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‘Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink’

Mar 12,2017 - Last updated at Mar 12,2017

A sad fact of life in the Middle East is that, unlike Samuel T. Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, we do not have water, water everywhere. With the single exception of Lebanon, all Middle Eastern countries suffer from acute water shortages on at least 80 per cent of their territories.

Most of the Arab Middle East concentrates the vast majority of its population along the thin river basins, where they exist, or on the sites of ancient oases, where people wasted no time in exhausting the already meagre subterranean reserves.

We can say that we have progressed to the point where we acknowledge the existence of a problem, which is better than we do with regard to most other problems; but what are we doing about this serious threat to our existence?

One thing we do is to frequently cite the Koranic verse: “And We made from water every living thing.”

Faith is indeed a very good thing, but it is the same faith that enjoins us to: “Tether your camel then trust God” not to let it go astray.

So what steps are we in the glorious Arab nation taking to “tether our camel”, meaning to find practical solutions to our acute water problems?

The answer, lamentably, is not a great deal.

Research and development (R&D) spending in Arab countries is on average $156 per capita, with the exception of the UAE and Qatar, where it is about $470 and $700 respectively.

This is not the budget on water research, but the total annual budget per capita.

Seriously, $150 is not a serious R&D budget, when compared with the R&D spending per capita of $1,440 in the US and $1,400 in Japan.

Much to our embarrassment, the only country in the Middle East that takes R&D seriously is Israel, with a per capita spending of about $1,360.

My intention is not to involve myself in the interminable debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Merely to highlight how they have acted to solve the problem javascript:void(0);that faced them as it faces us.

In 2009, the UN, in a report issued on International Water Day, named Israel the world’s most efficient recycled water user.

Israel reuses almost 70 per cent of its waste water each year for agriculture, and much of the leftover sewage water is reused for other purposes.

To put this point in greater perspective, the second most efficient recycled water user — Spain — recycles 12 per cent of its waste water for agriculture.

Research and development is not a purely esoteric pursuit. Because of Israel’s large investment in water reclamation research, in 2008 there were 200 companies exporting $1.4 billion worth of water management, recycling and purification, irrigation, desalination and safety technologies to over 100 countries.

Think what an impact an income of $1.4 billion a year would have on the economy of Jordan.


We do not lack brains, money or motivation, but merely the gumption to roll up our sleeves and work to solve our problems.

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