The Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CEMO) of the Social Promotion Foundation and the Euro-arab Network for Development and Integration (READI), organized the Seminar on February 24, 2022: «Water as a fundamental human right and cross-cutting element of cooperation in the context of COVID-19: the cases of the Jordan and the Nile”, at the Arab House in Madrid.

The seminar is funded by the State Secretary for Foreign and Global Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.

Water is an essential resource for life, a strategic element for conflict resolution and the epicenter of sustainability. According to UN Water, 2.2 billion people do not have access to their right to water and 2.4 billion lack basic sanitation services. UN Resolution 64/292 of 2010 recognizes the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRWS) as an essential human right for the full fulfillment of all rights.


The Jordan River has been degraded since the mid-20th century: Israel, Jordan, and Syria have dammed and diverted the river, leaving less than 5% of its original flow. The worsening of the water crisis in the West Bank and Gaza, together with Israel’s leadership in the desalination and reuse sector, underline the urgency of reaching an agreement on shared natural water between Israel and the PNA.

The Nile Valley offers significant challenges to water security in the East and North Africa region, due to the aridity of the territory, chronic water stress, rapid population and economic growth, and various intra- and inter-state conflicts. The use of the Nile’s waters is a source of controversy among the 11 African nations that share its basin.

The objective of the seminar was to analyze and delve into the current problems of water resources management and sanitation in the Middle East and the Nile Basin (both availability, access and use as well as quantity and quality of water resources), as well as exploring the status of implementation of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRWS) with a special emphasis on the exploration of possible guidelines for conflict resolution.

The format of the seminar was hybrid, despite its technical difficulty, face-to-face in the Ambassadors’ Hall of Arab House, and with the remote participation of experts from the field.

The International Seminar began with an opening session, in which Karim Kauser, Coordinator of International Relations at Arab House, spoke first. After welcoming those present, he stressed the importance of the human right to water and sanitation in relation to the present and future of the region.

Then, María Beamonte, Director General of the Social Promotion Foundation, took the floor, who greeted those present, first of all thanking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union and Cooperation and Arab House for their collaboration.

She pointed out how important it was for the Foundation to resume the activity of its think tank in face-to-face format. For her, the subject to which the Seminar was dedicated is of paramount importance, since the human right to water (and sanitation) is the threshold of access to the rest of the rights.

She commented that the Foundation’s interest in the subject is also due to the priority of these human rights within the framework of the «Joint Response Strategy of Spanish Cooperation to the COVID-19 Crisis» and the new «Action Strategy Foreign 2021-2024” of Spain.

Next, Alejandro Maceira, Founder and Director of iAgua, took over as general moderator of the Seminar.

In the first place, he gave the floor to Pedro Arrojo Agudo, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation who in his inaugural conference analyzed the current state of implementation and scope of HRWS and the role of organizations of civil society.

He began his speech by alluding to the motto of his mandate until 2023: Water as an argument for peace and cooperation. He thanked the CEMO for addressing the Jordan and the Nile issues in a climate of dialogue and positivity, and made a call as rapporteur to help open channels of dialogue for all parties.

From his point of view, the main critical failures of development are the failure of inequity and poverty generated from unjust socioeconomic systems and the failure of unsustainability that has caused water to be the key factor of life, «the blue soul of life”. It has become the most devastating vector of disease and death for humanity in the 21st century.

He advocated the hydrological transition as the axis of strategies for adaptation to climate change. It is necessary, in his opinion, to promote environmental resilience, recovering, first of all, the good condition of aquatic ecosystems and wetlands and aquifers (water lungs of nature; they are the main water reservers, not reservoirs).

According to him, water understood as a parcelable economic resource is a mistake.
The economic value combined with the symbolic and emotional (of humiliation and blackmail), can become a war argument. But it becomes an argument for cooperation if it is used as an ecosystem resource, which can integrate the economic resource, but not exclusively. For him, moving from the vision of resources to the ecosystem is more necessary today than ever.

The first session addressed the role of water as a fundamental human right and a cross-cutting element of cooperation in the COVID-19 context in the Jordan.

The session began with the intervention of Muttasim Al Hayari, Director of the Natural Resources Management Program of the Jordan Hashemite Fund for Human Development – JOHUD (Jordan).

He carried out an update on the state of the Jordan River in Jordan, with a visual comparison (map) of the «good years versus the bad years», he made a projection to 2030, where he stressed that the climatic effect will be one of the causes of the deficit of the Jordan water. For this reason, the Jordanian government is keen to implement various measures to prevent the floods that are already occurring in Jordan.

According to him, COVID-19 increased household water consumption by 10%, which has led to increased monthly costs, which is a very serious situation for a country like Jordan.

He proposed as solutions the improvement of water systems and groundwater infrastructure to make them climate resilient.

According to him, there is a need to improve WASH facilities and promote hygiene behaviors among different communities, using the schools.

He also advocated guaranteeing Syrian refugees access to an adequate amount of drinking water, and adequate sanitation facilities. He pointed out the need to build and operate underground water networks also for the refugee population.

Next, Mariano Blanco, International Study Director of FCC Aqualia, took the floor, who gave a presentation on how his company, a private global company, faces the challenges of water scarcity and contamination through its Corporate Social Responsibility, as well as the promotion of human rights.

According to him, the private company provides a public service. He based Sustainability on 4 axes: social, economic, environmental and technical, since technical sustainability allows the use of technologies in a sustainable way over time and guaranteeing the human right to water.

He commented that they currently work in the East. Medium in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Algeria and Egypt on water and sanitation issues.

After him, the floor was given to Izzat Zeidan, Director of Programs and Projects of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), who denounced the serious difficulties in the West Bank and Gaza in access to water, with striking and worrying figures of consumption and economic cost, and that generate difficulties in the fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation.

He made a presentation on the lack of access to the right of their own resources to access surface and underground water. The quota approved in 1956 to access the water quota of the Jordan River is not accessed.

According to him, Art. 40 of the Oslo Agreement limits access to water in the West Bank and Gaza; there is a violation of the agreement regarding access to aquifers. He comments that the situation is worse in Gaza, where the water is saline and does not meet the standard for human consumption.

He warns that local NGOs work to achieve the supply of the farming population. One of the challenges is to guarantee supply, which is currently deficient. In principle, annual rainfall should be sufficient, but climate change predicts a change in rainfall that would affect these resources.

He made a comparison between the consumption of the local population and that of the settlements (four times higher) and the high economic costs of consumption.

He called for an equitable distribution of water for access to water resources for Palestinians.

The second session addressed the role of water as a fundamental human right and a cross-cutting element of cooperation in the COVID-19 context in the Nile Valley.

The table was opened by Pedro Arrojo Agudo, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, in his second speech.

The Rapporteur warned that the difficulty linked to transboundary basins occurs in all contexts.

It establishes as a necessary objective the satisfaction of sustainability and the ecosystem. He commented that “the river is a general macro treatment plant if we respect life”, and that “Wetlands are the largest treatment plants in the world and powered by free solar energy”.

He warned that the water, sediments and nutrients have an impact on the surrounding life of the river. To the extent that the rivers flow into the sea, they provide nutrients and favor fishing in the sea. It happens especially in the Mediterranean, a sea very poor in plankton, in which the mouths of the rivers increase the production of sardines, for example. Deltas, estuaries and sea coasts form a group.

In his words “the problem is asymmetry”.

He pointed out that one cannot speak of scarcity to justify access to drinking water, one can speak of ambitious access. According to him, no river dries up by removing 3% of its flow, which is what is removed to cover needs; we speak of human rights, not of enrichment.

He advocates «making peace with the rivers», avoiding pollution, overexploitation.

Connected, interdependent human rights should, according to him, be fully guaranteed by international law. It is about compensating those who are at the head, who in turn have to be careful for the downstream, in short, to compensate for asymmetries.

Then, Zenebe Tsegaw, Head of the Department of Programs of the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (Ethiopia), took the floor.

He commented that there are 4 transboundary rivers in Ethiopia. They suffer water stress, with the basins below the threshold in the specific case of the Nile.

It influenced the proper management of water to face the challenges linked to climate change and guarantee access to it by future generations.

According to him, the crisis of governance in Ethiopia, which has to do with the overlapping of different structures, has an impact on different issues such as environmental ones. There is a lack of supply chain, and this constitutes one of the problems of the country, which also faces water scarcity, all of which is aggravated by climate change.

The lack of access to water, in his opinion, entails challenges such as the displacement of populations to access water. It has consequences for women, children and health and increases the risk of violent attacks on long journeys (load of water on the back, attacks by wild animals, exposure of women to sexual violence), affecting both responsibilities linked to their reproductive role (child care) as productive, negatively influencing their development.

He concluded by commenting that guaranteeing sustainable supply schemes also has to do with the empowerment of local communities and access to technologies such as solar. According to him, there is dependence on external donors to guarantee access to water for human consumption (including hygiene) and livestock.

After his speech, Domingo Zarzo, President of the Spanish Association of Desalination and Reuse (AEDyR), took the floor and moderated the general debate.

According to him, Spain coincides with many of the points made at the Seminar, but we are fortunate to be in a highly regulated European environment that guarantees access to law, being one of the most advanced countries in the world: the first in Spain to reuse and the fifth in desalination, which uses 21% of desalinated water for agriculture. But it is still important to continue working on the scarcity linked to our methodology.

He addressed a question to Pedro Arrojo on how in countries where there is scarcity, the environment can be made compatible with access to water to live.

The Rapporteur replied that there will be regions in which, due to climate change, in harsh arid and semi-arid zones they will no longer be uninhabitable. But in the vast majority of cases, restoring the health of the ecosystem is the only guarantee. It is possible, it is being done in countries where access is not the main need. But real efforts are required for the convergence of the human right. It is not a problem of accessibility in general, but of capacity and priority. The key is to prioritize sensibly and towards the guarantee of human rights. You must go for the basics, WASH, not for the one you want the most.

He asked Zenebe Tsegaw a question about how the issue of water affects unemployment and the inequality suffered by women. What impact can it have on the dropout rate?

His answer was that the relationship between the lack of water and the economy is very important. Women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities are the most affected. They travel long distances and without protection in rural areas, which is even linked to school dropout, especially of girls, who have to go to fetch water with their mothers.

He addressed a question regarding Jordan on the status of the desalination project in Aqaba, which has aroused much international interest. The 10% increase in consumption in the context of the pandemic has also drawn attention, when in Spain it fell between 5 and 10% because many activities stopped working at 100% and in the case of tourist uses it fell by up to 20%.

Muttasim Al Hayari responded that the level of consumption in households has compared to that of other sectors. Keep in mind that only a third of the water is used for the industrial sector. 47% for agricultural and 53% for domestic use. This is what would justify the increase during the pandemic.

He asked Mariano Blanco what were the biggest challenges faced as a company in a country like Egypt due to political instability and others. His answer was that they have been the challenges linked to the change of government and regime. He commented that although it is difficult to say, the army brings a certain stability to the projects. You have to understand the situation of the country to understand stability. Currency devaluation was another big challenge. Also the workforce, the need for highly qualified personnel at managerial and technical levels, also the multicultural and multilingual environments that they had to manage due to the large number of personnel who came from abroad.

Domingo Zarzo asked Izzat Zeidan about how the dependency on Israel and the breach of the Oslo Agreements has had an impact on the problem of prices, and if it would be possible to have small public facilities that would lower costs. His response was that one of the biggest problems they suffer is the occupation, international cooperation manages to supply part of the problem such as the small desalination plants that the Spanish Cooperation supports. The problem in Gaza is also linked to the overcrowding of the population in a very narrow strip that leads to problems associated with sanitation.

The debate that followed was opened to all attendees, and Mona Arafa, Second Head of the Embassy of Egypt, took the floor, commenting that her country suffers from a significant lack of water, due to its dry weather and the incidence of climate change.

97% of the water they use depends on the Nile. It is the country that most depends on it. The White Nile and the Blue Nile are its sources. The second travels through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

She pointed out that, without going into the current political conflict, they would like to clarify that the problem of the Ethiopian dam is related to the Blue Nile. The negotiations are between these three countries and not the 11 affected by the Nile in its entirety.

According to her, there was already a significant annual lack of water quota in Egypt without the construction of that dam, and without taking into account climate change, suffering a lack of water of 25%.

She commented that Egypt is collaborating with European countries and the EU to improve the management of water resources through the Ministries involved, which supervise cooperation projects that represent a vital process to access water. But according to her this does not solve the problem. They reiterate the problem of access. The per capita quota in Egypt is less than half set by the United Nations.

From his point of view, it makes it necessary and obligatory for his country to conserve its resources.

Zenebe Tsegaw then intervened, expressing his opinion that the construction of the dam does not affect the human rights of water and sanitation and that in his country they face extreme needs for access to water.

The seminar was closed by Alejandro Maceira, pointing out a series of conclusions.

According to him, this seminar, organized by the Center for Middle East Studies of the Social Promotion Foundation, can contribute to raising awareness both among the actors involved, who have participated in the seminar, and the general public.

He highlighted the good practices that, of course, must be promoted and strengthened in these areas and that must lead to progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically number 6.

And he pointed out that from his point of view, the Seminar had room for different visions, from public administrations, private companies, the third sector, and underlined the importance of collaboration between all areas for progress in promoting the Human Right to Water and Sanitation.