Dramatic drought in the Middle East

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Fri 30th Jul, 2021

A heat wave in the Middle East is causing water to become scarce in some regions. For weeks, temperatures in Iran, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula have regularly been as high as 53 degrees, and the thermometer rarely drops below 30 degrees at night. Power outages are paralyzing pumping stations, and in some places there has been a lack of rain in recent months, so that rivers and reservoirs are supplying less water than is needed to feed the population. Sweltering heat and water shortages are fueling domestic and international conflicts.

In Iran, thousands have been protesting water shortages and frequent power outages since mid-July. Ten people were killed in clashes with police, according to opposition human rights activists. Officials fired live ammunition at demonstrators, according to Amnesty International. The UN also expressed concern about the violence.

The unrest began in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan on the border with Iraq, but then spread to other parts of the country. Opponents of the regime accuse the government of ruining the country with corruption and mismanagement. In contrast, authorities say water supplies have run short because of an unusual drought. In addition, Iran is suffering from U.S. economic sanctions.

People in neighboring Iraq have also been taking to the streets for weeks. Demonstrators in Basra, in the south of the country, and in the capital, Baghdad, are protesting the long power cuts that are crippling air conditioning and water supplies in the midst of the summer heat. Although Iraq is one of the world's most oil-rich countries, the state has failed to upgrade its power grid and other key pieces of infrastructure after the devastation caused by the 2003 U.S. invasion.

A drastic drop in rainfall in Turkey, its neighbor to the north, is creating further problems: The biblical Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which rise in Turkey and whose water is used in Iraq to supply millions of people, carry less water than in previous years. Iraqi authorities also accuse Turkey of withholding water from the two streams in reservoirs; Ankara rejects this. The situation is exacerbated by a dispute with Iran, which supplies Iraq with electricity and with gas for power generation. According to media reports, Iraq owes its neighbor $4 billion for energy imports - so the Iranians temporarily cut off supplies a few weeks ago.

Similar problems threaten Lebanon's water supply. The state has little money left to pay for energy imports. As a result, two power plants temporarily went offline in recent weeks. Power outages of up to 22 hours per day and the lack of money forced water utilities to ration water to private households.

The children's aid organization Unicef warns that the water supply in Lebanon could collapse completely within four to six weeks. Additional danger is posed by a forest fire that has been spreading for days in the north of the country. The fire is huge and approaching populated areas, Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada told the AFP news agency Thursday.

There is also a dispute over water in northeastern Syria. The UN recently sounded the alarm over the failure of the Alouk pumping station on the border with Turkey. The station normally pumps groundwater into a reservoir that supplies the Syrian city of Al-Hasakah. But Alouk is no longer working. Up to one million people have been affected, Unicef said. Residents in the area are being supplied with makeshift water from tanker trucks. The problems with Alouk began in 2019, when Turkish troops and allied militias invaded northeastern Syria to drive the Kurdish militia YPG out of the border area.

Alouk has been under Turkish control since then, but electricity for the pumping station comes from nearby YPG territory. The Kurds accuse Turkey of repeatedly shutting down Alouk and thus blackmailing the population of the area. The government in Ankara, on the other hand, blames the YPG and the regime in Damascus for cutting off power to Alouk.

Egypt and Sudan fear that water in the Nile is running short as Ethiopia fills a huge reservoir on the Blue Nile for a hydroelectric plant. The reservoir behind the $4 billion "Great Dam of Ethiopian Rebirth" is expected to be filled with 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water and provide electricity for the Ethiopian economy. But for Egypt, a country of 100 million people, the Nile is the only source of drinking water; Sudan fears that less water in the Nile could cripple its own hydropower plants.

Both countries accuse the government in Addis Ababa of ignoring their interests. Now Ethiopia has filled the reservoir to the point where two of the 13 turbines can start generating electricity in the coming months.Negotiations between the three states have broken down. Egypt has threatened war several times. A few months ago, the militaries of Egypt and Sudan held a joint maneuver - a warning to Ethiopia underscored by the name of the exercise: The maneuver was called "Guardians of the Nile."

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