At a conference titled "Women, Water and Peace" in Istanbul, international water experts voiced their concerns regarding the effects of water scarcity on women in the Middle East, saying that women suffer the most from water crises, especially in the conflict zones. Participants highlighted that water scarcity, particularly in conflict zones, turns water into a tool that can be used by groups against each other by limiting access to water resources. During such crises, women are often affected the most by water scarcity as they are the principle users and managers of water in households, as they do the cooking and cleaning, as well as using it for basic hygiene. In parts of Iraq where there are refugee camps, women have to walk kilometers to get to water sources, becoming vulnerable to physical and sexual violence.
To avoid such violence they sometimes avoid getting water for basic hygiene, leading to diseases, Assistant Professor Maria Saldarriaga from the American University of Iraq said. Highlighting the challenges that must be faced to overcome the mismanagement of water resources, Saldarriaga said: "Gender-sensitive policy implementation must be bottom up, but there is no time for it as the country [Iraq] is always in a state of emergency." Mey al-Sayegh, a journalist from Lebanon, drew attention to the effects of water crises on women, particularly as Lebanon has been hit by refugee crises from both Syria and Palestine. "Women in camps walk miles to get water while the men sit around. This puts a physical burden on women, which must be shared," she said, adding: "The International community, UNHCR [U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees], is not taking concrete measures to tackle the water problems in Lebanon. They just say they are monitoring the situation, but there are no results on the ground." Corruption has also been a rising issue, as water is sold by private companies, which in most cases do not pay attention to the sanitary standards of water. Simla Özkaya, a senior expert from the Foreign Ministry, said that women must be included in the decision making process for water management. "Women are the users, consumers, utilizers and managers of water, but they have the smallest roles in the policymaking on water."
The conference was held on March 18-19 and co-hosted by the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) and MEF University in co-operation with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. Nearly 40 water experts, high-level policymakers, academics and journalists from Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Kenya, and India participated. The (SFG), founded in 2002, is a think-tank based in Mumbai, India. It is currently headed by Sundeep Waslekar and focuses on global foresight, water diplomacy, peace, conflict and terrorism. The SFG also created the Water Cooperation Quotient, a tool that predicts the prospects of war or peace for reasons such as religion, ideology and military by using transboundary water cooperation as a measure.