The Middle East is pretty thirsty right now. Headlines from all over the region chronicle the increasingly serious drought conditions affecting agriculture, industry, and health.
Unfortunately, new research from the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology adds reason for even more concern. In their study, “High Naturally Occurring Radioactivity in Fossil Groundwater from the Middle East,” Duke University’s Avner Vengosh and colleagues from Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories found that fossil groundwater in southern Jordan contains levels of radioactive radium isotopes up to 2000% higher than international drinking water standards!
In an email to New Security Beat, Dr. Vengosh wrote:
Most of the Jordanian population is not using the fossil water for drinking—for now. Only few thousand people in Aqaba and Karak might be currently exposed to this water. However, Jordan has launched a huge water project to transfer the water from the aquifer in the south to the capital Amman, which would expose a large population to this water.”
With freshwater resources rapidly declining, many Middle Eastern countries have turned to nonrenewable aquifers like these to meet their water demands. These findings therefore present a potentially enormous public health challenge both to Jordan and to other countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya who have similar aquifer systems; according to Dr. Vengosh, exposure to much lower levels of radium isotopes led to increased instances of bone cancer in a New Jersey community.
For more on the water crisis in the Middle East:
Analyzing the Middle East Water Crisis: In Israel, Jordan and Beyond
Drought in Jordan Calls People to Pray for Rain and the Controversial Dead-Red Peace Canal
Syria Suffers Water Shortage – More News on Middle Eastern Drought