures of increasing population and industrial demand will place further demand on the already stretched water resources of the region (UNEP, 2003).
The main driving forces for water problems in the region are the burgeoning population, the accelerated development and competition for water in the urban, industrial and agricultural sectors (with the agricultural sector consuming more than 70% of the water supply in most countries of the region), ineffective water management policies and practices, erratic precipitation and the highly volatile regional peace and security situation. The growing water claims of upstream riparian countries of shared water resources has resulted in further reducing the share of the downstream Arab countries, especially in Syria and Iraq. Water quality has also become a major issue of concern in the Arab Region. Water pollution, mainly with sewage pathogens, industrial wastes and agricultural effluents represent a serious threat to human health and further aggravate water scarcity by reducing clean water availability.
Water-related Activities in the West Asia region
Policy Guidance to the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE)
UNEP/ROWA co-organises, with the Technical Secretariat of CAMRE, and provides technical and policy guidance to the twice yearly meetings of the Arab Team related to the MEAs on Desertification, Biodiversity and Water. It is through these meetings that a programme of work for the region in terms of natural resources management, including water, is developed, responding to the needs and priorities of the member states of the League of Arab States (the 12 countries of West Asia, plus 10 North African Arab countries).
Integrated Water Resources Management
The promotion of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a focus of UNEP’s work in water in the West Asia region, and is done through close cooperation between UNEP/ROWA, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The programme being implemented by the partners follows closely the principles of IWRM, including the development of a training course for use within the region. One of the key focuses of activities, recognising that the region has some of the highest per capita demands of water in the world, is water demand management, addressing a series of activities to raise awareness within government, industrial, agricultural and domestic sectors in the importance of managing water demand in the region.
Water Resources Management as part of the Sub-Regional
Action Programme to
Desertification in West Asia
The management of water resources formed one of the two thematic networks of the UNCCD Sub-Regional Action Programme to Combat Desertification in West Asia (SRAP-WA) which is coordinated by UNEP/ROWA. A database on water resources in the West Asia region was developed by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a component of a project undertaken under this programme.
More than 60% of the world’s desalinated water is produced in the GCC region, making the sustainable development of desalinated water and its quality an important issue for the region. As such, UNEP is providing technical and policy inputs to the WHO process for the development of a Guidance Document on Desalination for Safe Water Supply. This has involved a series of Expert Working Groups, discussing:
- Technology: Engineering, chemistry, large and small facilities
- Health: Toxicology of contaminants and nutritional issues
- Microbiology: Sanitary and marine
- Monitoring: microbiological, analytical chemistry and regulatory
- Environmental Effects and Impact Assessments
The last meeting of the Working Groups took place in the Cayman Islands in March 2006 and the guidelines are currently being finalised for publication. UNEP/ROWA is also publishing a stand-alone document on Environmental Impact Assessment for Desalination.
Technical Support to Qatar in Water Resources Management
Through a Memorandum of Understanding that has been developed with Qatar, UNEP/ROWA, will provide technical assistance in the development of an inventory of non-conventional water resources (e.g. chemically produced, water vapour harvesting), explore mechanisms for implementation and promote and adapt technologies to maximize its utilization. Assistance will also be provided to improve IWRM policies and strategic plans through provision of technical support, guidelines and training. With respect to desalination, a study will be undertaken to assess the potential accumulation of pollutants in seawater and freshwater and their impact on technology used in desalination plants and thus their impact on human health.
Conferences, Workshops and Meetings held in the Region (2008)
- Participation in the Asian Regional Meeting for COP10 of Ramsar to promote the recognition of potential Ramsar sites in the region, Bangkok, Thailand, 14 - 18 January.
- Meeting with Regional Water Programme officer, IUCN/WAME, Amman, Jordan to discuss the potential for collaboration on joint activities in the areas of water, land and biodiversity during the biennium 2008-2009, Manama, Bahrain, 20th February.
- Participation and provision of technical support and presentation to the 5th session of the Agriculture, Land and Water Use Commission for the Near East Region (ALAWUC), Cairo, Egypt, 26 - 28 February.
- Co-organizing, co-sponsoring and provision of technical support to the WSTA 8th Gulf Water Conference: “Water in the GCC Towards an Optimal Planning and Economic Perspective” Manama, Bahrain, 3 - 6 March.
- Participation and provision of technical support to the GCC Water Conservation Workshop, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 26 March.
- Participation and provision technical support to the Regional Conference on Water Management and Conservation, which was organised by ARADO, Amman, Jordan, 23 - 26 June.
- Taking part in the Inauguration of Arab Academy for Water Project, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E, 6 July.
- Co-organization, co-sponsoring and provision of technical support to the 11th International Training Course on the Impact of Climate Change on Watershed Management, in cooperation with UNESCO – Cairo Office, Amman, Jordan, 12 - 17 July.
- Participation in High level Meeting to promote water supply and sanitation policies and organizational reforms in West Asia, Cairo, Egypt, 15 July.
- Participation in the Meeting of the Arab Ministers responsible for water, Cairo, Egypt, 16 July.
- Participation in Development Account: Training Session on the System Accounting for Water for GCC/ESCWA, Beirut, Lebanon, 25 - 28 August.
- Co-organization, co-sponsoring and provision of technical support to the Regional International Water Resources Management Meeting, Manama, Bahrain, 15 - 16 October.
- Co-organisation, co-sponsoring and provision of technical support to the First International Conference on Water Resources and Climate Change in the MENA Region, Muscat, Oman, 2 - 4 November.