Washington: The Middle
East has lost 144 cubic km of water between 2003 and 2010, nearly
equal to the staggering volume of the Dead Sea, show data provided
by the NASA satellites.
Four countries of the region along the Tigris and Euphrates -
Turkey upstream to Syria, Iran and Iraq below - alone account for
the unprecedented loss. The Middle East is strained by the rapid
loss of critical water reserves and mounting political tensions.
University of California-Irvine scientists and colleagues say the
Tigris-Euphrates watershed is drying up at a pace second only to
that in India. "This rate is among the largest liquid freshwater
losses on the continents," they say, the journal Water Resources
Water management is a complex issue in the Middle East, "a region
that is dealing with limited water resources and competing
stakeholders," says Katalyn Voss, water policy fellow with the
California's Centre for Hydrologic Modeling at Irvine, who led the
study, according to a California statement.
Turkey has jurisdiction over the Tigris and Euphrates headwaters,
as well as the reservoirs and infrastructure of its Southeastern
Anatolia Project, which dictates how much water flows downstream
into Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Unable to conduct measurements on the ground in the politically
unstable region, researchers used data from space, provided by
NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites,
to uncover the extent of the problem.
They found that depletion was especially striking after a drought
struck the area in 2007. Researchers attribute the bulk of it -
about 60 percent - to pumping of water from underground
GRACE is "like having a giant scale in the sky. Whenever you do
international work, it's exceedingly difficult to obtain data from
different countries," says Jay Famiglietti, principal study
investigator and professor of Earth system science at California.
"For political, economic or security reasons, neighbours don't
want each other to know how much water they're using. In regions
like the Middle East, where data are relatively inaccessible,
satellite observations are among the few options," he adds.