Often overshadowed by its political turmoil, the Middle East faces increasing environmental and resource-based challenges, such as depleting water resources. Recognizing the need to find possible collective solutions, the Hollings Center and the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies at the University of Central Florida convened a conference to address challenges and opportunities in conservation, and analyze prospects for and obstacles to cooperation on water issues. To that end, the organizers brought together a diverse group of 20 experts that includes academics, scientists, regional water specialists, private sector representatives, and policymakers from the region and the international community.
Through the dialogue, participants came to the following conclusions:
- Though each country has its unique issues with water, it is a global problem. There is no place in the world where water is a non-issue and where people are happy with water price, quality of service, etc.
- Money and technology alone will not solve the problem. Structural intervention is needed while being highly considerate of societal and cultural constraints. Creating space to solve those constraints will be difficult mainly because of a lack of political will to address the problem comprehensively.
- Countries that have financial resources, leadership, stability, management paradigms, and a competent bureaucracy have made some significant progress in addressing the issue. Countries lacking one or more of those factors have not fared well.
- People expect water as part of their social contract with the government. The tradition of subsidies exacerbates this idea of entitlement and the inability to raise awareness about responsible water use.
- Trans-boundary water management is complex and competitive. Still, there are best practices that can be models for cooperation on both formal and informal tracks.