Former US senator urges Jordan to take lead to avert ''water war''

Published July 18th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

A former US senator has urged Jordan to take the lead in developing a comprehensive program for water in the Middle East to prevent a possible outbreak of violence "never seen before" in the region. 

 

"If you think there is violence now (in the Middle East), wait. It will get worse," former Democratic senator Paul Simon told an audience of Jordanian officials, water experts and economists at the US embassy Monday evening, July 16. 

 

"Unless constructive answers are found to the region's water problems, in 10 years the region will be faced with violence over water," he warned. Violence, "never seen before", will break loose "even if tomorrow an arms accord were to be reached between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Syria", he stressed. 

 

Simon made the remarks at the launch of an Arabic-language translation of his 1998 book entitled "Tapped Out: The Coming World Water Crisis and What We Can Do About It". 

 

"If King Abdullah and the Jordanian leadership were to call on Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and perhaps other countries from this region to develop a comprehensive program for water in the Middle East, I am convinced that we could get several governments, including my own, to make substantial financial commitments to support such an endeavor," Simon said 

 

Jordan's new Water Minister Hazem Al-Nasser told AFP that Simon's remarks were "very important and valid". "The region has a severe water crisis and if we don't tackle it, it will be harmful to human beings in this area," he said. 

 

Jordan is currently facing a 50 percent water deficit for agriculture and a 20 percent deficit on a domestic level with water storage in dams across the kingdom at a low 10 percent, compared to 40-50 percent, he said. 

 

"The flow of the main Yarmuk River (which takes its source in Syria) has dropped from three cubic meters (105 cubic feet) per second to one cubic meter per second," Nasser said. 

 

The region has been plagued by chronic water shortages due to a drought that has hit most countries since 1996 and the situation has been compounded by population growth. 

 

The sprawling and impoverished Palestinian district of Gaza "has the highest population density than any other place on the face of the earth," Simon said, noting that three billion people in the world are expected to live without fresh water supplies 25 years from now compared to 300 million today. 

 

In addition, the Arab world wastes more than half of its water resources every year through inefficient irrigation, leaking pipes and consumer recklessness, experts said at a water conference held in Beirut last month. 

 

"Nations will go to war over oil but there are substitutes for oil. There are no substitutes for water," Simon said. He praised Jordan for reducing water consumption by farmers by 50 percent over the past three years, citing official Jordanian figures, and other measures to conserve the precious liquid. 

 

Simon suggested desalination and family planning as measures that could in the long term contribute to a better management of water supplies. "But this is not a substitute for an umbrella water regional plan whose urgency must be understood," Simon said, urging Jordan's King Abdullah II to take the lead and organize a "regional water meeting" at the highest level. 

 

"Jordan could be the key player in pulling things together on water," he stressed, describing the Hashemite Kingdom, which shares borders with Israel, Syria and the West Bank, as a haven of "stability and moderation". 

 

"The Palestinian Authority can't do this, Israel can't and Syria can't. But Jordan has the respect of all sides," Simon said. "We are talking of life and death. Bloodshed or not bloodshed," he stressed. ― (AFP, Amman) 

 

© Agence France Presse 2001

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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