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Water for all

Water is politics. Ten countries control 60 percent of all available fresh water in the world.


"Water is God's gift, but he forgot to lay the pipes."

A less discouraged version of this slogan, which will be pending in professional environments, is embedded in UN Sustainability Goal number 6: ensuring sustainable water management as well as access to water and good sanitation for all. The main challenge lies in the words "safe" and "all". For as another slogan states: "Where nothing is, even the emperor has lost his right."

The numbers of the water. 97,5 percent of the world's total water consumption is salt water. 2,5 percent is freshwater. One percent of fresh water is directly available. Most of the fresh water is bound in ice and glaciers. Furthermore, population explosion will increase as water resources decrease. Today, 760 millions of people lack clean drinking water. Statistics say that in 2025, 1,8 billion people will suffer from water shortages.

The outlook is worrying, even for water-rich Norway. For what can happen to the island's island community when the only water they have in abundance on all sides is salt water? A possible scenario: They resort to desalination plants (if they can afford it), powered by fossil fuels (renewable energy is on the list for future use, but large-scale implementation will require a long time). Thus, they contribute to global warming, the sea rises and the island communities drown in the water they used to survive. And the rest of us get – among other things – a refugee problem that will overshadow everything we have seen so far.

Salt water as a solution. Nevertheless, desalination is a solution we must reckon with as the water demand increases. This technique is called reverse osmosis (RO), and gives a result that has tripled worldwide since the year 2000. RO simply means that salt water is forced through special membranes and produces filtered fresh water. In 2015, there were 18 facilities in 426 countries. The most important user countries are the rich oil nations Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, which account for 150 percent of total consumption. Israel produces a larger share of its fresh water at RO than any other country – equivalent to 5 percent of total consumption.

However, as of today, the challenges are great. The RO process requires huge amounts of expensive energy and will drive investment in the wrong direction, according to economics and climate experts. They describe the technique as questionable in an ecological context, as wastewater contains high concentrations of salt and toxins, creating so-called "dead zones" in coastal regions. This imbalance tends to destroy ecosystems and kill fish that are sucked into the production plant. The alternative – laying the pipes underground – would drive costs further into the weather. Innovative solutions with a view to revamping the technology on a broad basis are still in the early stages.

In the Palestinian areas around Jericho, the Jordan River is blocked with barbed wire. The area is controlled by the Israeli military, and residents are prevented from collecting as much as a drop.

Water is politics. Israel also plays a significant role where water becomes a major policy. The United Nations Association states that ten states control 60 percent of all available fresh water in the world. Ecologists maintain that RO should only be used when other solutions are (out) used and ecosystems are taken care of. The earthquake illustrates the conflict. Here, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) collaborates on solutions across borders and enemy images. The water, "the gift of God," starts in the Sea of ​​Genesis, where the Jordan River originates. The neighboring states of Syria, Jordan and Israel extract almost all the water from the tributaries here. Almost two percent of the original water flow freely to the south. Due to massive agriculture, lack of treatment plants, farms and drought, the legendary Jordan River – the baptismal site of Jesus – has shrunk to a sewer. This eventually flows into the Dead Sea, a place of pilgrimage for bathers and health tourists; a sea that today has one (poisoned) one-third of its original volume.

In the Palestinian areas around Jericho, the Jordan River is blocked with barbed wire. The area is controlled by the Israeli military, and residents are prevented from collecting as much as a drop. The water in the West Bank is shared by Israel and Palestine. Around 80 percent goes to Israel, 20 percent to Palestine. To get more, the Palestinians must buy from Mekorot, the Israeli Water Directorate, which fetches the water for free. The water is transported in trucks to remote villages – if at all. In the Jordan Valley on the Israeli side, agriculture is booming. Here millions of cubic meters of river water are pumped out into the Negev desert, where bananas and other tropical fruits shoot up. 50 per cent of this water is swallowed by a sector that contributes one per cent of gross domestic product.

Photo: Osama Silwad

Water and peace. Gidon Bromberg, Israeli FoEME director, recalls the time he sought an (Israeli) minister to support the work of rehabilitating the river, which is praised by writers and several religious believers. "Are you crazy?" he heard. "You're wrong if you think we have as much as a cubic meter of water to dump into the river. You're a dreamer! ” The same minister had to eat his words when the dreamers of FoEME 2013 fulfilled their wish. Two kilometers south of Lake Genesis, a blue pipe began to sprout fresh water into the Jordan River. Israel's Water Directorate had finally decided to contribute. 1000 cubic meters per hour should be in the first phase. In 2015, increased to 30 million m3 a year. FoEME has calculated that more than one billion cubic meters of water could be saved by sensible measures, such as by desalination, by saving, recycled water, "gray" water for toilets and irrigation, ecological methods in agriculture that swallow 70 per cent of the world's water consumption. Be it all in combination.

After six years of stagnation, Israeli and Palestinian authorities have now signed an agreement to reactivate "The Joint Water Committee" in the West Bank, the Jerusalem Post recently reported. This will pave the way for the further progress of 97 Palestinian water and sewer systems that have been broken since 2010. "I see this as a step towards a comprehensive peace agreement with the Israeli government that gives both parties a real chance," says Palestinian chief Hussein al-Sheikh, in charge of civil affairs.

Tel Aviv

Ecosystems. There are countless water projects that include marginalized locals and operate on nature's premises. One of the lesser known aspects of Nelson Mandela's legacy is his initiative to employ thousands of people to remove alien plant species, thereby securing precious water on a permanent basis. The vigorous growth of these plants (which were introduced in South Africa by settlers) to dry wetlands and ravaged natural ecosystems in areas where water was already scarce. The alien plant species had invaded 16 percent of the land nationwide. The result was a seven percent reduction in natural water supply. Mandela's team started intense work to remove the invaders. They managed to take back four percent of the water for the benefit of the population. The result led to a government-level collaboration and an economic mega project called Working for Water (WfW).

Healthy ecosystems provide democratic and forward-looking tools in the fight for equitable distribution of goods – with water as an indispensable resource. The Norwegian government proposes SEK 33,9 billion in aid for 2017. Water projects should be high on the list, not least in support of UN Sustainability Goal number 6.

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Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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