Thirsty markets turn water into valuable export : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Thirsty markets turn water into valuable export By Ruth Sullivan and Leyla Boulton Published: November 6 2000 20:36GMT | Last Updated: November 6 2000 22:46GMT

Ambitious schemes to water the parched plains around the Mediterranean with supplies from rain-soaked highlands are rapidly transforming water into a valuable export commodity.

The global shortage of drinking water has left 40 per cent of the world's population suffering from the consequences of inadequate supplies.

In the arid regions of the Middle East and north Africa, home to 300m people who make up about 5 per cent of the world population, just one per cent of global annual renewable water resources are available - and shortages are becoming more severe.

Current per capita water supply in the area is 1,200 cubic metres per year but is expected to dwindle to 600 cubic metres per capita by 2025, the World Bank says.

Nor is Europe free from the effects of worsening water shortages. Along the Mediterranean, where the climate is becoming drier and warmer, agricultural land from Greece to Portugal is becoming more arid. Rising populations and increasing levels of tourism are also depleting water supplies. But selling water across borders is beset with political and economic problems, not least of which is determining a pricing structure. In Turkey, long-mooted water sales to Israel were raised again yesterday when Avraham Shochat, Israel's finance minister, opened formal negotiations to import 15m to 25m cubic metres of Turkish water annually for five to 10 years.

Israel sees Turkish water imports as a quick alternative to its plans to build a desalination plant to treat up to 15m cubic metres of water a year. Plans to set up a tender committee for companies to transport the water have also been announced.

Officials hope that a price can be agreed soon so that sales can start next year.

"Water is very strong on our agenda," said Cilad Cohen, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Ankara.

Turkey plans to ship the water in converted oil tankers from a reservoir at Manavgat, in south-western Turkey, to the Israeli port of Ashkilon. It would then be transported along a 12km pipeline to Zohar in southern Israel.

But pricing water is proving a stumbling block in negotiations. After receiving quotes from shipping companies that put transport costs at 50 US cents (35p) per cubic metre, Israel has been haggling with Turkey. Officials say the range under discussion puts the price of the water at between 10 cents and 20 cents per cubic metre. Israel says it is using the cost of desalination as a basis for calculating the price it is willing to pay forimports.

In the western Mediterranean discussions are advancing between French and Spanish officials to develop a water export infrastructure.

The Spanish government is attempting to tackle water shortages around Barcelona by importing water from the river Rhone as it flows across southern France. Planners predict a severe shortage of drinking water for Spain's second city.

The project hinges on an existing canal near Montepellier. A 300-kilometre aqueduct, which could provide water for 4.5m people, would be added to the canal to take water to a treatment centre in Barcelona.

Spain would need to spend Ffr6bn (B#545m) on the infrastructure, with a possible mix of public and private investment. However, a pricing strategy for the water has yet to be fixed.

The pricing structure varies across countries and is largely dependent on cost recovery.

"The price set per cubic metre depends on how much the Spanish government spends on the infrastructure," said Francis Imbert, the executive project manager of BRL, the French state-run agency that focuses on economic development in south-west France. The Spanish government is looking at possible funding from the European Union.

Other water import schemes are also under discussion in Europe. Italy is considering importing water to its parched south by building a pipeline under the Adriatic Sea to pump in supplies from Albania, while Majorca has drawn up plans to lay underwater pipes to the Spanish mainland to avoid having to bring in drinking water by tanker each summer.

Last month water-rich Austria claimed that it could supply all 370m people in the EU with well or surface water needing treatment, just ahead of EU plans to liberalise its water industry.

With more than 6,000 lakes and a modest population of 8.2m that consumes less than 3 per cent of its annual supply of 84bn cubic metres each year, Austria sees the prospect of cross-border sales as an economically attractive prospect. It would help the government in its aim to reduce its budget deficit to zero by 2002.

"Many billions worth of investment we have made [in water] over the past 50 years could be regained," said Wilhelm Molterer, Austria's agriculture and environment minister.

Verbund, the national grid and electricity generator, is working on a pilot project that would establish storage plants in the Alps, along with the possibility of building a new water distribution pipeline inside an old oil line. But selling Austrian water is a politically sensitive issue at domestic and international levels and will need careful handling by the government before export plans can go ahead.

As a Verbund spokesman said: "Austrians are proud of the quantity and quality of their water and jealously guard it."

-- Martin Thompson (, November 06, 2000

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