Middle East Water Woes Beg for Environmental Sewage Solutions

camel on arab oasis with camel
The environment is politics and in the Middle East this is ever so stark, ravaged by internal socio-religio-political conflicts and international wars. Wars internally and externally are based on oppression, division, exclusion, land theft, and expropriation of the Middle East’s oil reserves. The Middle East is the globe’s oil capital. Those who want to own it are traditional colonial powers who will do anything and promise anything from political freedom to militarisation to democracy to get at it; it’s why war and conflict still proliferate in the region.

Easily forgotten in all the wars and conflicts are survival basic resources such as water. Water for thirst, water for industry, water for agriculture and water for sanitation. The Middle East’s oil-rich countries are able to cross-subsidise oil-money for purchases of food crops or agri-land for growing food to be imported into the region. This is neither environmentally sustainable nor economically.

Things will run dry, monetary-wise and resource-wise, so hard rapid environmental resource conservation must dictate all immediate and future plans.

Accessing ancient geological aquifers for stored groundwater slowed down with lack of sustainable use and management of resources. When groundwater supplies started dwindling, desalination became the next option, the primary social-water-feeder.

Desalination is not only expensive but emits green house gases, adding to climate alteration in a region that naturally is already climate-harsh.

At the end of the day, land and all natural resources are the basis for conflicts. The conditions imposed on Palestine by Israel for instance are highlighted constantly, but the struggle for survival resources are not. One of the many access battles facing the Palestinians is the right to its water flowing beneath the the West Bank and Gaza. Sanitation issues in the West Bank are critical with only one functioning wastewater plant with inadequate treatment to enable wastewater clean-up and modification for re-use.

According to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (2011), “Only 6.33 percent of the generated wastewater in the West Bank is treated in centralized and collective wastewater treatment plants located in the West Bank, the remaining is discharged untreated into the environment; part of which is being treated by Israeli treatment plants located inside Israel.”

Untreated sewage disposal outfalls to the oceans are numerous and reflect on the callous regard for the protection of water resources together with a lack of a proper sanitation framework. Managing water resources in arid desert regions should be a top government responsibility, but yet irresponsible water management is the choice as opposed to a guarded conservation approach to water, one where wastewater is recycled for reuse.

The sea is just one dumping ground for untreated sewage, the other is surface and groundwater infiltration of sewage. There exists no formal sanitation framework, let alone a water management one, so above Gaza, the West Bank’s dominant raw sewage disposal is through in situ pit latrines. These are cesspits, which are basically holes in the ground. The seepage is an obvious tie to water contamination through the soil profile to aquifers.

The political conflict tie-in on sanitation is the uncontrolled raw sewage releases from the Israeli settlements into the environment, which must be managed in an all encompassing regional water and waste crisis plan.

Sanitation in the Middle East is in crisis, and therefore intrinsically tied to the growing water contamination crisis. Intervention should be localised yet tied to a regional commitment and management programme.

According to Franack based on a collation of ARIJ data, “in the West Bank, only 56 communities are connected to a sewage network, whereas 513 communities use cesspits to dispose of their sewage. This means that out of 2,444,500 people inhabiting the West Bank, only 753,590 people have access to sewage networks, covering only 32 percent of the West Bank population.

“The areas not served by the water network generally dispose of their waste either through cesspits or directly into open channels into the environment.”

Raw sewage has direct implications for healthy drinkable water, healthy food growth, healthy disease-free populations (eColi risks multiply with every raw sewage discharge into the environment), healthy ecosystems and habitats, healthy water for protein source species such as fish that humans depend on, healthy water for vegetation growth that not only cool arid regions but offer a balanced oxygen supply to also mitigate air pollution.

A water-stressed region, the Middle East with its arid soil conditions and low vegetation cover, is a climate change hotspot and water issues will lead to to a social and environmental crisis with burgeoning population growth.

Water knows no boundaries, and no matter human geopolitical conflict will flow over, beyond and under borders, so peace is key to sustainable human survival and environmental protection.

Engaging in desalination as a cure for the water crisis, and avoiding effective sewage contamination issues is an illogically management issue afflicting not only the Middle East but the general human condition of starting something anew with total avoidance and solutions of the existing bad practices.

Making the current sanitation crisis a priority, addressing infrastructural leaks in the formal system, illegal raw sewage disposals out to sea and in the ground, replacing pit latrines/cesspits, recycling wastewater for water conservation and sewage management is the stance governments must adopt with urgency or the water crisis in arid regions such as the Middle-East will be the greatest crisis ever imagined making socio-political-religio-wars the least of the survival issue.

Climate change impacts will heighten the resource stress in the Middle East, what should unfold is emergency environmental rehabilitation, proper water and sanitation infrastructure for recycling.

Sustainable and equitable management and use of the Middle-East’s natural resources will certainly build relationships between nations and strengthen co-operation for an effective social, environmental and economic region.

If regional peace comes from sectoral bonds as a default of good environmental relations, that would indeed be progress. The environment is political and personal, and the sooner we link into that philosophy the sooner we respect and manage natural resources as a species survival issue.

Image of desert oasis from Shutterstock

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