Water access crucial for Mideast peace


Water access crucial for Mideast peace, OIC says at global conference
AFP photo
AFP photo

Ensuring reliable access to water is crucial to promoting peace and security in the Middle East, where many countries are facing dramatic declines in available water, the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, said Tuesday.
“In some regions of the Muslim world, water availability is predicted to be cut in half by 2050 – even without taking into consideration the effects of climate change,” OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin ?hsano?lu said in his opening speech at the 2nd Istanbul International Water Forum, held at the Haliç Congress Center from May 3 to 5.
The OIC chief called for increased cooperation among member states and countries outside the region, announcing the group’s progress in preparing its own “Water Vision” document and forming an OIC Water Council to address water-related concerns.
“In its first phase, the Water Vision will outline a framework of cooperation on water-related issues in terms of water-sharing experience, capacity development, technology transfer, water governance and institutional reforms,” ?hsano?lu said.
He mentioned the Friendship Dam, to be constructed on the Orontes River at the Turkish-Syrian border, as an excellent example of cooperation and peace among neighboring countries in the field of water. “I hope that other OIC countries will follow with similar examples,” he said, adding that all OIC members recognize that achieving sustainable water security depends as much on the economic conditions and organizational capacities of member states as on water availability.

Ministers from OIC countries agreed at the 5th World Water Forum, held in Istanbul in 2009, to prepare a Water Vision and establish a Water Council.

Meeting the OIC’s objectives can be facilitated through connecting “excellence centers” among all member countries to encourage dialogue and the exchange of experiences, and to promote concrete action for addressing water-related problems in the region, ?hsano?lu said. “Such interaction will also lead to increasing attention to the need for integrating water-security issues into the development strategies of the OIC member states,” he added.

Water crucial for peace

“Water should be a source of cooperation and friendship, rather than conflicts,” Turkish Environment Minister Veysel Ero?lu told a group of journalists Tuesday. “We believe water [is a source] of rapprochement and cooperation with neighboring countries and other countries in the region.” He added that Turkey had concluded many bilateral agreements in the field of water management with its neighbors, including Iraq, Syria and Greece.

Kenya’s minister for water and irrigation, Charity Ngilu, also stressed the importance of water in promoting peace, especially in regions where water scarcity prevails. “There have been many conflicts caused by water scarcity not only among African countries, but even within regions of the same country,” Ngilu told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday, after the forum’s opening ceremony.

She also said Kenya would ask Turkey for cooperation and assistance in water management and other related issues.

Turkey ‘a great hydraulic country’

Turkey already plays a very important role in water issues in the world, according to Loic Fauchon, the president of the World Water Council, which organized the forum. “Turkey is a great hydraulic country and Turkish explorers are known all over the world,” Fauchon told the Daily News on Tuesday, after the event’s opening ceremony.

He said Turkey had made a lot of progress concerning policies on dams, which he said are essential for the provision of water even though they are sometimes criticized.

“Turkey has also done a great job in bringing water resources to residents of big cities such as Istanbul, ?zmir and Ankara,” Fauchon said, adding that Turkey’s large public and private companies were some of the best in the Mediterranean area.

“Turkey will play a more important role in the coming years,” he said.

The time of easy water is over

The time of “easy water” is over, according to Fauchon, who said past efforts by countries to increase water resources were no longer sufficient.

“We need to also decrease the demand for water, and develop regulation of demand policies,” he said, calling on states to also increase their priorities on water-related issues. “Water issues are more a priority today than 15 years ago, and we need to make them a priority for real, not just a priority in speeches.”

The world’s water consumption will increase by 40 percent over the next two decades and efforts to meet this demand must increase radically, according to Oktay Tabasaran, the secretary-general of the 5th World Water Forum.

“Water consumption will increase by 40 percent in the coming 20 years, reaching 6.9 trillion cubic meters per year [compared to 4.5 trillion used currently], and an amount of $200 billion must be spent annually in order to afford this,” Tabasaran said Tuesday in his opening speech at the this week’s forum.

He said such figures indicated the urgent need for countries to engage in efficient cooperation with each other to address water-related issues.

Some 50 out of the world’s 188 countries experience serious concerns in providing drinking and irrigation water, due to careless and inefficient use of water, according to ?smail U?ur, the general director of Turkey’s State Waterworks Authority, or DS?, who also made a speech at the forum.

“If we fail to come up with solutions, starting from 2015 there will be droughts [in many parts of the world] and people will start suffering from diseases caused by lack of water, as of 2025,” U?ur said.

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