Water in the Middle East 2005

Water in the Middle East: Prospects for Conflict or Cooperation

The event was sponsored by the Coca-Cola Czech Republic

Date: 10. 10. 2005 13:00 - 14:30

Location: "Knights' Hall" of the Žofín Palace, Slovanský ostrov, Praha 1

Organizer: Forum 2000 Foundation


  • H.R.H. El Hassan bin Talal, President, Club of Rome the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • Uzi Arad, Head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, former Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel
  • Bedřich Moldan, Chairman, Scientific Board of the European Environmental Agency, the Czech Republic
  • Libor Ambrozek, Minister of Environment, the Czech Republic
  • Hillel Shuval, Professor of Environmental Sciences, Hebrew University, Israel

Jan Urban, journalist, Professor at the New York University in Prague, the Czech Republic


  • To what extent does modernization influence water consumption patterns and vice versa? What is the role of tradition?
  • If the current alarming trends in demography, economic development and water consumption hold on, is the Middle East going to face even more serious crises soon again?
  • Could a Community of Water and Environment be envisaged, having a value-added effect of mutual trust-building?

Conclusions and Recommendations

In recognition of the central role that water plays in politics, economy and societies of the Middle East, a special panel discussion was dedicated to this outstanding topic. The participants included most distinguished and well-known personalities, among them His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, President of the Club of Rome; Uzi Arad, Head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, Herzliya; Bedrich Moldan, Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency, Prague; Hillel Shuval, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Sciences at Hebrew University, Jerusalem; and Jan Urban, journalist and professor at New York University, Prague.

In addition to the panel, an expert workshop took place in the framework of the project named“Communities of Energy, Water and Environment for the Middle East and Africa” and coordinated by Pavel Seifter of the London School of Economics. On the political level, beside HRH El Hassan bin Talal, the panel and the project are under auspices of Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic.


The participants’ speeches and the ensuing discussion shed light on many issues related to freshwater supply and usage in respect of the political, economical, social and environmental dimensions. Basing on these insights, several conclusions can be articulated as follows:

  • Any approach to resolving the Middle Eastern water problems must from its beginning aim at achieving a win-win situation for all parties. That means ensuring rational and fair water distribution whilst maintaining the principles of equity, prosperity, autonomy and sustainability for and by all stakeholders. And ultimately, it must lead to restoring peaceful relations between the parties concerned.
  • Any such approach must be of international nature, taking advantage of either existing or new supra-national structures. However, that must not prejudice the need for solid local and national institutions and authorities. The work accomplished in the past must also be taken into account, notably—in the Palestinian- Israeli case—by the multilateral working groups on water, economics and environment established in the wake of the 1991 Madrid conference. Now an even greater regional participation should be sought. Besides, the traditional and long upheld assumption that water sources would on their own become a motive for armed conflicts must be abandoned as unsubstantiated and detrimental to regional international relations.
  • Any such approach must be practically viable, bearing in mind the failure of some previous multilateral attempts. Better management procedures and good institutional governance are crucial in this regard, while target-oriented efforts and a ‘project-fits-concept’ approach are prerequisite for achieving real results. That will require feasibility studies with an interdisciplinary character including practical and technical aspects of projects concerned. Moreover, an appropriate ‘art of leverage’ openly basing on profit motives must be developed to engage hesitant organizations and companies.
  • Any efforts linked to water situation in the Israeli-Palestinian relations must be truly shared by both parties and must follow a collective and united agenda. To avoid mistrust as well as confusion, the current water situation should be jointly assessed by Israelis and Palestinians, thus laying grounds for further negotiations. The legal basis is provided primarily by the 1997 UN Convention on Water. The discord over whether the water problem should be negotiated independently or only within the broader Peace Process recedes to the background in the face of the fact that a water crisis will emerge for both parties, irrespective of any bilateral agreements. The deep psychological effects of an equitable resolution of water issues, however, must be considered a major factor on the way to peace.
  • A complex understanding of the matter is needed to identify genuine problems. Thus it is not only the shortage of water resources or the distortions of its distribution what causes difficulties, but also certain patterns of water usage. This applies in particular to agricultural irrigation, where the economical return of a unit of water is extremely low compared other sectors. Accordingly, limiting agricultural production must be taken into account and weighed against tradition or security concerns related to self-sustainability in food production.
  • Environmental impacts must be duly assessed, above all when introducing new projects or technologies. Beside the immediate consequences on the spot this concerns also the climate change, to which the Middle East is particularly vulnerable. Great caution is required specifically in relation to non-renewable water sources, whose depletion must be prevented.
  • Complex approaches are needed, since all four dimensions, i.e. politics, economics, society and environment will inevitably be involved in and by any project. In addition, technology will play a central role. This applies to proposals for reallocating water sources across national or even regional borders as well as for those establishing new facilities for freshwater production, distribution or treatment. It is as well important to look for innovative and original solutions that might be so far unexplored.
  • These conclusions should be further disseminated to decision-makers, experts and public in order to facilitate discussion. They must find resonance in future meetings and conferences and contribute to shaping further developments, including individual projects. The participants expressed their willingness to undertake efforts to this end.


Apart from formulating conclusions on the general level, the panel also brought up several more specific recommendations.

  • The political options of international support for resolving the Middle Eastern water problems should be re-examined. This includes e.g. the possibility of involving the OECD or, in the Israeli-Palestinian space, the reinvigoration of the relevant working groups under patronage of the Quartet. Here Europe is still to assume a stronger role. Alternatively, a new and internationally viable commission on water in the Middle East is to be created with a broadest possible regional participation. Inspiration may to a certain extent be drawn from the European community established in the wake of World War II in the coal and steel sector.
  • An extensive, comprehensive and state-of-the-art knowledge base must underlie the formulation and implementation of policies. To this purpose the existing resources should be actively used by political actors and experts and completed by new assessments as appropriate. The inclusion of all stakeholders in creation, updates and use of such a knowledge base is essential, not only in the Palestinian- Israeli relation.
  • The idea of reallocation of a part of water resources from the relatively water- rich countries to those in severe shortage and from those in control of the resources to those without control to meet their vital human needs should be explored. Such an arrangement would allow more equitable water sharing and utilization and would symbolically promote peace without prejudicing national security, thus being in long-term interest of all parties concerned. Economical setbacks would be rather marginal since water-poor countries will have to resolutely deal with their shortage of water in the years to come under all circumstances. The more countries participate in a reallocation scheme, the more favourable consequences there will be for peaceful relations in the region.
  • Bold and innovative approaches with remarkable value-added aspects, which are now possible thanks to advanced technology, must be actively supported. One of these is the Solar Water and Power Source project developed by Trans- Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC, Hamburg/Amman) in cooperation with Communities of Water, Energy and Environment (EWE, London/ Ramallah). The project fosters international cooperation, provides tangible long-term benefits in the form of cheap energy and freshwater supplies and inflicts no damage to environment. The initial application is intended for cases such as the expected water crisis in Sana’a or the economical recovery of Gaza, involving use of adjacent fallow desert areas and cooperation with international investors, notably the European Union. If properly executed, the scheme will create a win-win situation for all and promote peace and stability. Being suitable for other locations in the Middle East and Mediterranean as well, a broader application of the project at then reduced costs is supposed to have overwhelming political and economical consequences.

Forum 2000 Foundation will endeavour to promote ideas resulting from these conclusions and recommendations. It will contribute its own share of work by holding further specialized meetings and conferences and taking advantage of its wide network of scientists, researchers, civil society representatives and global leaders. Running its own project, the foundation will also cooperate with similar ventures (such as the aforementioned EWE project)

Exploring Water Patterns in the Middle East: Linking Technology, Business and Politics in the 21st Century To Fight Aridity and Shape the Region´s Future

1 Background

1.1 Hydrologic Situation
The Middle East is an extremely arid region, where 5% of the world’s population is matched by only 1% of freshwater resources. It has low and rather unpredictable rainfall. Virtually all available water resources have been already utilized to the maximum extent in the last years and decades, including building dams, drilling and pumping of groundwater and seawater desalination. Even non-renewable resources (e.g. some ancient aquifers) are being exploited. Besides, a sizeable part of acquired freshwater suffers from quality degradation as a result of pollution. Consequently, innovative approaches and technology are crucial to improve the water situation in the region.

Furthermore, major water resources have trans-national character such as groundwater aquifers and river streams running across state borders. More than 50% of the total population is dependent on such resources. Thus water supplies are also a subject of the region’s international relations.

The largest water resources in the Middle East are the Tigris & Euphrates River Basin shared by Turkey, Syria and Iraq; the Nile River Basin originating outside the region and used by a host of African countries, then flowing to Sudan and Egypt; the Jordan River Basin shared by Syria, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon; the Yarmuk River in Syria and Jordan; the West Bank Groundwater Aquifers used by Palestinians and Israel; The Orontes River Basin shared by Lebanon, Syria and Turkey; the Litani River Basin in Lebanon; and seawater mainly in the Gulf area.

1.2 Crises and Threats
Years ago, especially in the early nineties, predictions were made that shortage of water would soon evolve into a severe regional crisis. The rationale for these fears rested upon the facts of a rapid population growth in the Arab countries (of ca. 3% annually), extensive industrialization programs and generally the increasing water consumption due to economic growth, tourism, etc. That combined would inevitably lead to a wide-scale instability.

Fortunately, this view has not proved completely true. While there were not many possibilities of significantly increasing water supplies, much could be done regarding the existing consumption patterns: industrial, commercial and domestic users were using only up to 15 per cent of the resources, the rest being consumed by agriculture and particularly the irrigation systems. Therefore, any decrease in the agriculture’s consumption alone – either by decreasing the production or by boosting the efficiency – is able to counteract imminent threats of water shortage in vital areas. That may, on the other hand, damage the agriculture itself.

Secondly, it was argued that the scarcity of available water would lead to serious international tensions and eventually armed conflicts. States viewing sufficiency of water as crucial precondition for their future development would not shy away from defending their interests even by force. The situation was to be further escalated by climate change forecasts detrimental to water resources. Although the former came partially true and showed itself in chronic tensions between Syria and Turkey and – to a lesser extent – in the Israel-Jordan and Egypt-Sudan relations, an open conflict has never materialized. Nevertheless, anxiety remains.

1.3 Challenges and Opportunities
The ultimate objective of a comprehensive approach to the management of scarce water resources could be described as follows: ensuring rational and fair water distribution, whilst maintaining the principles of equity, prosperity, autonomy and sustainability for and by all stakeholders.

As already articulated at the first symposium on Water in the Arab World, held at Harvard University in October 1993, an essential part of any solution to the problem must be the understanding of water as an economic good and the introduction of a price system. The subjection of the water sector to market principles can efficiently prevent any wasting of resources and direct them to the most needing consumers. At the same time, however, robust regulatory and institutional framework must be constructed to set firm rules and protect some vulnerable elements of the local economies and populations from grave harms.

Responsible and sensitive political work on the part of the region’s governments and local authorities is key to achieve those aims and explain the necessity of the measures taken. It appears even more important in face of the fact that in the Arab Islamic culture, free availability of water has traditionally been regarded as a vested interest of all. Anyway, the economization of water sector, even though restricted, is the point where business and investment ventures can jump in. Much has been already done and the currently booming water markets are rightfully expected to further develop.

Hand in hand with that development, science and research will be greatly challenged in the on-going process of technological innovation and of coping with the specific conditions of the arid Middle East. That is particularly true given the exigent necessity to combat the increasing environmental deterioration, caused predominantly by over-pumping of groundwater aquifers, over-damming of river flows and air pollution due to seawater desalination. Without a determined action, a disaster is looming on the horizon.

Moreover, in the long-run, dealing with the water situation is likely once for all to overgrow the national borders and so become a matter of or an incentive for a regional political-economic arrangement that might have far-reaching implications. Several more specific issues, unresolved challenges and opportunities are listed below.

  • Technology and development: decreasing water consumption by agriculture (irrigation systems, crop arts, distribution systems); decreasing costs and environmental implications of desalination; exploring methods of massive long-distance water transportation; developing possibilities of wastewater reuse; studying meteorological forecast systems;
  • Politics and administration: tuning up legal framework; efficiently designing national and local water management authorities; observing water market developments; scanning consumption patterns; linking water policies to agriculture; facilitating trans-area and trans-border consultations of authorities (knowledge and data sharing, joint modeling); raising public awareness of water resources’ central importance;
  • Business opportunities: dozens of state or private-sponsored projects in the water sector; modern hydrological equipment; specialized computer technology and equipment (water databases, information dissemination); manpower training; the currently booming wastewater segment; industrial nowater- use appliances.

2 Project Description
The Exploring Water Patterns project (EWaP) will try to address the complex issue of Middle Eastern water situation by means of a series of events spanning a period of fifteen months. These events will include roundtable discussions, expert workshops and a final conference and will bring together international participants with specific expertise in the given fields.

The project methodology is based on the assumption that—in order to meet the challenges ahead—a great synergy between the realms of science/technology, business/investment and politics is necessary. Thus each of these dimensions deserves a closer attention before they can be treated in a complex manner. Besides, the impacts of water sector changes on the environment and social systems of the respective countries must be evaluated.

Knowledge basis for the project is provided by the research made over the past decade and discussed at several meetings and conferences, starting with the 1993 Water in the Arab World symposium held at Harvard University. In addition, at the beginning of the project certain particular issues with the potential of becoming new and promising incentives will be explored by an initial workshop. And importantly, a roundtable comprising senior political leaders from the Middle East will deal with the issues in a broad context, providing recommendations and guidelines for the project.

In the following, an expert workshop will survey the current state-of-the-art technology available in the water sector and outline possible technical solutions to particular issues. This concerns not only freshwater acquisition but also effective water management and wastewater treatment and recycling. Another roundtable discussion will be dedicated to the analysis of possible social and environmental impacts of water sector development. It will formulate requirements for limiting harm to and enhancing quality of the environment as well as devise conditions related to social responsibility vis-ŕ-vis the Middle Eastern societies.

Using the conclusions of the preceding events, a business workshop for corporate executives will explore opportunities for investments in the Middle Eastern water sector. Attention will be paid to evaluating the viability of such investments given the specific conditions and requirements in the region, the outcome being a market analysis plus proposals for political action to support investments. Subsequently another workshop will bring together government officials from local countries as well as foreign countries to be involved in the water sector development. They will produce concrete policy recommendations for their governments.

Additionally, at an early stage of the project a seminar will be organized for representatives of companies and academic/research institutions located in the Czech Republic. Presenting the complex issues related to Middle East water situation, the seminar will aim to determine the extent of interest among the participants and eventually their will to be involved in the project.

Finally, a conference will convene where political leaders will meet senior business executives, scientists and NGO-representatives. Basing on the outcomes of all previous meetings, a plan for further action will be discussed and formulated. The participants will be required to state concrete commitments of their respective governments, companies, and institutions. These commitments will then be publicly announced and communicated in the media in order to achieve a sufficient degree of publicity thus reducing the possibility of backing off from the agreed plans. The outcomes will also be channeled specifically to key actors and responsible decision makers both within and without the Middle East. As far as possible, synergies will be attempted with other projects dealing with similar topics.

The project will produce a report containing records from its meetings as well as all outcomes and recommendations.

3 Schedule of Events
I. Introductory events:

  • October 2005: Prague workshop ‘The Water Short Middle East and North Africa’ Themes: Water Market – A Strategy For Conflict Resolution; Alternative Water Sources – An Economic Feasibility Analysis; Virtual Water Strategy; The Role of International Water Law; Approaches to Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflicts
  • October 2005: Prague roundtable ‘Water in the Middle East: Prospects for Conflict or Co-operation?’, featuring senior political leaders. Dedicated to providing a broad view touching upon politics, economy, society, environment and technology to bring an insight into various scenarios of future development. Themes: modernization vs. tradition; food security; environmental strains; demographic developments; possibilities of internationalization and creation of control mechanisms

II. Preparative phase (November 2005 – January 2006): collecting documents and contacts, starting communication and invitations

  • December 2005: Exploratory seminar for companies and academic/research institutions in the Czech Republic
  • January 2006: Trip to the Middle East – finding local partners, establishing contact

III. Working phase (February 2006 – October 2006): organizing the meetings

  • February 2006: Expert workshop on technology
  • April 2006: Roundtable on environmental and social impacts
  • June 2006: Business workshop on investment opportunities
  • October 2006: Workshop for government officials

IV. Closing phase: convening the conference, publishing outcomes

  • December 2006 / January 2007: Final conference

Workshop - "The Water Short Middle East and Africa"

Date: October 10, 2005 | 9:30 – 12:00
Venue: Institute of International Relations, Nerudova 3, Prague

Organizer: Forum 2000 Foundation, London School of Economics

Moderator: Pavel Seifter - EWE, London (UK)


  • Khaled N. Elshuraydeh - Higher Council for Science and Technology, Amman (JO)
  • Hillel Shuval - Hadassah Academic College / Hebrew University, Jerusalem (IL)
  • Gerhard Knies - Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, Hamburg (DE)
  • Petr Drulák – Institute of International Relations, Prague (CR)
  • Michal Stibitz - GeoMedia, Prague (CR)
  • Fadia Daibes - Water Policy Consultant (PNA)
  • Lydia Kan – EWE, (UK)
  • Eva Diegel – EWE, (UK)
  • Jan Šnaidauf - Forum 2000 Foundation, Prague (CR)

A small round table of experts coordinated by Dr Pavel Seifter from London School of Economics and Political Science concentrated on water conflicts and solutions in the MENA region and specifically on finding solutions between Israel and Palestine. The overall purpose of the Prague workshop meeting was first to prepare the EWE project, to get feedback for presented projects and to prepare the ground for the specific task of the EWE project which is based on the “Community” (regimes as well as networks) idea. A second, more specific, aim of the workshop was to discuss the issues of water markets, alternative water resources and strategies, desalination, the role of international law and the transboundary environmental policy. The specific projects presented and discussed were the Red/Dead Sea Canal and the Gaza Project. The discussion aimed not only to find ways of approaching water scarcity but also water conflicts, including the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.


Previous years

Water in the Middle East 2010
October 10, 2010 - October 12, 2010
Water in the Middle East 2009
September 21, 2009 - September 22, 2009
Water in the Middle East 2008
September 10, 2008 - September 11, 2008
Water in the Middle East 2007
October 8, 2007 - October 9, 2007
Water in the Middle East 2006
October 9, 2006 - October 10, 2006