Water Scarcity in Middle East and Northern Africa

Updated December 29, 2021

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Water Scarcity in Middle East and Northern Africa essay

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What are the problem and its implications? “The region is home to 5 percent of the global population, but has access to just 1 percent of the world’s renewable water supply.” states Osman Askin Bak. 12 of the 22 Arab countries rank among the world’s most water scarce nations. The results of climate change, water shortages, and resulting migrations of people could result in an acute problem of food scarcity across all of the Middle East.

With more than a quarter of the world’s population or a third of the population in developing countries live in regions of severe water scarcity. There is a shortfall of food and a rise in prices of staple items can have devastating impact on the whole region. “The history of humankind is replete with instances of savage conflict; however, there are also numerous instances when people have cooperated with each other to achieve tasks of expansive scope. The essay describes both the dire state of water resources in the region and avenues for using water for regional cooperation.”

After the Arab oil-export embargo in the 1970s, the Saudis have realized that they were heavily dependent on the import of grain and that they were vulnerable to a grain counter-embargo. So, they began to use oil-drilling technology to tap in to the desert and create aquifers to produce irrigated wheat. In a matter of years Saudi Arabia was self-sufficient in wheat. But 20 years later of self-sufficiency the Saudis announced in January of 2008 that their aquifers were largely depleted. Between 2007 and 2010, wheat harvest of nearly 3 million tons drop two thirds.

And the Saudis will likely harvest their last crop in 2012 and become fully dependent on imported grain to feed their population of 30 million. In the Middle East, where population is growing fast, the world is witnessing the first collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. Quote it In 2008, Saudi Arabia became the first country in the world to acknowledge the bursting food bubble. The aquifers support their wheat production were largely depleted. Saudi Arabia has phased out their wheat production in 2013.

While in Yemen water tables are falling by 2 meters per year. In the past 40 years Yemen’s grain production has decreased by one-third. This has forced Yemen to import 80% of its grain. In Syria and Iraq there has been reduced flows in their two largest rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. These are two highly dependent bodies of water for irrigation. Thus, causing more and more farmers to drill wells for irrigation leading to over pumping and an emerging water-based food bubbles. Syria’s grain harvest has fallen by one-fifth since 2001 and Iraq’s grain harvest has fallen by one-third since 2002.

Overall, in the Middle East, each day brings around 10000 people to feed and less water with which to feed them. An ongoing study from 1990-2025 in over 118 countries looking at water tables in Asia and the Middle East, which are some of the major breadbaskets found that water tables are falling at alarming rates. There is an urgent need of focus on the attention of professionals and policy makers on the problems of water depletion. There poses a large threat to food security in the up and coming century.

Jordan and Yemen both endure severe water scarcity in the Middle East. Jordan’s average freshwater withdrawal is less than 10 percent of Portugal’s average, despite being the same size. Quote it The cost of water in Jordan has increased thirty percent in ten years, which is due to quick shortage of ground water. While Yemen has not been able to produce enough food to sustain its population. Water scarcity has damaged the standard of living for people of the Middle East. Desalination plants are an overuse of water resource in the Middle East.

Seventy percent of desalination plants in the world are located in this area, mainly in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. While these plants are highly needed in this area they pose serious problems. For example, they produce extreme amounts of boron and bromide and the desalination process also removes essential minerals like calcium. On top of that usually the high concentrated salt is dumped back in to the ocean where this effects the oceans environment. Finally, desalination is the most energy-costing water resource. Fresh water is not evenly distributed across the globe, the Americans have the largest amount of water while Oceania has the least. But Oceania has the greatest supply per capita at 9.5 million gallons per year.

Northern Africa and the middle east are the water-poorest, with the lack of resources to obtain water to be supplied. The UN defines water scarcity as less than 500 cubic meters of water per person per year. Kuwait has a natural supply of one-fiftieth of that. But given its large oil supply they can import fresh water. A person can manage on two gallons of water per day, but the sufficient amount is around thirteen gallons. The UN states that ten percent of water is for drinking, forty percent for sanitation and hygiene, thirty percent for bathing and twenty percent for cooking. One-sixth of the world lacks the bare minimum of water. Agriculture in the Middle East is mainly crop production but is limited due to low rain fall and lack thereof soil moisture. Although irrigation helps it is limited due to few surface-water sources.

The only source of water increasing in the middle east is urban wastewater. Such waters are rarely treated but are still used for irrigation in parameters of urban areas. A study was done on the river of Quake, where it irrigated about 10,000 mixed crops. Researchers sampled the water from many different locations along the river and then sampled it again six years later and found that the water was safe to use for normal amounts of irrigation in a region that is drought prone and nutrient deficient. But, this has change due to the fact that water is a highly valued resource and there is a lack of fresh water in the region.

Saudi was forced to farm grain for themselves using renewable and fossil aquifers, producing nearly 3 million tons of grain a year. Between 2007 and 2010 their production of grain has dropped by two thirds, in 2012 their grain production will be completely phased out. This is due to 2 factors. One, this is an arid country that has little farming capability without irrigation. Two, irrigation is dependent on fossil aquifers which do not recharge after rain fall. Possibly quote it This has led to Saudi buying or leasing land in other countries to maintain its grain production. In other countries such as Yemen, aquifers are being pumped beyond the rate of recharge which in turn may cause the loss of said aquifers. Water tables in Yemen are steadily dropping by 2 meters a year. The population of Yemen is growing and in some parts of the country people are only allowed access to tap water once every 20 days.

As a result, Yemenis now import 80% of their grain. A likely result of depletion of water in Yemen is due to social collapse from an already failing state. Half the world’s population live in countries where water tables are falling as more and more aquifers are being depleted. And 70% of the worlds water use is for irrigation and farming. Water shortages translate to food shortages. The demand for water has tripled in the last half-century. Water tables and wells are going dry in some 20 countries, including China, India, and the U.S., these 3 countries produce more than half the world’s grain. Water shortages are dramatically affecting the food security of the Middle East.

In 2008, Saudi Arabia became the first country in the world to acknowledge the bursting food bubble. The aquifers support their wheat production were largely depleted. Saudi Arabia has phased out their wheat production in 2013. While in Yemen water tables are falling by 2 meters per year. In the pas 40 years Yemen’s grain production has shrunk by one-third. This has forced Yemen to import 80% of its grain. In Syria and Iraq there has been reduced flows in their two largest rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. These are two highly dependent for irrigation. Thus, causing more and more farmers to drill wells for irrigation leading to over pumping and an emerging water-based food bubbles. Syria’s grain harvest has fallen by one-fifth since 2001 and Iraq’s grain harvest has fallen by one-third since 2002.

Overall, in the Middle East, each day brings around 10000 people to feed and less water with which to feed them. The drilling of millions of irrigation wells has pushed water withdrawals beyond recharge rate, in effect leading to more and more groundwater mining. The failure of governments to limit pumping to sustainable yield to aquifers means that the water tables are falling in countries that contain more than half the world’s population. Most aquifers are replenishable, so when they deplete they can be recharge with rain water. But fossil aquifers are not replenishable, once they are depleted they are worthless. Quote it Farmers that lose their irrigation water have the option of returning to lower -yield dry- land farming only if the rainfall permits it. But in the Middle East the loss of irrigation water means that the end of agriculture is inevitable.

The Middle East is seeing a dangerous collision between population growth and water supply. This is the first time in history that grain production has been dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Largely due to the failure of governments trying to mesh population and water policies together. Each day the Middle East brings 9,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water to be supplied. In Iran, the grain production dropped more than 10% between 2007 and 2012 as many irrigation wells started to deplete.

One-quarter of Iran’s current grain harvest is based off over pumping aquifers. Iran’s population is steadily growing by over a million people per year, It seems Iran is approaching social collapse. Using measurements from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, researchers have found that in the Middle East region there is an alarming rate of  decrease in water storages. The point of the GRACE mission is to measures the earth     gravitational pull that provides global picture trends in water storage around the globe. “GRACE is really the only way we can estimate ground water storage changes from space right now” said Famiglietti. This is due to political, economic and security reasons.

Neighboring countries don’t want to know how much water is being used, especially in the Middle East. This is why satellite observations are one of the only options. Water management is a complex and sophisticated issue in the Middle East, “An area that already is dealing with limited water resources and competing stake holders.” Said Kate Voss, who is the lead author of the study and a water policy fellow with the University of California’s center for Hydrological Modeling.

There is an accelerated growth in demand for energy globally and it is confronted by water-resource limitations and hydrologic variability that is directly linked to climate change. A quote from Scott, C. A., & Sugg, Z. P. “While physical water scarcity continues to pose limits to energy development in the Middle East. Findings include the following: (a) technological obstacles to alleviate water scarcity driven by energy demand are surmountable; (b) resource conservation is inevitable, driven by financial limitations and efficiency gains; and (c) institutional arrangements play a pivotal role in the virtuous water-energy-climate cycle. We conclude by making reference to coupled energy-water policy alternatives including water-conserving energy portfolios, intersectional water transfers, virtual water for energy, hydropower tradeoffs, and use of impaired waters for energy development.”

Arid regions are most commonly the most water-deprived regions in the world. Water scarcity is the most pressing challenge. This is due to an already dry climate and the effects of global warming that lead to an increase pressure on the meager water resources causing rapid quality degradation of chronically depleted water resources. While also the use and disposal of numerous biological and chemical pollutants endangers bodies of water even more to a degree that the resource of water is deemed not safe for human consumption, thus posing a health risk on the human population. This degradation of water resources is magnified by the fast-growing population and an increase in domestic and irrigation water demand. This is impossible to meet from the available natural resource.

To satisfy the needs of many in the area there needs to be a new water management strategy, which should be aimed at the sustainable use of available water resources, supplemented by the development of water reuse and desalination of brackish groundwater and seawater, and cautiously considering the associated health and environmental safety. The competition for scarce water and food resources is widely blamed for the increasing tension that has been going on in the Middle East. War, poor governance, demographics and climate change are continually adding on to the problem making it worse and worse. “It is a moral imperative to reduce hunger and thirst in the world. But it is also a strategic imperative,” stresses Philippe Vitel. “If the Middle East and North Africa cannot achieve sustainable food and    water security, we will see many more crises in the years to come.” “The potential for conflict    between regions affected by climate change should not be ruled out,” warns Lilja Alfredsdottir.

” The refugee crisis shaking political stability throughout much of the Middle East and posing serious problems in Europe could be a harbinger of things to come,” said Alfredsdottir’s draft report.” The huge economic and social costs linked to mass movements on this scale are self-evident. It is distinctly possible that global climate challenges could trigger mass movement particularly in regions which no longer have the water and agricultural resources needed to support life.”

Precipitation has dropped off while temperatures have climbed over the past 40 years. In 2007, in the midst of the Water Crisis the Iraqi government drilled 1000 wells for ground water. 60% of the lost water was removed from underground reservoirs, while dried-up soil, dwindling snowpack and losses in surface water from reservoirs and lakes exacerbate the situation. Famiglietti says “The Middle East just does not have much water to begin with, and it’s a part of the world that will be experiencing les rainfall with climate change”, “Those dry areas are getting dryer.” This region is experiencing the second fastest groundwater storage loss which is only being surpassed by India. But demand for freshwater continues to increase worldwide. “Such science-informed studies are essential for more effective, sustainable, and in transboundary regions, collaborative water management.” They call for international water-use treaties and more consistent international water laws.

Arid regions with water scarcity are vulnerable to several stressors such as urbanization, high water demand created by agriculture and industrial activities, point and non-point sources, and climate change. Because of large expenses and implementation difficulties associated with the diffuse pollution abatement plans, many authorities are hesitant to initiate, especially those that may present financial burden on the population. Hence, proactive policies and sustainable water management strategies that are based on decision support systems are crucial in these regions.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has become a hotspot for unsustainable water use, with more than half the current water withdrawals in some countries exceeding the amount of naturally available. A recent World Bank reports that 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%. The report further warns that climate-related water scarcity is expected to cause an economic loss estimated at 6-16% of GDP by 2050. This article proposes two solutions. One trend is the rapid roll out of solar-powered irrigation in some of the countries. With the tuple aim of strengthening water, energy and food security.

Government’s hope that solar technology will offer a way for farming communities to leapfrog from chronic vulnerability toward resilient and sustainable intensification of production. More and More countries in the Middle East have already begun this such as Egypt and Morocco. The second trend centers on wastewater, 82% of wastewater is not being recycled in the region, compared to 30% in high-income countries. There are many technologies available to treat and reuse waste water for productive purposes, including forestry, agriculture, landscaping, and aquifer recharge. The uptake of these options has so far been slow due to rigid regulations and a policy disconnect between agriculture, sanitation and other sectors. There is a high risk of serious water shortages in the Middle East. To decrease this threat water conservation strategies are starting to gain more and more overall importance.

One main focus is on the farmer’s behavior. The importance and linkages are found to be different between sub-groups of farmers, especially between traditional water management farmers and those who already using advanced water management strategies. The study concluded that normative inclination is a key dimension and it may be useful to consider the role of positive, self-rewarding feelings for farmers when setting up policy measure in the region. The Middle East is the driest region in the world with only 1% of the world’s freshwater resources. There is an increase in competition for good-quality water and this has cut the agricultures water share. But since the use of freshwater is domestic, industrial and municipal, this generates wastewater.

The volume of wastewater used in agriculture has been increasing. Only about 43% of wastewater in this region is treated; which is a relatively high percentage compared to other developing countries. This is due to the fact that the there is an importance of wastewater as a water resource and many oil-rich countries with the resources to treat wastewater.

“The MENA region has an opportunity for beneficial reuse of wastewater but few countries in the region have been able to implement substantial wastewater treatment and reuse programs. The major constraints leading to seemingly slow and uneven reuse of wastewater are: inadequate information on the status of reuse or disposal of wastewater and associated environmental and health impacts; incomplete economic analysis of the wastewater treatment and reuse options, usually restricted to financial feasibility analysis; high costs and low returns of developing wastewater collection networks and wastewater treatment plants; lack of wastewater treatment and reuse cost-recovery mechanisms and lack of commitment to support comprehensive wastewater treatment programs; mismatch between water pricing and regional water scarcity; preference for freshwater over wastewater; and inefficient irrigation and water management schemes undermining the potential of wastewater reuse.”

Water Scarcity in Middle East and Northern Africa essay

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Water Scarcity in Middle East and Northern Africa. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/water-scarcity-in-middle-east-and-northern-africa/


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