It is our pleasure to present the “Inventory of Shared Water Resources in Western Asia”, a joint publication by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR). The Inventory is the first UN-led effort to make a comprehensive assessment of the state of transboundary surface and groundwater resources in the Middle East. It contains a wealth of up-to-date information on shared river basins and aquifer systems in the region and represents the outcome of a process of collaborative scientific research spanning several years, involving representatives of member countries, academics and other water experts and practitioners in the Arab region and beyond.
Traditionally, the discourse on shared water resources in the Arab region has been highly politicized and the subject of high-level negotiations between governments, while also being very personalized, evoking concerns about justice and security among the general public. Attention has largely been focused on long-standing disputes arising from Arab dependence on surface water resources originating from (or controlled by) non-Arab countries. The academic and international community has dominated this discourse by propelling the management of shared water resources into the wider sphere of international relations and by dedicating extensive research projects, political theories and resources to examining cases like the Jordan River Basin, which may be the most studied river in the Middle East.
The dominant outward-looking narrative in the region attaches great importance to securing Arab water rights. Perhaps this also explains the early and relatively widespread support of Arab countries for global instruments of international water law. Of the 29 countries who are today party to the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non- Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, eight are from the Arab region; Syria, Jordan and Lebanon were among the first to sign, ratify or accede to this important legal instrument. By contrast, none of the non- Arab riparian countries have signed or become party to the convention. In recent years, a more inward-looking perspective has emerged in the regional discourse on shared water resources within the Arab region. Since its founding in 2008, the Arab Ministerial Water Council has provided a forum for the debate of regional water issues at the highest political level. The Arab Strategy for Water Security in the Arab Region, which was adopted by the Council in 2011, identifies the use and management of shared water resources as a core challenge to sustainable development in the region. The strategy’s core objectives include not only the protection of Arab water rights in waters shared with non-Arab states and in occupied territories; it also calls for enhanced cooperation between Arab states to manage water resources shared within the region. As this Inventory shows, these resources are plentiful but poorly understood, especially when it comes to groundwater. Furthermore, at its second ministerial session in 2010, the Council mandated the preparation of a legal framework for shared waters in the Arab region. After several rounds of technical negotiations the draft is now being discussed at the political level within member states.
While this publication is not formally related to the aforementioned regional processes, its release comes at an opportune time as it provides context and substance for many of these discussions. In fact, the findings of this Inventory have already been presented to actors engaged in these processes and have generally been met with interest and sometimes even with surprise. Many of the aquifer systems described in this Inventory have never been identified, let alone discussed, as shared resources by riparian countries. In better-known basins, the Inventory also presents recent and comprehensive data sets which had not been made publicly available until now. The new maps generated for the Inventory also help to update the discourse by offering a modern set of reference materials on shared water resources in Western Asia based on the content elaborated in each chapter, all of which is presented in a user-friendly, accessible and contemporary design. This does not mean, however, that findings and interpretations in the Inventory are to be considered complete or absolute. While the Inventory is a static reference document, it aims to inform a dynamic, multi-stakeholder process of continued analysis and assessment of shared water resources and governance structures. Preliminary feedback from governments and experts in the region shows that such a debate is ongoing and that the Inventory has the potential to provide such input and to help move the conversation forward.
The preparation of this Inventory involved the collaborative effort and the active participation of officials from ESCWA member countries, whether as nominated focal points or as members of the ESCWA Committee on Water Resources, and we would like to express our gratitude for their interest and support. We are equally grateful to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), which has provided continued funding for the ESCWA-BGR Cooperation and allowed us to embark on this and other long-term initiatives to promote integrated approaches to water resources management and to foster cooperation on shared waters in the ESCWA region. We would also like to thank all the experts from the region and beyond who contributed with texts, expertise, information and feedback throughout the process.
Our sincere thanks is also extended to the committed core team of ESCWA and BGR staff members in the Water Resources Section of the Sustainable Development and Productivity Division at ESCWA, who showed the utmost dedication and discipline at every stage of the lengthy and challenging process of developing the Inventory. Without each and every one of you, from chief of section, water expert, lead author, author, coordinator, researcher and assistant to GIS expert, editor, graphic designer and web-designer, this Inventory would never have materialized in its current form. The finalization of the Inventory would also not have been possible without the able editorial support provided by the ESCWA Conference Services Section. Finally, we would like to commemorate our dear colleague and friend John Redwine, who died in a tragic accident in December 2011. John worked with the ESCWA-BGR Cooperation team and provided valuable editorial input to the Inventory.