In the lead up to World Water Day which will take place next Friday, I have gathered some interesting water-based facts on the issue. The Middle East and North Africa region is famously one of the driest regions in the world and things don’t look like they are getting better. So what is there to actually celebrate? Read on for the bad news and also some rather great news…
Firstly, the bad news. According to the latest statistics gathered by IRIN, the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) is getting drier at an alarming rate. And whilst trading and importing food brings in ‘virtual water’, it also makes the region extremely vulnerable to trade disruptions caused by dwindling supplies, higher prices or lack of money to pay for the imports. As a report on the issue of climate change and the Arab Spring points out, a winter drought in China contributed to global wheat shortages and skyrocketing bread prices in Egypt, which is the world’s largest wheat importer.
The report also points out that as the region’s population continues to climb, “the water availability per capita is projected to plummet… Rapid urban expansion across the Arab world increasingly risks overburdening existing infrastructure and outpacing local capacities to expand services.” Whats more, the reliance of Gulf countries on oil sold at high prices to buy food and also remain resilience in the face of water scarcity can’t last forever.
As a the report at IRIN states, this trade has simply hidden the gravity of the water scarcity situation and made it easier to neglect the development of more sustainable solutions (that doesn’t include desalination). So is the region headed towards a perfect storm of water scarcity?
That’s not clear yet. For one, water scarcity is not new to the region. The Middle East has been slowly drying for thousands of years and people have always come up with strategies to survive. Adaptation strategies are slowly gaining more importance with Egypt investing more into its water infrastructure – the World Bank has granting Egypt US$6.7 million to improve its management of water resources. And Jordan is taking more measures to harvest rainwater. The water-scarce country is also leading the way in terms of collecting water use data, especially in the agriculture sector which is consuming a huge portion of their water. So it’s not all bad news.
Indeed another piece of good news is that predictions of bloody conflict over water have so far failed to materialise. Despite a growing population and more pressure on water resources than some predicated, people haven’t taken to their guns to secure their share of water. This is something we can all celebrate as it not only demonstrates the region’s maturity but also its willingness to tackle the issue with care and consideration.
For more on water issues in the Middle East see:
: Photo of man watering a plant in the desert via Shutterstock.