The impact of war
Sandstorms, floods, heatwaves, forest fire: signs
of environmental change?
Challenges for the future
In 2003, the war in Iraq and increased tension
in the Israeli-Arab conflict were the major developments of concern
in West Asia. Although the governments of the region, the public and
the international community were concerned over the environmental consequences
of armed conflict, policymakers gave political developments and security
issues highest priority
One of the main highlights related to freshwater resources in 2003
were signs evident from satellite imagery of a reversal of recent degradation
trends in the Mesopotamian marshlands in Iraq (Box 1). There were also
some positive policy developments in the area of air pollution (Box
2), institutional reforms, and public participation.
- The total population of West Asia has increased from about
34.8 million in 1970 to 106.4 million people in 2002, and isnprojected
to increase to about 130 million in 2010.
- Rapid population growth has induced growth and expansion
of urban centres. For example, in the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC) countries, the average percentage of the urban
population increased from 66 per cent in 1980 to 87 per cent
in 2000, and is projected to be 89 per cent by 2005.
- About 60 per cent of surface water resources in West Asia
originate from outside the region, which causes tension regarding
- Six GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi
Arabia and United Arab Emirates – produce about half the
world’s desalinated water.
- Agriculture remains the largest water user in West Asia (91
per cent of the total water used) compared to 6 per cent and
3 per cent for domestic and industrial uses respectively.
- Forest wildfires are a recurring phenomenon in the Eastern
Mediterranean forest vegetation, with 90 per cent caused by
human activity. In 2003, they occurred in Lebanon, Syria and
- Since 1991, Iraq’s rank on the United Nations Human
Development Index has fallen from 96 to 127. No other country
has fallen so far, so fast. Over 60 per cent of the population
– 16 million people – depended for survival on a
comprehensive government food rationing system.
|Sources: Alyaum 2003, CESR 2003, FAO 2003, Roufail 2003, UNEP
UNEP 2003b, UNPD 2002
Box 1: Mesopotamian marshlands 2003
shows the main areas that were
re-flooded following the spring snowmelt and
removal of drainage and hydraulic structures by
local communities in May 2003. Flood swollen rivers, canals,
and re-inundated enclaves appear as dark blue patches.
Source: UNEP/GRID-Geneva 2003
The Mesopotamian marshlands, the largest wetland ecosystem in
West Asia, now cover only seven per
cent of their original area due to mismanagement over the past
The marshlands, which are reputed to be the site of the Garden
of Eden, are an important sanctuary for
migratory birds, sustain freshwater fisheries and are an essential
nutrient source for fisheries in the Sea
Area of the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine
In the early 1970s, the marshlands covered more than 20 000 km2 but by 2000, over 90 per cent had dried out, largely transformed
into a vast and barren landscape of desert and salt flats. A third
of the remaining 1 084 km2 of marshland, the transboundary Al-Hawizeh/Al-Azim
marsh, which straddles the Iran-Iraq border, dried out between
2000 and early 2003.
However, signs of an environmental turnaround in the marshlands
started to emerge almost immediately after the end of the war
in May 2003, as the arid land was re-flooded for the first time
in a decade. Satellite images taken in May 2003 show these changes.
Formerly dry areas have been inundated as floodgates were opened,
embankments and dykes breached, and dams emptied upstream, assisted
by the heavy rainfall.
Sustained and coordinated efforts will be needed if the marshes
are to recover.
|Sources: UNEP 2003c, UNEP/GRID-Geneva 2003
Box 2: Energy and transport –
the development of a regional strategy
Per capita energy consumption in some West Asian countries is
among the highest in the world, generating high emissions of greenhouse
gases and traditional air pollutants. Countries are now developing
strategy to improve energy efficiency.
The strategy is being developed within the framework of the Water,
Agriculture, and Biodiversity (WEHAB) initiative, which advocates
energy efficiency and alternative fuels, as well as cleaner fuels
and technologies. These were reflected in the Abu Dhabi Declaration
on Environment and Energy,issued jointly by the Arab Ministers
of Energy, Oil and Environment during the Environment and Energy
2003 Conference and Exhibition convened in Abu Dhabi, United Arab
Emirates in February.
Policy approaches in the region have focused mainly on switching
to less polluting fuel types, such as unleaded motor vehicle fuel
and natural gas. All the GCC countries and some other Arab States
phased out leaded petrol in 2003. Among other initiatives, Lebanon,
for example, has banned all old diesel vehicles from entering
major urban areas, and legislated their replacement with newer
petrol-powered engines. Efforts are also being made to introduce
more sustainable fuels for power generation.
|Sources: ERWDA 2003, UNDP 2003, UNEP 2003a