First Published: 2017-10-01

Urgent action needed for water sustainability in MENA
More than 60% of the MENA region’s population lives in areas with high or very high water stress.
Middle East Online

By Samar Kadi - BEIRUT

'Clearly there is a need to rethink how water is being managed in the region.'

Water scarcity has always been a major challenge in the mostly arid MENA region. However, overdrawing of ground­water compounded with climate change, high rates of population growth and the effects of con­flicts and forced displacement have jeopardised the region’s stability and the livelihood of generations to come.

A World Bank report titled “Beyond Scarcity: Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa” highlighted the exacer­bating challenges, stressing, however, that limited water resources “need not restrict the region’s future” and that a “combination of technology, policy and management can convert scarcity into security.”

“Over the past decade, the water situation for most coun­tries (in MENA) has become more challenging,” said Steven Schon­berger, practice manager at the World Bank’s Water Department for MENA region. “While the amount of freshwater available has not changed, its reliability and the pressures on the resources are growing with particular impact on groundwa­ter, which serves as the ‘water savings account’ for difficult years and future generations.”

Climate change is expected to have the greatest effect on water resources in the region and could cause economic losses of 6-14% of GDP by 2050, Schonberger cautioned. That would happen “unless major efforts are made in terms of building resilience and undertaking significant realloca­tions of diminishing water resources to higher value uses,” he said.

Smart water management in terms of the policies, technolo­gies and management systems for water in urban and agricultural settings has become an urgent priority for a region where 60% of the population lives in areas with high or very high water stress.

Despite being the most water-scarce region in the world, the region has the lowest productiv­ity of water use in terms of economic production, the world’s lowest water tariffs and, by far, the highest level of subsidies (2% of GDP). Also, the effects of degradation of water quality are often overlooked though they represent a major cost to the region, estimated at 0.5-2.5% of GDP yearly, in terms of health and other effects, the report stated.

“Clearly there is a need to rethink how water is being managed in the region, starting with a general recognition of its value and a commitment to use water for the greatest good of society,” Schonberger said.

Many Arab countries, espe­cially in the Gulf area, rely largely on desalination to compensate for limited water resources. Desalination should be part of the solution in the region, which accounts for almost half of all desalination capacity world­wide.

“You cannot ‘desal’ your way out of the problem,” Schonberger said. “Desalination has to be part of an overall strategy of more efficient use through demand management, leakage reduction, recycling of water and more sustainable management of groundwater where that is available in the Gulf.”

The World Bank report stated that the solutions to water saving in MENA should focus on ration­alising water use and making it more efficient in the agriculture sector, which accounts for about 80% of water usage across the region.

It is a common challenge for all Arab countries but the differ­ences lie in the role of technol­ogy, the report said. More water abundant countries, such as Lebanon and Syria, should meet their needs through better management of existing resources. The more extremely water scarce places, such as Jordan, the Palestinian territo­ries, the Gulf countries and Yemen would need to integrate “non-conventional water” from desalination and recycling on a larger scale.

Solutions may include policies that create incentives for water conservation and water use efficiency, such as fees, fines and pricing, as well as wastewater recycling and reuse. Engaging and educating civil society by raising public awareness about water value and conservation through schools, the media and government campaigns are also crucial.

While water is often pointed to as a potential source of conflict, it has more frequently been the source of cooperation, even between antagonists, Schon­berger noted, citing the example of Vietnam and Thailand, which cooperated on sharing the Mekong River’s waters despite being on different sides of an armed conflict.

“We see similar examples of cooperation in the MENA region, such as the Yarmuk and Jordan rivers (Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories) and the Disi Aquifer (Jordan and Saudi Arabia). However, it is important to ensure that an effective technical cooperation is in place for exchange of informa­tion,” Schonberger said.

“We firmly believe that regional cooperation around management of water resources, combined with technological and management innovations, which can emerge from a better valua­tion of water in the region, can lead to both a more peaceful as well as a more prosperous Middle East.”

Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery

Malaysians, Indonesians protest US move on Jerusalem

EU, Jordan voice backing for Palestinian state

Clashes in West Bank over US Jerusalem move

Macron appeals for calm over US Jerusalem embassy move

World leaders to 're-legitimise' Lebanon PM at Paris talks