The emergence of a powerful idea
Water resources in the Middle East are being put under unprecedented pressure. This affects populations of entire regions from the economic and social viewpoint. Population growth, migration, urbanisation, climate change and the costs of conflicts have had a severe impact on these resources. In the course of 50 years, water flow in numerous rivers in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan has fallen by 50 to 90%.
Moreover, water reserves and dams rarely correspond to the political frontiers drawn by human beings. The management of these resources must therefore also be a cross-border activity. With this in mind, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Human Security Division have launched a Swiss water initiative in the Middle East known as Blue Peace. Supported by the Swedish government, this initiative aims to transform the water crisis in the region into an opportunity for the countries concerned. They will have to unite and to strengthen their peaceful links through the concerted and sustainable management of water resources. As a result, this issue is raised to the level of high politics rather than being confined to national water management organisations.
But for Blue Peace to become a lasting reality, all aspects of water management (supply, pollution, cleaning, etc.) have to be dealt with in a cross-border approach.
Three meetings and a report
In 2009, a group of independent Indian experts, the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG), was mandated by Switzerland to reflect on this issue. With its support, a series of consultations and meetings took place in 2010 in Montreux (Switzerland), Amman (Jordan) and Sanliurfa (Turkey).
Bringing together a hundred experts and leaders from the Middle East, these consultations pave the way for future collaboration. On the basis of these discussions, they produced a report entitled The Blue Peace: Rethinking Middle East Water. This document, published in February 2011, evaluates the main challenges facing the cross-border management of resources. In their efforts to find pragmatic solutions, they drew up a list of 10 recommendations for the short medium and long term.
Creation of a Cooperation Council for Water Resources in the Middle East
In the short term, the SFG proposes to create a Cooperation Council for water resources in the Middle East. Initially only five countries would be involved: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. In the workshop in Montreux, these countries also asked Switzerland to assist them with the establishment of this institution. The task of the council – whose establishment has been postponed until the situation in the Middle East stabilises – would be to develop a shared vision and instruments to realise it.
Raising awareness and mobilising political opinion
In order to pave the way for cooperation, much work was done raising awareness and mobilising political opinion. To this end, the SDC supported the creation of a high-level forum that since 2011 has brought together some 20 high-level personalities from the region. Thanks to their contacts, they have been carrying out very important awareness-raising work. The Blue Peace project was also presented to the Middle Eastern media. The project attracted an audience of some 30 million people in all in 2013.
This important awareness-raising work is paving the way for the future Cooperation Council. Once it is in place, process of consolidating a true blue peace will begin to take shape.