" Blue Peace" in the Rhine river
" Blue Peace" in the Rhine river: inspiring experience
21 May 2015
October 7 2013
Senior Correspondent and International news editor@ Aljoumhouria newspaper
40 years ago, the former head of the Rhine commission Dr. Manfred Spearfico couldn't be able to swim in the "magic river" as the Romans used to describe, as an outcome of pollution in the sixties and the beginning of seventies in the last century, and that was due to industrial growth that reached to high level, where many kinds of fish and mainly salmon disappeared and the river became no more suitable for swimming and drinking.
In the near past, Senior water policy adviser in the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation "SDC" Johan Gely and the youth generation become able to swim in the river where Spearfico could not do that before.
In Turkey, the same situation change-over. In the past, its former foreign minister Yasar Yakis used to drink from the rivers of his country, while this becomes no longer possible for today's generation as swimming in most of Turkish rivers became difficult.
Such testimonies reflect a comparison approach between European countries that were successful in managing and protecting its shared water resources, while Middle East countries are becoming worse in this regard. these testimonies were presented during a field visit organized by the Indian Research Foundation "Strategic Foresight Group" in cooperation with the Swiss Foreign Ministry, and "SDC", and the Swedish Agency for International Development Cooperation , for a number of politicians, experts and journalists from Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, to the Rhine River between 24 and 28 September, to see how Germany and Switzerland manage their transboundary water resources.
The field visit was the third step carried out by "Strategic Foresight Group" after the international conference of "Blue Peace in the Middle East"that was held in Istanbul in previous March, and "Blue Peace: Rethinking Middle East Water" report that was issued in February 2012 that concluded that water crisis may become an opportunity to a new form of peace.
Thus came the visit to one of the most important rivers in the European continent - which stems from the Alps in the east of the center of Switzerland, with a length around 1230 kilometers - to inspire and learn from the experience of the nine countries that share the Rhine (Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria and Belgium) in managing the water of this river, and to explore the possibility of benefiting from the European model of cooperation, in a way that water in the Middle East, become a tool for peace-making, rather than being a factor of igniting conflicts.
How the process started in the Rhine?
Before starting the field visit at The Swiss Rhine-Rheinfelden Hydrological station, Spearfico presented a briefing showing
the efforts made to protect the Rhine from pollution and the management of its water, from the establishment of the "Committee for the Protection of the Rhine River" in 1963, and a number of agreements that govern the work of the committees to protect the river, including "Agreement Bern 1972", reaching to the regional model to measure pollution in the Rhine River.
Spearfico pointed out to the Committee of the Rhine, which consists of Switzerland, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the European Commission, that created a political umbrella to facilitate the work of the Commission, and its mission wasto provide recommendations to the decision-makers., Spearfico advised the participants to work, "according to 3 bases, that include integrating economic aspects with ecological and social issues . "
A Collaborative model impressed the participants .The former Secretary-General of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in Jordan Dr. Zoubi Mason wondered: "Can we start cooperation with water quality, not allocation quotas "?
In turn, former Iraqi human rights minister, Dr. Boukttiar Amin regretted to the absence of such similar cooperation in the Middle East, recalling that "the Europeans began with coal and iron, and look now where the Union arrived today .
Spearfico intervened to encourage them, saying:"do not give up, , you can find a way and start cooperation at the technical level," adding: "In the absence of a strong agreement on a political level, you can work at the level of universities and technical aspects, and this will lead later to exert pressure on politicians to cooperate, and the Arab League may help in that. "
Editor in chief of "All for Syria" website Dr. Ayman Abdel Nour, wanted to know how the media supported the work for of the Rhine. Spearfico replied: "education and awareness campaign started from the schools, adding to the "aljoumhouria newpaper" that"The media raised the message we are going to die, if you don't move".
Iraqi Kurdish journalist Hiwa Osman suggested producing a documentary on all the common rivers, and to transfer the media network of blue peace to a framework to produce and exchange information. Abdel Nour called in turn to choose a day for water and put it on the political calendar of the countries that are part of"blue peace in the Middle East" initiative , while Amin suggested a joint documentary film production to be made by Turkish - Iraqi journalists about the Tigris and Euphrates.
Director of the Middle East and North Africa at the United Nations University, Dr. Walid Saleh proposed " to humanize the issue of water, and to sit together and discuss the interest of the people."
Debate continued, the President of "Strategic Foresight Group" Dr Sundeep Waslekar suggested the formation of an advisory council between Iraq and Turkey, and signing a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, where the Swiss side can be the godfather of it.
AProposal the Turkish and Iraqi sides welcomed. Yakis said :" the Swiss support may bridge the gap between the two countries with the help of the Indian organization".
Switzerland accepted the task, pointing out that the involvement of Parliament and the federal government and the Swiss media, in supporting Blue Peace Initiative, is a clear evidence that its sees threads of hope amid clouds of despair.
The field trip
The participants moved to the Swiss monitoring station where the water level is measured, to predict the possibility of floods, and where monitoring stations are allocated in 26 Swiss Cantons. This was followed by a visit to the monitoring station in Basel that was built after fire at a Sandoz warehouse in 1986.
A tragedy pushed politicians in Germany and Switzerland to discuss the formation of a monitoring station bilaterally. the mission of the Rhine protection Committee used to take samples every morning and testifying water, to find out the size of toxic substances for water that 20 million people drink.
Furthermore, States adjacent to the Rhine launched joint work program, in order to secure drinking water at the long-term, to decrease pollution , restore (salmon fish) and the protection of the North Sea. The third stop was a visit to the German Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) in Koblenz, where all participants wondered what made cooperation between the members of the Committee on the Rhine "ICPR" feasible and successful?
Dr. Anne Schulte Everlidg admitted that they "took time to build trust, held around 70 to 80 meetings per year, and they reached to Berne Convention, and the goal was that our partners can live in accordance with this solution". And before that convention, ministers of Rhine adopted in November 12, 1986 the Rhine program to protect the ecosystem. Everlidg said that: "the key to achieving cooperation is the political will, and the Member States in the convention took their decisions on a consensus base and there is no sanctions affect them because they adhere to its terms." Zubi wondered: "How can we convince the neighbouring countries of the importance of cooperation between the upstream and downstream states, while each state holds on tightly its water rights?
In turn, Amin reminded of the dilemma of lacking information-sharing of water resources between countries in the Middle East, and he proposed the establishment of a " common monitoring mechanism to predict and estimate the level of pollution and the risk of flooding on the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the formation of a committee for cooperation in the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates similar to the Rhine Committee."
He said: " memorandums of understanding govern our water relationship , one of its is trilateral between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and another one with the Iranian side, in the absence of a bilateral or multilateral agreement in the region to share water between the riparian States on the Tigris and Euphrates," stressing that the political understanding alone can facilitate water cooperation.
Everlidg said: "If your mind is open you will be able to cooperate. we have been working for more than 60 years, and we have a monitoring station and agreement, you need time to meet together and build confidence." later, after the study of climate change scenarios for 2050 and its impact on the Rhine River Basin was presented, the participants were impressed by the Europeans who are in engaged in planning for the future, while the Arabs seem to be as if they are on another planet.
Saleh interpreted them to announce that a study prepared by the "ESCWA", after its meeting on the Arab regional climate change in cooperation with some Arab and African countries, "including scenarios for the coming 100 years, will be published soon" in a bid to prove that Arabs are not absent.
Amid that former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah stressed that the differences between the states that share the Rhine River, and the competition between them and the linguistic diversity of its population, did not prevent them from using the river for agriculture, navigation and positioning dams. He told "aljoumhouria": "In our countries, the subject is not conflicting on quotas, but the absence of a public administration that can achieve what is required, and water still remains a secondary issue amid continuous conflicts and wars" .
In turn, the Lebanese MP Bassem Shaab criticized the absence of accurate figures of the Litani River, suggesting to establish a water monitoring station and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency independent of the ministries to protect the largest reservoir of water in Lebanon from pollution.
He explained that in their meeting with the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Swiss parliament that " what increases the importance of" peace Blue that "we are in a state of war with Israel, and this will create
an opportunity to the initiative to play a bigger role," expecting that Lebanon will have "surplus of power after the discovery of gas for 100 years, and an excess of water," based on the study of "Blue Gold" done by the Civil influence hub in Lebanon.
At first glance, it seems that the field trip have been fruitful, as Amin said to "Aljoumhouria" that the Turkish side was open to cooperate with the Iraqi universities at the academic level, and he stressed that the Iraqi government offers cooperating with all its neighbours with regard to all issues, including water", suggesting organizing the next conference for water in Kurdistan Iraq.
Amin reminded that the Iraqi Council of Ministers ended the technical aspects of the draft law on the formation of a national council for water, and then Shura Council will discuss its legal aspects, pointing out that "Turkey has Aliso project on the Tigris River, and when completed , the quantity of water will drop from 20 to 9 billion cubic meters cube, causing a disaster for about 670 thousand hectares of agricultural land in Iraq, "as well as a decline in the level of the Tigris River due to the phenomenon of acquisition of land on the Fish Habor river in Haska between Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and within the territory of Kurdistan, in the interest of Gulf countries who uses its water for agricultural.
The field trip ended after "Strategic Foresight Group" re-expressed its hope and theme that "any two countries that share water resources ,do go not to war," and announcing its intention to launch its new report "water cooperation to a secure world" in Amman at the end of November. "