Arab League eco­nomic lead­ers dis­cuss water woes, tourism

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY LARA JAKES AND

BAGH­DAD | Drought and up­ris­ings are threat­en­ing to un­der­mine the Mid­dle East’s econ­omy, Arab of­fi­cials said Tues­day as they dis­cussed plans to boost the re­gion’s sta­bil­ity at the start of a key sum­mit in Bagh­dad.

For the first time in a gen­er­a­tion, lead­ers from 21 states gath­ered in Iraq for the Arab League’s an­nual sum­mit.

Iraq is hop­ing the sum­mit will bet­ter in­te­grate its Shi­ite-led gov­ern­ment into the Sunni-dom­i­nated Arab world, and has de­ployed thou­sands of sol­diers and po­lice forces across Bagh­dad to pre­vent in­sur­gent threats from up­end­ing it.

Eco­nomic min­is­ters ten­ta­tively agreed to co­op­er­ate on pro­pos­als for tourism and to deal with water short­ages and nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

The pro­pos­als, put for­ward at the sum­mit’s open­ing meet­ing, still need to be ap­proved by the rulers and heads of gov­ern­ment on the final day of the gath­er­ing Thurs­day.

“We are suf­fer­ing mainly from the lack of fi­nance and some tech­ni­cal prob­lems,” Arab League Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral Na­bil Elaraby said at the eco­nomic min­is­ters’ meet­ing.

As in Iraq, where the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers are dry­ing up, water re­sources also are strapped else­where across the Mid­dle East.

The United Arab Emi­rates and Jor­dan say their ground­wa­ter is rapidly de­plet­ing, and the Dead Sea is dry­ing up.

Much of the prob­lem is due to the fail­ure of gov­ern­ments in the re­gion to man­age growth and use of the ma­jor rivers.

In Libya, the fall of Moam­mar Gad­hafi’s regime last year halted con­struc­tion on a $25 bil­lion project to pump water to the coun­try’s north, said eco­nomic del­e­ga­tion of­fi­cial Gi­uma Rahuma.

“Many farm­ers are in the north,” Mr. Rahuma said. “The [Libyan] rev­o­lu­tion stopped the project. Maybe it will start again next year, or in two years.”

Kuwaiti Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mustafa al-shamali said his coun­try draws water from the Per­sian Gulf but “it is very ex­pen­sive” to treat into drink­ing water. He said water is one of the eco­nomic min­is­ters’ top con­cerns for the re­gion.

A State Depart­ment re­port re­leased last week in Washington found a small risk of water is­sues lead­ing to war within the next 10 years. But it con­cluded that water short­ages cer­tainly will cre­ate ten­sions within and be­tween states, and threaten to dis­rupt na­tional and global food mar­kets.

Be­yond 2022, the re­port con­cluded, the use of water as a weapon of war or a tool of ter­ror­ism will be­come more likely, par­tic­u­larly in South Asia, the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

The re­port was based on clas­si­fied U.S. in­tel­li­gence that said floods, scarce and poor qual­ity water, com­bined with poverty, so­cial ten­sion, poor lead­er­ship and weak gov­ern­ments will con­trib­ute to in­sta­bil­ity that could lead to the fail­ure of nu­mer­ous states.

Iraq is spend­ing at least $500 mil­lion to host the sum­mit, and of­fi­cials be­lieve it’s an in­vest­ment for the coun­try’s fu­ture.

Iraqi Fi­nance Min­is­ter Rafia al-is­sawi said he is call­ing on Kuwait, Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar, Libya and Egypt to write off bil­lions of dol­lars in debts in­curred dur­ing for­mer dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein’s regime.

Iraq’s gov­ern­ment has spared no ex­pense in se­cur­ing the cap­i­tal for its vis­i­tors. Troops, SWAT teams and un­der­cover po­lice lined streets to pro­tect dig­ni­taries and jour­nal­ists at­tend­ing the meet­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-ma­liki (cen­ter) at­tends a meet­ing of Arab eco­nomic, fi­nance and trade min­is­ters as part of the Arab League sum­mit in Bagh­dad.

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