Diplomatic, humanitarian and development experts called for greater cooperation over water in the face of the worsening regional water crisis during a high-level panel on 26 February 2022.
Speaking at the event to mark the opening of the ‘Blue Peace Days’ at the Swiss Pavilion at Expo Dubai 2020, the experts warned that the world is facing an unprecedented water crisis, with global water withdrawals tripling over the past 50 years.
Countries in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, face extremely high levels of levels of water stress, which will be worsened by the effects of climate change over the coming years.
The experts agreed that closer cooperation is a necessity and that joint solutions and synergies must be sought to address the “deadly alliance” of water scarcity, climate change, increasing population and economic growth that are placing unprecedented pressure on the region’s water resources.
HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, the co-founder of the Blue Peace initiative and chair of the Blue Peace Middle East (BPME) Policy Advisory Committee, urged countries in West Asia work together to develop a regional mechanism for water cooperation.
“Transboundary water cooperation needs to be intensified with political commitments and concrete development projects that can make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable populations,” he said.
HE Dr. Danilo Türk, who served as the chair of the Global High Level Panel on Water and Peace and is currently the lead political advisor to the Geneva Water Hub, said that the world was unprepared to tackle the looming water crisis and warned of a grim picture for the future if the international community did not act fast.
“Water has a long history, which has shaped civilisations,” he said, “but this history may now take a turn in which large parts of the planet may become uninhabitable.”
He said inclusive international cooperation that involves governments, private sector, academia and civil society was of vital importance and urged countries in the Middle East to step up transboundary cooperation over water resources.
Citing the example of the European Coal and Steel Community that was formed in 1951, Dr. Türk suggested the Middle East region could establish a regional cooperation around solar power and seawater desalination.
“This may sound futuristic, but the research, know-how and relevant resources already exist,” he said. “What is needed is vision and the political will to move forward.”
HE Ambassador Patrizia Danzi, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), highlighted Switzerland’s extensive experience in promoting cooperation over water.
“Today, Switzerland acts as a mediator in transboundary water resources management,” she said, adding that the country considered this a long-term investment in peace and human rights.
She further underscored Switzerland’s ongoing commitment to the Blue Peace initiative and its engagement in large-scale hydro-diplomacy and multi-country development programmes in Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.