Heidelberg University

Global Change and Globalization

Research group I:

Water in sensitive regions: Handling limited water resources in sensitive regions of the Near East (Egypt, Jordan).


Above-average population pressure and land use change due to migration, expansion of irrigated areas, construction of industrial areas, and growing tourism lead to obvious physical and economic water shortage in many dry regions of the world. Climate change will often exacerbate this trend. Particularly the southern and eastern mediterranean region is threatened by a distinct decrease in water availability. People exploit the near-surface hydrological system by storing or diverting water and drilling deep for non-renewable fossil groundwater. Originally, these water resources were generated in remote areas with sufficient rainfall or during ancient humid climatic periods. Today, transboundary water use and – due to frequent transport over great distances – water losses (evaporation, dilapidated pipes, and illegal water extraction) are common. Financial, technical or social constraints (tradition, education and the lack of awareness) and low water prices lead to inefficiency and waste of water. Adapted traditional and efficient water use and collection techniques, which are sustainable but labor-intensive and in the short term less profitable, fall into oblivion or the water is no longer useable due to lowering groundwater tables. As an additional source of conflicts, changing industrial use of water, increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, and inappropriate sewage systems frequently result in substantial loss of water quality, which reduces the potential (re-)usability of water resources.
The competition for water in the contradictory contexts of environment, economy, society and politics results in local and international conflicts on various spatial and social scales. The water problem, therefore, is closely connected with global change and globalization (climate change, food, energy, biodiversity, internationalized industrial production, international trade, modified agricultural practices, environmental and public international law). The consequences arise, however, on the regional level rather than on the global level and can be analysed in comparative case studies and by developing interdisciplinary ideas and integrated socio-ecological water management that considers all impact factors and actors.
In a first work stage, the group "water in sensitive regions" concentrates on the water problems of Jordan. This country is particularly suitable for answering the listed questions and can serve as key examples. Interdisciplinary questions are:

  • the range of past and recent water availability and water use and possible future scenarios,

  • the influence of past water availability on the cultural history,

  • the impact of climate change on water problems,

  • the modes of resource government,

  • the ways to solve transboundary water conflicts,

  • the reasons for of water quality degradation due to the increased use of chemicals,

  • the finding of efficient approaches to adapt to water scarcity,

  • the evaluation of ecological and socio-economic limits for the expansion of (sustainable) agriculture,

  • the need for (new) legal bases in water and groundwater management strategies,

  • the discussion of different interests of private and public stakeholders,

  • and the role of new rules and modes of international cooperations.

Activities

29th Sep. to 9th Oct. 2009: Field trip and international project meeting in Jordan with following attendees: Werner Aeschbach-Hertig and Tillmann Kaudse, Institute of Environmental Physics, Franziska Förster, Institute of Zoology, Olaf Bubenzer, Institute of Geography, Hans Gebhardt and Thomas Bonn, Institute of Geography, Silvan Eppinger, Institute for German and European Administrative Law, Travis Warziniack, Research Center for Environmental Economics. The visit of the working group "Water in Sensitive Regions" benefited from long established contacts between the University of Jordan and the Heidelberg University, especially from contacts between Prof. Dr. Hans Gebhardt (Human Geography) and Prof. Dr. Nasim Barham (Economic Geography). In March 2009 some preliminary inquiries had already been carried out during a 14-day field trip by Thomas Bonn. One assignment of this journey was an introduction and a discussion of the project aims with possible cooperation partners. First contacts were established with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). Several contacts to institutions, such as the Aqaba Marketing & Tourism Directorate and to representatives of touristic projects were also established.

Major activities during the stay in Jordan:

  • Fligth to Amman. (29th Oct.)
  • Reception and detailed introduction lecture at Jordan University by Prof. Dr. Barham. (30th Sep.)
  • The research project "Water in Sensitive Regions" was presented within the scope of the Initiative for Excellence II "Global Change and Globalization" to representatives of the University of Jordan, the Ministry of Water in Jordan, the Water and Environmental Research and Study Center of the Jordan University (WERSC), the Royal Scientific Society, the Drilling Department and the Laboratories & Water Quality Department of the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ). Additionally, a meeting with members of the Faculty of Law of the University of Jordan took place. (1st Oct.)

  • Field trip to the north of the country and to the eastern desert of Jordan. Visit of the Water and Environmental Research and Study Center of the University of Jordan (WERSC) and joint empirical fieldwork together with the colleagues from the Laboratories & Water Quality Department inside the WAJ in the area of the Azraq basin. (2nd to 5th Oct.)

  • Field trip to the south of the country, especially to the Disi basin area. Geomorphological field work and information visits of agricultural and touristic infrastructure. (6th to 8th Oct.)

  • Return flight to Germany. The PhD candidates of the working group stayed for further empirical work in Amman. (9th Oct.)

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Project 1:

Age and recharge rate of groundwater reserves in the Nubian and Disi Aquifers.
Werner Aeschbach-Hertig and Tillmann Kaudse, Institute of Environmental Physics.


Deep aquifers in arid or semi-arid regions often contain old groundwaters that are essentially non-renewable under current climatic conditions. The increasing use of such fossil groundwater reserves in recent decades cannot be sustainable on the long run. Quantification of the recharge rate of these aquifers is therefore of central importance in assessing the long-term perspectives. Several methods based on isotopes and environmental tracers exist in order to determine groundwater residence times and climatic conditions at the time of recharge. In addition to these dating tools, stable isotopes of water and dissolved noble gases are powerful methods to determine climatic conditions (temperature, precipitation strength) at the time of groundwater recharge. This information can be used to corroborate the dating as well as to construct paleoclimate records. At the Institute of Environmental Physics in Heidelberg (IUP), facilities for the analysis of most of the relevant tracers exist and have successfully been used to date old groundwaters as well as for paleoclimate reconstructions (14C, 3H/3H, CFCs and SF6, 81Kr, 39Ar, Ra dating methods). In the present project, these tools shall be applied to study paleogroundwaters in Egypt and Jordan.
The results obtained with these methods will provide quantitative information for an integrated assessment of the sustainability of the water management in these regions. The results will be interpreted together with results from the other projects in this theme and wherever possible in the framework of hydro(geo)logical models. E.g., this study will provide information the hydrological situation at the oases studied in the project of Prof. Bubenzer, and it will aim at defining the water balance of the Disi Aquifer in Jordan, which is a basis for the assessment of water conflicts the considerations about the water legislation planned by Prof. Gebhardt and Prof. Mager, respectively.

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Project 2:

Local assessment of water and sediment quality as a prerequisite for integrated water management strategies in the Near East.
Thomas Braunbeck, Franziska Förster, Institute of Zoology and Lothar Erdinger, Institute of Hygiene.


In periods of modified water distribution as well as in areas of water shortage, limited access to adequate water supplies may have severe impact on the development of human activities as well as on ecosystems. Given a relative water shortage in certain regions, however, appropriate strategies for the usage and distribution of available water supplies is an indispensable prerequisite for the maintenance of public health and a sustainable development in such regions. In addition to the quantity of water necessary, water quality receives increasing attention. Since human activities inherently result in contamination of water there is an urgent need for locally adopted water purification strategies for subsequent re-use for other human activities. Most importantly, the specific quality profiles of drinking water sources do not only depend on the characteristics of the free-flowing water itself, but also on the contamination of sediments and suspended particulate matters. The extent of water purification, however, strongly depends on local contamination profiles. Among other factors, the toxicological effects by water contaminants may be used as a driving factor for the decision about the extent of water re-use. The challenge of water contamination is even higher in areas of water shortage, i.e. under condition when any available source of water is essential for human survival.



Integration of (eco-)toxicological, microbiological and chemical endpoints for the assessment of water quality.

The purpose of the present project is to elucidate the potential risks of various sources of water to human beings and the environment in areas of reduced water accessibility. Other projects within the research group also address the question of water supplies and management in Egypt and Jordan, and will be implemented in close cooperation. In order to design a comprehensive strategy for water use and re-use, samples will be taken at locations investigated by collaborating groups. The most important aim of this proposal is, therefore, to provide substantial and easy-to-use information on water quality as a prerequisite to arrive at an optimized (re-)use of water. For the determination of water contamination, a battery of toxicological tests is required. In the context of the overall scope of the project, this test battery will not only have to cover a multitude of potential biological effects, but also needs to be economically feasible. Therefore, a test battery, will be designed (1) which can easily be applied to samples of water, of suspended materials as well as of sediments from various water bodies, and (2) which covers a broad range of toxicological endpoints including (a) general toxicity (cyto- = cellular toxicity), (b) genotoxicity (DNA damage), (c) teratogenicity (embryonic malformation), (d) endocrine disruption (corruption of the hormonal system) and (e) other parameters (see figure). Given the strong trend to non-animal testing in toxicology and ecotoxicology under the regulations of the new European chemical legislation (REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals), the project will exclusively apply methods relying on non-animal testing such as cell cultures and evaluations with early embryonic stages of fish. After data acquisition, the wealth of toxicological information will have to be transformed (condensed) into simple indices by adequate data integration (e.g. Fuzzy Logics, etc.), in order to facilitate the communication of results and recommendations based on the data to local authorities and decision makers.

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Project 3:

Palaeodrainage systems, hydroclimatic changes and traditional water use in Egypt and Jordan.
Olaf Bubenzer and Barbara Brilmayer Bakti, Institute of Geography.


Water availability is a crucial developing factor in most arid regions of the world. Periods with sufficient water supply led to a bloom of different cultures whereas water shortage due to dry phases or mismanagement resulted in adapting strategies, land use changes, conflicts and/or migration. Dry areas and in particular the so-called desert margins react highly sensitive to these changes, and therefore, can be used as early warning systems, for example to estimate the impacts of global climate change but also for agricultural, economical and political developments. This applies especially to North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean region, where distinct hydroclimatic fluctuations were observed in the past and the future climate change scenarios predict decreasing rainfall with insecure distribution (variability) and where, moreover, the use of the ground or surface water often transcends boundaries. In close cooperation with the scientists of the research group "Water in Sensitive Regions", the project aims at investigating the recent and ancient drainage systems and the effects of past and predicted hydroclimatic fluctuations on the cultural and environmental development in Egypt and Jordan. Considering the water sources (surface water and/or (fossil) groundwater), it is planned to focus in Egypt on the oases of Dakhla and Kharga (Western Desert: Nubian Aquifer) as well as on the Toshka Region (Southern Egypt: discharge of Nile water) and in Jordan on the Disi Aquifer (Southern Jordan).
During the starting phase the project will first analyse and map new satellite data (ASTER, SRTM, TerraSarX, Quickbird) and classify the (palaeo-)drainage system quantitatively, using elevation and hydro-modellings. On the basis of these working steps, the project then intends to carry out specific sedimentological and geochronological analyses, field mappings and measurements in cooperation with the other projects of the research group. New high resolution remote sensing data (e.g. Quickbird) allow not only the identification and area-wide mapping of land use patterns in arid regions but can also be used for analytical purposes. Since a few years, new elevation models have been available that can be calculated from ASTER data (the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, a high spatial resolution, multispectral imager on the NASA spacecraft TERRA which was launched in 1999) or from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM, realized in the year 2000). Moreover, these data are useful for the reconstruction of palaeodrainage systems and palaeo-discharge calculations within Geographical Information Systems and hydro-modelling software (e.g. ArcGIS and Watershed Modelling System). Further methodical progress was achieved in geochronology. In arid regions luminescence datings are particularly suitable not only for determining the age of ceramics but also the time of deposition of aeolian, fluvial and lacustrine sediments. In addition, rock surfaces and hence the construction age of stone buildings (e.g. of traditional irrigation systems) can be determined with a method developed in Heidelberg.

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Project 4:

Water in the Middle East as an instrument of power – water conflicts, actors and discourses.
Hans Gebhardt and Thomas Bonn, Institute of Geography.


Induced by broad media popularity during the 1990´s, the topic ‘water scarcity’ developed into a great source of surveys and publications in the field of scientific research. Especially two subjects yielded a fullness of workings: The engineering and natural scientific field offers numerous surveys concerning quantitative availability and the spatial spreading of water resources in water-scarce regions. Besides, many concepts regarding resource capitalization and project-management have been set up in the field of economics and political science. The study presented here will focus another path of examination: Besides the evident relevancy of water as comestible and economic commodity, there exists a political and social charge of denotation that exceeds the immediate value.
This instrumentalization transforms the commodity water into a instrument of power. Water must be understood as a resource with a partly ‘constructed’ value. Only then, a complete analysis of scarcity and conflict scenarios is possible. Insofar it is being argued here that upcoming problems due to water scarcity are not because of the inability to provide enough water but rather because of lacking ‘social adaptivity’ to cope with the physical scarcity of water. The empirical part of the study (evaluation of statistics, media analysis, guided interviews and research on hydro-engineering projects) will take place in the Kingdom of Jordan, which is especially suitable as case study – also because of the already existing research cooperation with Prof. Barham from the University of Jordan. To structure the relevant groups of involved actors that shall be examined, a certain aggregation and an abstraction of the underlying patterns of action-settings is necessary. Thus, two main groups of actors can be identified, whose allocations of meaning of water are in diametric opposite position: Within the first group, water is being given the meaning of an economic commodity. The optimal technical and economic allocation of this scarce resource comes first. In accompany with that, there is a ‘new water truth’ being produced by these actors. The second group sees water as no economic commodity. The ‘old water truth’ that is being produced, sees water as kind of god-given resource. Water – although utterly necessary – is being regarded as a free good and is not being monetized. Its ubiquitous availability is not being questioned. The discourses led by the two groups are incommensurable within their own, produced truths. This study will focus on the cut surface between these two groups, because here processes of mediacy as well as frictions and conflicts occur. As relevant actor of mediacy the political elites have been identified. Here the diffusion of new truths takes place because of direct links to international science and consulting. To balance the interests of the two groups, depending on the situation, either political costs are falling due or political rents accrue. Insofar in this study water is being always connected with power and primarily seen as an instrument of powerful political actors. To assess this facet of water completely and to contribute to the cluster .Handling limited water resources in sensitive regions of the Middle East, three perspectives of research have been determined:

  1. Conflicts: Concerning hydrological factors (the Kingdom of Jordan can be identified as water scarce region. Thus, already today there is a strong competition between the single economic sectors for the available water resources. Especially the strong population increase will put further pressure on this situation. Another burden for the water budget is the growing municipal demand. Ailing water conduits make out a loss of approx. 60% and lead to a rationalization of water provision. The possible conflicts between and within economic sectors of the Kingdom will be analyzed. To resolve scarcity, the exploitation of fossil aquifers (Disi-Aquifer) or new dam-projects (Yarmuk River) are being focused. All these resources are transboundary, which may lead to conflicts with neighboring countries and riparians (Saudi-Arabia, Syria).

  2. Actors: To assess the above topic properly, an exact analysis of involved actors is necessary. Only a disentanglement of actor-networks and an understanding of the single underlying interests and aims allow a deep insight. Besides ‘classic’ actors such as ministries, multinational organizations and companies as well as NGOs, also conglomerates of actors such as Private-Public-Partnerships (PPP) will be focused.

  3. Discourses: Different groups of actors produce different ‘truths’ about water, such as the above mentioned new water truth and old water truth. The study will investigate the purposes and effects of this discourse production. Which is thereby the role of water as social management tool? Are there ‘discoursive elites’ that produce ‘sanctioned’ discourses, excluding a part of the population? How big is the influence of foreign NGOs and interest groups?

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Project 5:

Water Management in arid regions – a comparative legal study with a specific focus on groundwater utilization.
Ute Mager and Silvan Eppinger, Institute for German and European Administrative Law.


Global change and globalization have very different impacts in different regions. The regional impact of global change and globalization leads to great pressure on existing regional law. Changes in the environmental, social and/or economic conditions of life cause new conflicts, which need new legal answers, be it with orientation to traditional values (e.g., equitable sharing between different users, but now including new forms of utilization) or with orientation to new values (e.g., sustainability). In the necessary transformation, existing rights have to be respected, but converted. In short, global change and globalization create the challenge of adapting existing legal orders in a peaceful and appropriate manner to new and sometimes rapidly changing circumstances. Water management provides an excellent example for studying the conditions of success or failure in legal transformation processes. There can be no life or economy without water. Social and economic conditions depend on the water supply, and therefore, water management regulations reflect the social and economic conditions of a society. Especially in arid regions with water shortages, the impacts of global change and globalization will easily cause conflicts, so that new measures are needed.
The project will focus on groundwater management. Groundwater is of increasing importance for the water supply in arid regions, and there is a considerable need for research in this area. Aquifers are becoming overused and polluted. Their extension, recharge areas, and recharge cycles are often unknown or at least uncertain. Very often aquifers lie under more than one state. National boundaries, however, are not an appropriate criterion for a decisive element in groundwater management. Therefore, it is rational and necessary to look not only on the national but also on the international level for groundwater management regulation. Furthermore, national and international legal requirements that apply to the same aquifer should be compatible. In a systematic approach there are three types of water use regimes: one public law regime and two private law regimes. Under a public law regime, the state owns all water resources including groundwater (apart from some negligible exceptions). Under a riparian system, the ownership of land encompasses a right of use regarding the underlying groundwater as well as the water flowing through the land or contiguous to the border of the land. Under the appropriation system, the person who first takes water for a useful purpose can claim legal rights. German water law is an example of the public law regime. Jordan placed its groundwater resources under a public law regime in 2002. In the US, most of the eastern states have adopted the riparian system, and most of the western states follow the appropriation system. In international law, the traditional order is similar to the riparian system. Each state claims the underlying groundwater as well as the rivers in its territory as subject to its sovereignty. But international law is developing a more cooperative approach. Examples are the International Law Commission´s (ILC) Convention on the Non-Navigational Use of International Watercourses (1997) as well as the ILC Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers (2007). Nevertheless, one has to admit that the binding character of these regulations is highly questionable and that the content is rather vague.
Using different types of water management regulations as models, the institutions, procedures, rights, and duties of groundwater utilization law in selected western states of the US, in Jordan, and in international regimes will be compared. The idea is to learn by comparing mechanisms and procedures of legal adaption and to contribute to the development of international groundwater law. In an exceptionally manner, the interdisciplinary project provides access to the scientific and geographic knowledge that is indispensible for an appropriate understanding of national regulations as well as for the developing international groundwater law.

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Project 6:

Water and economic development – assessing contributions and constraints to growth in the Near East.
Travis Warziniack, Research Centre for Environmental Economics.


As global water scarcity increases, attention is drawn to management of water resources across both time and place, that is, both ‘when’ and ‘where’ efficiency must be addressed. Efficiency across these lines has been well-developed for many natural resources, but water is unique in a number of ways that challenge the assumptions of traditional natural resource models. Specifically,

  1. The flow of water across national boundaries challenges traditional notions of property rights and conservation goals require political consideration, often in violent regions of the world.
  2. Transportation options for water are limited compared to other traded goods. Trade agreements in a water commodity are likely to only exist between adjoining neighbors, and most likely where river connections exist or can be built. New manmade canals require large upfront costs, making any international water trades long-term.
  3. Water is a unique input to many production functions. Substitution possibilities rarely exist in important sectors of the economy, for example, agriculture, power generation, drinking water, and sewage.
  4. Water is important to the health of the population, and is therefore valued for both its contribution to health and has multiplicative effects through the productivity of the labor force.

This project looks the role water has played and will continue to play in the growth of communities in the Near East. Because of the many roles water plays in the region, as well as the multiple two-way linkages between water uses, water users, and impacts on water quality, the approach is one of integrated systems and analyzed in a general equilibrium model. It is assumed that water is a driver of economic growth and that economic growth alters the water quality. With this in mind this project will rely on other projects in the research group for physical descriptions of water availability and quality, as well as institutional factors that have influenced and currently do influence the availability of water.
The literature on virtual water highlights the role of water as a key factor of production and its role in establishing a nation´s comparative advantage. The emphasis on growth by expanding water availability seems misguided in light of the vast amount of economic research showing natural resource-based development leads to lower growth rates. Advice such as "Policies that promote increased exports of labor-intensive crops will improve rural incomes and enhance food security" is likely to decrease long-run growth. Further, it has been shown that public good and congestion issues are particularly applicable to water allocation and growth rates for most waterconstrained countries could increase with better management of water resources. The Barbier (2004) study uses data on a cross-section of countries, claiming that historical data on water quality for a given country are hard to come by. Other projects within this research group should provide exactly the data needed to test growth hypothesis, accomplishing a recognized need in the economics literature. This study will rely on previous CGE models and extend the work of global economic models for water resources such as the WorldWater model described in Simonovic (2002).

Barbier, E.B. (2004). Water and Economic Growth. Economic Record 80, 1-16.
Simonovic, S.P. (2002). World water dynamics: global modeling of water resources. Journal of Environmental Management 00, 1-19.


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