Hydropolitical Vulnerability in Asia

Via WaterWired, a summary of the Asian section of the UNEP report on hydrovulnerability, in particular the conclusions reached on the West Asia basins (Jordan, Asi-Orontes, Tigris-Euphrates/Shatt Al Arab, Kura-Araks, An Nahr Al Kabir River basin, Aral Sea).  As the report notes:

“…The transboundary basins in West Asia show signs of both resiliency and vulnerability, but most basins are currently vulnerable.  Beginning with the northern basins, the Kura-Araks Basin is vulnerable due to the water quality problems that are overshadowed by the politics and the long history of low investment in infrastructure and resources to prevent pollution of water resources.  The existing form of cooperation is based mainly on the presence of international organizations that provide resources and attempt to open dialogues between countries.

Politics also play a role in the vulnerability of the Tigris-Euphrates/Shatt al Arab Basin. Due to the conflicting political agendas, short history of technical cooperation between the countries via the Joint Committee, the current infrastructure problems faced by Iraq after 2001, and the major construction of infrastructure by Turkey, the Tigris-Euphrates/Shatt al Arab Basin remains vulnerable.  However, there are outside forces at work in the basin (i.e. the European Union in Turkey and the United States in Iraq) with the potential to influence greater cooperation between the three countries.

The Orontes River is considered vulnerable despite the 1994 bilateral agreement between Syria and Lebanon on water-sharing and the 2001 discussion of cooperating on technical issues between Syria and Turkey. Land conflict between Turkey and Syria remains a barrier to any formal water-sharing agreement. Furthermore, the pullout of Syria from Lebanon may test the resiliency of their 1994 agreement. In addition, Syria’s insistence on bringing the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers into the discussion may make it complicated to reach a multilateral agreement between Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey (the three countries that share the Orontes River), especially since the Tigris and Euphrates do not flow through Lebanon.

The Aral Basin also displays vulnerability due to the political history of the region.  The newly independent former Soviet Union states rely heavily on water resources and want to change the existing agreements. However, they have not found a way to divide the water equitably.  Heavy international presence exists in this basin that has the potential to increase the resources available to the states and entice them to cooperate.  The Amu Darya Basin will become even more vulnerable as Afghanistan begins to withdraw more water from it.

Continued conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank displays the lack of institutional agreements between these two groups and keeps this region vulnerable. This is evidenced by the conflict over the ‘separation wall’ where Israel acts unilaterally in a way that may impact the availability of water to Palestinian people. The Kedumim Quarry Landfill is another example where Israel acts unilaterally to site a landfill on land in the disputed West Bank territory. The anticipated unilateral pullout of Israel from the Gaza Strip will undoubtedly affect how both Israel and the Palestinian Authority handle water resource issues in the West Bank. Inclusion of the Palestinian Authority in decisions that impact those living in the West Bank has the potential to reduce the level of conflict between both groups. Amidst the conflict, the local agreement over improving water quality in the Alexander River is a good example that shows how Israelis and Palestinians at the local level are trying to improve their situation without the consent or help from their representative national governments

The Jordan Basin is the best example of resiliency due to the fact that the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty has held up for over 10 years through times of drought and political changes in the region. The inclusion of the Palestinian Authority for the upcoming study over water availability and quality has the potential to be a positive example of how the three entities (Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority) can work together to solve water resource issues that affect them all. In addition, the recent agreement with Jordan and Syria over the Wahda Dam shows efforts by these countries to work collaboratively to come up with solutions to their water resource problems.

The conflict between Israel and Lebanon is yet to be resolved, especially with the 2002 flare-up over water use of the Wazzani Spring. A report by the European Union describes the situation as unresolved, though tensions have decreased as a result of international attention and intervention in the conflict (EU, 2004). An explicit agreement between both countries would hopefully end the dispute over the use of water in this territory. With the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon, an agreement may be easier to reach between Israel and Lebanon. Around 60 years ago, the Johnston Accord set up a framework to resolve many of these water disputes by providing a model for water-sharing agreements. In order to maintain resiliency in this region, these recent agreements and treaties need to survive continued climatic variation and political change. This can be achieved by learning from past experiences and building on the examples that appear to offer long-lasting solutions in a region that has been plagued by many years of conflict.

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