Jordan, Iraq Reopen Main Border Crossing on Baghdad to Amman Highway

Tureibil, Iraq’s main international border crossing with Jordan and a key trade route, officially reopened Wednesday after being officially closed for three years. Privately-owned U.S. security firms, along with Iraqi ground and air forces, will be responsible for safety along the 500-kilometer route from Baghdad to Amman, which goes through Iraq’s Anbar province.

Iraqi forces have cleared areas near the highway of Islamic State militants in recent months, and parts of the route, including a number of bridges and overpasses, were rebuilt or repaired.

The Iraqi parliament agreed to allow U.S. security firms to oversee the highway, after a long and heated debate.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi indicated in a tweet Wednesday that he was “pleased by the reopening of the Iraq-Jordan border crossing,” adding that it will “increase bilateral relations considerably.”

The deputy head of the Anbar provincial council, Falah al-Aissawi, told al-Hurra TV recently that the provincial government was doing its utmost to reopen the key highway.

He says that Anbar province is using part of its budget to reopen the highway and the crossing with Jordan, which is a lifeline for both Anbar and the country, and that its reopening to traffic will give a boost to the economy.

Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji inspected the highway and the border crossing several days ago, noting that the security situation appeared to be good.

The interior minister says he has inspected all the key infrastructure along the route and that Iraq was intent on reopening all its border crossings. He says the Tureibil crossing is vital to Iraq’s economy.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that the reopening of the Iraqi border with Jordan was yet another step in the ongoing collapse of the Islamic State group.

“It’s clear that IS is being defeated and it is in full retreat on all fronts. This move points in the direction of increasing security in both Iraq and Jordan,” said Khashan.

Khashan also thinks that Jordan agreed to reopen its border crossing with Iraq “in conjunction with both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia,” and that the move “marks a significant improvement of ties between Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and [possibly] Iran.”

Iraq and Saudi Arabia recently reopened their land border, which had been closed since 1990.

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Harvey May Cut US Economic Growth as It Boosts Gasoline Prices

Energy companies, homeowners, and others are calculating the cost of Hurricane Harvey, which has already boosted gasoline prices and may slow the growth of the huge U.S. economy.

Gasoline prices surged to a two-year high recently as record floods forced refineries and other oil industry operations to close in Texas and elsewhere.

Oil industry analysts say nearly one-quarter of the U.S. refining capacity is shut, which prompted worries about future supplies and rising prices. Crude oil prices sagged because closed refineries mean lower demand for this raw material. Some analysts predicted the price hikes would be temporary, but cautioned it is not yet clear how much damage has been done to some of the world’s largest refineries.

The total cost of the disaster is unclear because floodwaters are still rising and officials have been focused on rescuing people not assessing damage to facilities. Preliminary estimates vary widely, and run into the tens of billions of dollars.

Some of that cost comes from closed airports that normally handle 1,600 or more flights per day. Other losses come from the closed shipping facilities that normally see thousands of containers and considerable oil that normally moves through Houston and nearby areas each day.

Data analysis expert Josh Green of Pajjiva said there is likely to be a major impact on the local community, but shippers will find alternate ports for cargos, which will limit the damage to the national economy.

Billionaire Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most astute and successful investors, told CNBC, a financial news channel, the storm has caused serious destruction, but the toll is probably less than one percent of the U.S. GDP.

Wednesday, the Commerce Department said U.S. economic growth had sped up to a three percent annual rate in the second quarter (April, May and June) which is faster than first estimated.

Analysts at Macroeconomic Advisers say Harvey could cut anywhere from three-tenths of a percent to more than one percent from growth in the third quarter (July, August, September).

IHS Markit Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh said previous storms have hurt short-term growth, which has eventually been offset by an economic boost from reconstruction activity. He said the many uncertainties about the extent of damage will make economic estimates “volatile” for the last six months of this year.

Cornell University business professor Steven Kyle told VOA some economic tools do a poor job of measuring the impact of disasters because they count the reconstruction work as an economic gain, but do not have an accurate way to measure the cost of lost bridges, homes and workplaces.

Kyle also said the impact of the storm is not going to show up in unemployment data till the end of September.

The newest U.S. jobless rate will be published by government experts this Friday, but that information was gathered before the storm hit. Economists predict the jobless rate for August will be a very low, at 4.3 percent.

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Alexa, Cortana Talk to Each Other in Amazon-Microsoft Deal

Microsoft and Amazon are pairing their voice assistants together in a collaboration announced Wednesday.

Both companies say later this fall, users will be able to access Alexa using Cortana on Windows 10 computers and on Android and Apple devices. They’ll also be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices such as the Amazon Echo.

Microsoft says the tie-up will allow Alexa customers to get access to Cortana features such as for booking meetings or accessing work calendars. Cortana users, in turn, can ask Alexa to switch on smart home devices or shop on Amazon’s website.

The use of voice assistants is growing. Google and Amazon already have smart speakers on the market. Apple has HomePod coming with its Siri assistant, while Samsung plans one with Microsoft’s Cortana.

Amazon has little to lose from the partnership, and Microsoft’s Cortana — which has been largely limited to laptops — might get discovered by more users because of it, said Carolina Milanesi, a mobile technology analyst at Creative Strategies.

“Cortana might get a little bit more out of it because it gets Cortana out of the PC,” she said. “For Cortana to really get to be more important, it needs to be consistently used every day for different tasks.”

Milanesi said that for Amazon especially, which wants more people to consider Alexa as their first choice, the partnership also might be designed to send a message to customers and rivals.

“They both get something out of it, which is mainly showing Apple and Google that they’re willing to work together to get stronger,” Milanesi said.

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Peru Opposition Leader Investigated in Connection With Odebrecht

The Peruvian attorney general’s office has opened a criminal probe into opposition leader Keiko Fujimori for allegedly laundering money for scandal-plagued Brazilian builder Odebrecht, Fujimori’s attorney said on Tuesday.

The twice-defeated right-wing presidential candidate and eldest daughter of Peru’s imprisoned former leader Alberto Fujimori denied that she or her political party ever took money from Odebrecht.

“I’m certain the investigation will confirm that Odebrecht did not give us any money,” Fujimori said on Twitter. “I’ve always collaborated with all investigations and this will not be an exception.”

Fujimori’s lawyer, Edward Garcia, told Reuters the preliminary probe was opened in connection with notes that mention Fujimori by name that were taken by Odebrecht’s jailed former chief executive, Marcelo Odebrecht.

The attorney general’s office, which declined to comment, said on Monday it had received the contents of notes made on the cellphone of Odebrecht, but did not detail them.

Fujimori is already the subject of a money-laundering investigation related to 2016 campaign donations, but a probe in connection with Odebrecht might do more to hurt support for her and her Popular Force party, which controls a majority of seats in Congress.

Odebrecht is at the center of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal and is reviled by many in Peru since admitting late last year to having bribed local officials over a decade-long period.

News website IDL Reporteros has published what it says are  notes taken by Odebrecht and confiscated by Brazilian authorities that include the phrase: “Raise Keiko to 500 and pay her a visit.”

Prosecutor German Juarez will lead the investigation into Fujimori, Garcia said.

Juarez recently persuaded local courts to jail former President Ollanta Humala for up to 18 months before trial while he is investigated for accusations of taking undeclared campaign donations from Odebrecht.

Humala narrowly defeated Fujimori during her first presidential bid in 2011. He is now sharing a prison with her father, who is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations and graft.

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Harvey’s Floods Scatter Cattle in Texas, Swamp Cotton Fields

South Texas ranchers are scrambling to relocate cattle from massive flooding spawned by Tropical Storm Harvey, with many hauling livestock up to the north of the state while others rush to move the animals to higher ground nearby.

About 1.2 million cattle are located in a 54-county disaster area drenched by Harvey, which made landfall as a hurricane last weekend. With more torrential rain in the forecast, ranchers are expressing worry that some animals could perish despite efforts to save them.

State is top producer of cattle, cotton   

Texas leads U.S. states in cattle and cotton production. An estimated $150 million worth of cotton has been lost as the storms ripped the bolls off plants and left white fiber strewn across fields.

Texas Gulf Coast export terminals that handle about a quarter of U.S. wheat exports also remained shuttered.

Of immediate concern to ranchers were cattle stranded by high water infested with venomous snakes, fire ants and alligators, said Hollis “Peanut” Gilfillian, a cattle rancher in Winnie, Texas, about 60 miles (96 km) east of hard-hit Houston.

“We’re in gator country … period,” said Gilfillian, adding that nearly every pond on the ranches in his area contain alligators.

“It’s not unusual to see an alligator in my backyard or road ditch,” he said, but added, “There’s plenty other animals that they (alligators) would much rather eat, such as fish, as opposed to trying to go after cattle.”

Ranchers had tried to prepare for the storm last week by moving cattle to the nearest hills or trucking them to safety in the north of the state, cattle industry groups said.

Chuck Kiker, who raises cattle on his farm near Beaumont, about 60 miles (96 km) northeast of Houston, opted to leave his animals in place but was caught off guard by the storm’s severity.

“You can’t move animals at this point, so you’re kind of stuck because of high water everywhere. There’s really no place to move them,” he said.

Disaster area declared

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has declared 54 counties a disaster area. About 27 percent of the state’s 4.46 million-head beef cow herd is in those 54 counties, according to Texas A&M University livestock economist David Anderson.

“Given that it’s August, I’m not sure that we would’ve seen a lot of the calves already sold. So you’ve a lot of young calves out there too that are in that disaster area,” Anderson said.

Grain terminals closed

Longer-term concerns for the cattle include foot rot from standing in water or muddy fields for long periods and the risk of disease from mosquitoes.

Heavy rains and flooding closed bulk grain terminals along the Texas Gulf Coast owned by major exporters including Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, although the companies say the facilities were not severely damaged.

BNSF Railway and Union Pacific suspended service to the flood-ravaged region, depriving exporters of a fresh supply of grain. The U.S. Coast Guard closed Texas Gulf ports including Houston, Galveston and Corpus Christi.

“With additional flooding likely during the next few days, normal train flows in the area may not resume for an extended period,” BNSF said in a customer service advisory.

Cotton blown away

On cotton farms, more than 300,000 bales have likely been lost, between cotton yet to be harvested and bales sitting on fields awaiting ginning, according to John Robinson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University.

The loss, though a small part of the total U.S. cotton crop of about 20 million bales a year, was devastating for individual farmers.

“The cotton that was where the hurricane hit was affected by the winds, it was blown right off the plant. Some of those fields are obliterated,” Robinson said.

“Some of the cotton will still be on the plant but strung out like someone papered your field with toilet paper,” he said.

Record crop lost

South Texas and Coastal Bend cotton farmers were expecting a record crop this year. Thirteen of the counties in the disaster area are major cotton producers.

“The South Texas Cotton and Grain Association has preliminary crop losses projected at $150 million. That’s just devastating to all of farmers down there,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement.

Monday’s Intercontinental Commodity Exchange benchmark cotton price spiked 2.5 percent as a portion of the unharvested crop in Texas was destroyed or damaged by rain and high winds, traders said.

“The cooperative’s growers still have a lot of cotton in the field, maybe like 50 percent still out there. A lot of that will be lost because of the wind and rain,” said Jimmy Roppolo, general manager of United Agricultural Cooperative Inc in El Campo, Texas.

“It was the best cotton crop we ever raised. We really needed it this year to make up for other years,” Roppolo said.


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World’s Biggest Drone Drug Deliveries Take Off in Tanzania

Tanzania is set to launch the world’s largest drone delivery network in January, with drones parachuting blood and medicines out of the skies to save lives.

California’s Zipline will make 2,000 deliveries a day to more than 1,000 health facilities across the east African country, including blood, vaccines and malaria and AIDS drugs, following the success of a smaller project in nearby Rwanda.

“It’s the right move,” Lilian Mvule, 51, said by phone, recalling how her granddaughter died from malaria two years ago.

“She needed urgent blood transfusion from a group O, which was not available,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Malaria is a major killer in Tanzania, and children under age 5 often need blood transfusions when they develop malaria-induced anemia. If supplies are out of stock, as is often the case with rare blood types, they can die.

Tanzania is larger than Nigeria and four times the size of the United Kingdom, making it hard for the cash-strapped government to ensure all of its 5,000-plus clinics are fully stocked, particularly in remote rural areas.

The drones fly at 100 kph (62 mph), much faster than traveling by road. Small packages are dropped from the sky using a biodegradable parachute.

The government also hopes to save the lives of thousands of women who die from profuse bleeding after giving birth.

Tanzania has one of the world’s worst maternal mortality rates, with 556 deaths per 100,000 deliveries, government data show.

“It’s a problem we can help solve with on-demand drone delivery,” Zipline’s chief executive, Keller Rinaudo, said in a statement. “African nations are showing the world how it’s done.”

Companies in the United States and elsewhere are keen to use drones to cut delivery times and costs, but there are hurdles ranging from the risk of collisions with airplanes to ensuring battery safety and longevity.

The drones will cut the drug delivery bill for Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma, one of two regions where the project will first roll out, by $58,000 a year, according to Britain’s Department for International Development, one of the project’s backers.

The initiative could also ease tensions between frustrated patients and health workers.

“We always accuse nurses of stealing drugs,” said Angela Kitebi, who lives 40 kilometers east of Dodoma. “We don’t realize that the drugs are not getting here on time due to bad roads.”

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Study: Cereal, Drink Companies Often Overlook Risk of Forced Labor in Sugarcane

Food and beverage companies face the risk of forced labor in countries where they obtain sugarcane but most fall short in efforts to tackle the problem that threatens millions of workers, according to a study released on Tuesday.

Most of 10 companies studied offered only limited details of how they assess and monitor risks of forced labor in specific countries, and most of grievance procedures for workers are weak, said KnowTheChain (KTC), a partnership founded by U.S.-based Humanity United.

Sugarcane, a major agricultural commodity, can be found in a list of household foods and beverages from cereals to sauces and is often harvested by rural migrant workers with machetes who work long hours for low wages in hazardous conditions.

KTC said there is often little law enforcement and those workers are vulnerable to becoming victims of forced labor, especially by recruiters who deceive them about work and wages in other regions or countries.

“It is possible that the sugar in the cereal you ate for breakfast or the soda you drank at lunch was produced with forced labor,” said Kilian Moote, KnowTheChain project director, in a statement.

“Agricultural workers, particularly migrants, are at most risk of abuse.”

Sugarcane produced by forced labor has been found in Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Myanmar and Pakistan, according to a list published in 2016 by the U.S. government.

Risk Assessment?

Verite, a KTC partner, also found reports of debt bondage of sugarcane workers in India and found sugarcane workers in Guatemala at a high risk of trafficking.

Globally, about 21 million people are victims of forced labor, made to work for free after falling into debt or forced to work due to deception, coercion or threat of violence, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

In Brazil, the world’s largest producer of sugarcane, roughly a half million people work cutting the crop, according to industry statistics.

The companies studied were Coca-Cola, Fomento Economico Mexicano S.A.B (FEMSA), Monster Beverage, PepsiCo, The Hershey Co., Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland, Associated British Foods (ABF) and Wilmar International.

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and ABF were the only four companies to undertake forced labor risk assessments of sugarcane supply chains in specific countries, the study said.

Coca-Cola has committed to conduct 28 country-level studies on child labor, forced labor, and land rights for its sugar supply chains by 2020, it said.

Most companies were lacking in revealing details of their risk assessment, monitoring and grievance procedures, it said.

“Few companies disclose information explaining how they address forced labor risks in specific countries, and, where they do, the information is typically focused on understanding and assessing risks, with limited information on concrete follow-up steps,” the researchers said.

Asked for a response, a Coca-Cola spokesman said the company provided detailed information to KTC.

“We believe the report speaks for itself,” a spokesman said, citing Coca-Cola’s policies on human and workplace rights posted on its website.

Contacted by email, none of other nine companies responded immediately to requests for comment.

The study compared policies and practices and used a questionnaire, to which eight of the 10 companies responded. ADM supplied only limited answers and Monster Beverage, a U.S. maker of energy drinks, did not respond, it said.

Coco-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé listed the countries they sourced from most, while Hershey, Mondelēz and Monster Beverage disclosed just one of their sugarcane-sourcing countries, it said.

ADM and Monster Beverage disclosed nothing about if or how they monitor working conditions in their sugarcane supply chains, it said.

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With Harvey Looming, Traders Rush to Ship Oil From Louisiana

Oil traders were scrambling Tuesday to move crude and fuel supplies through ports in Louisiana as Tropical Storm Harvey barreled toward the state, threatening to close the last major oil terminals still operating on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Harvey pummeled the heart of the U.S. energy industry in Texas, dumping a record amount of rain and triggering catastrophic flooding in Houston. Harvey was the strongest storm to hit the state in more than 50 years, forcing operators to shut refineries, pipelines and ports.

Harvey was forecast to come ashore in western Louisiana near the Texas border on Wednesday. The region includes the St. James trading hub, with more than 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity. It is also home of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the largest privately owned U.S. crude storage terminal.

Louisiana had become the last exit and entry point into refinery row on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Its ports import and export millions of bpd of crude and fuel. Texas and Louisiana are home to 45 percent of total U.S. refining capacity.

“Louisiana is open and being used as much as possible to discharge fuel and load exports,” a trader at a refinery said.

Prices spike

Other traders also said they were hurrying to take advantage of the closing window to import fuel into the U.S. Gulf as prices skyrocket. Prices in the region have risen as supply falls because of refinery closures.

According to Eikon shipping data, the Ridgebury Julia, a tanker carrying oil products, was diverted earlier this week. It was originally going to Corpus Christi, Texas. As of Tuesday, it changed its destination to New Orleans.

Buyers for Latin America, where many countries are heavily reliant on U.S. supplies, are trying to buy cargoes. Asian refiners are also keen to buy U.S. cargoes and concerned about delays of those they have already bought, shipping sources said.

The window for shipping is closing as conditions deteriorate and Harvey moves east toward refineries and ports in the state.

The prices in spot markets for gasoline in the Gulf have soared above benchmark prices in New York Harbor, according to Reuters data.

U.S. crude prices have fallen because refiners are processing less oil. That has pushed U.S. crude prices below prices for crude elsewhere, making it cheap for international refiners if they can still get a cargo out.

U.S. crude’s discount to London’s Brent futures grew Tuesday, touching the contract’s widest level of $5.90 a barrel.


A spokeswoman for LOOP declined to comment when asked about the level of interest in using the port in recent days.

In Texas, Shell was assessing the impact of Harvey, but a spokesman did not respond to a question about the status of its Sugarland terminal in St. James, used for crude exports.

On Monday, the Port of Corpus Christi Authority said it had restored power to several facilities and was working to return to normal operations next week. Transfers from one ship to another near the port have also been delayed, sources said.

Vessels moving in and out of Energy Transfer Partners’ Nederland terminal in Texas have been delayed, sources said.

An ETP spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the terminal.

The Houston Ship Channel was shut, and the Port of Houston will remain closed Wednesday.

The backlog in unexported refined products will be a challenge to Texas Gulf Coast refiners, according to Sandy Fielden, an analyst at Morningstar.

Damage to roads and fuel stations may delay some refinery restarts, he said, because they would quickly run out of storage for fuel produced.

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Are Consumers Ready to Give Augmented Reality a Try?

You might have gotten a taste of “augmented reality,” the blending of the virtual and physical worlds, as you chased on-screen monsters at real-world landmarks in last year’s gaming sensation, “Pokemon Go.”

Upcoming augmented reality apps will follow that same principle of superimposing virtual images over real-life settings. That could let you see how furniture will look in your real living room before you buy it, for instance.

While “Pokemon Go” didn’t require special hardware or software, more advanced AR apps will. Google and Apple are both developing technology to enable that. Google’s AR technology is already on Android phones from Lenovo and Asus. On Tuesday, Google announced plans to bring AR to even more phones, including Samsung’s popular S8 and Google’s own Pixel, though it didn’t give a timetable beyond promising an update by the end of the year.

As a result, Apple might pull ahead as it extends AR to all recent iPhones and iPads in a software update expected next month, iOS 11. Hundreds of millions of AR-ready devices will suddenly be in the hands of consumers.

But how many are ready to give AR a try?

Early applications

Of the dozen or so apps demoed recently for Android and iPhones, the ones showing the most promise are furniture apps.

From a catalog or a website, it’s hard to tell whether a sofa or a bed will actually fit in your room. Even if it fits, will it be far enough from other pieces of furniture for someone to walk through?

With AR, you can go to your living room or bedroom and add an item you’re thinking of buying. The phone maps out the dimensions of your room and scales the virtual item automatically; there’s no need to pull out a tape measure. The online furnishing store Wayfair has the WayfairView for Android phones, while Ikea is coming out with one for Apple devices. Wayfair says it’s exploring bringing the app to iPhones and iPads, too.

As for whimsical, Holo for Android lets you pose next to virtual tigers and cartoon characters. For iPhones and iPads, the Food Network will let you add frosting and sprinkles to virtual cupcakes. You can also add balloons and eyes — who does that? — and share creations on social media.

Games and education are also popular categories. On Apple devices, a companion to AMC’s “The Walking Dead” creates zombies alongside real people for you to shoot. On Android, apps being built for classrooms will let students explore the solar system, volcanoes and more.

Beyond virtual reality

Virtual reality is a technology that immerses you in a different world, rather than trying to supplement the real world with virtual images, as AR does. VR was supposed to be the next big thing, but the appeal has been limited outside of games and industrial applications. You need special headsets, which might make you dizzy if you wear one too long.

And VR isn’t very social. Put on the headset, and you shut out everyone else around you. Part of the appeal of “Pokemon Go” was the ability to run into strangers who were also playing. Augmented reality can be a shared experience, as friends look on the phone screen with you.

Being available vs. Being used

While AR shows more promise than VR, there has yet to be a “killer app” that everyone must have, the way smartphones have become essential for navigation and everyday snapshots.

Rather, people will discover AR over time, perhaps a few years. Someone renovating or moving might discover the furniture apps. New parents might discover educational apps. Those people might then go on to discover more AR apps to try out. But just hearing that AR is available might not be enough for someone to check it out.

Consider mobile payments. Most phones now have the capability, but people still tend to pull out plastic when shopping. There’s no doubt more people are using mobile payments and more retailers are accepting them, but it’s far from commonplace.

Expect augmented reality to also take time to take off.

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World Bank: Tackle Middle East Water Scarcity to Save Money, Boost Stability

The Middle East and North Africa region loses about $21 billion each year because of an inadequate supply of water and sanitation, the World Bank said Tuesday, warning that urgent action is needed to prevent ripple effects on stability and growth.

Poor management of water resources and sanitation in the world’s most water-scarce region costs about 1 percent of its annual gross domestic product, with conflict-hit states losing as much as 2 to 4 percent each year, the bank said in a report issued at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Deaths due to unsafe water and sanitation in some parts of the region, particularly countries affected by conflict, are higher than the global average, it added.

“As the current conflict and migration crisis unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa shows, failure to address water challenges can have severe impacts on people’s well-being and political stability,” the report said.

Peril in Yemen

In Yemen, which is reeling from more than two years of conflict, water supply networks serving its largest cities are at risk of collapse due to war-inflicted damage and disrepair, and about 15 million people have been cut off from regular access to water and sanitation, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said in a separate statement Tuesday.

In Syria, where the conflict is well into its seventh year, water has frequently been used as “a weapon of war,” with pumps deliberately destroyed and water sources contaminated, and about 15 million people are in need of safe water, including an estimated 6.4 million children, UNICEF said.

Overall, 183 million people lack access to basic drinking water in countries affected by conflict, violence and instability around the world, it added.

Better management

With the urban population in the Middle East and North Africa expected to double by 2050 to nearly 400 million, a combination of policy, technology and water management tools should be used to improve the water situation, the World Bank report said.

“Water productivity — in other words, how much return you get for every drop of water used — in the Middle East in general is the lowest on average in the world,” said Anders Jägerskog, a specialist in water resources management at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors.

Middle Eastern and North African countries are using far more water than can be replenished, said the report.

To reverse the trend, technology and innovation are “essential but not enough,” Jägerskog told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Water governance — in particular, water tariffs and subsidies — must also be addressed, he said.

The region has the world’s lowest water tariffs and spends the highest proportion of GDP on public water subsidies. Such policies lead to excessive use of already scarce water supplies and are not sustainable, said Jägerskog.

Untreated wastewater

Another challenge is that more than half of the wastewater collected in the region is fed back into the environment untreated.

“Along with better water management, there is room for increasing the supply through nonconventional methods such as desalination and recycling,” Guangzhe Chen, senior director of the World Bank’s global water practice, said in a statement.

Improved water management could bring considerable financial returns, the report noted.

Governments could gain $10 billion annually by improving the storage and delivery of irrigation water to users, while increasing agricultural production by up to 8 percent, the report said.

Egypt, Syria and Iran — which have the largest proportion of irrigated land in the region — are the countries that could benefit most.

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