Running Out of Water

The Ras al Zour desalination and power plant in Saudi Arabia.©

The Arab world is heading for a huge water crisis in just five years. A recent report by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) found that water levels are already dangerously low for the region, which contains 5% of the world’s population—about 360 million people—but only 1.4% of freshwater access. Today, the Arab region—including Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq—must manage with less than a quarter of the freshwater supplies available in 1960. The poorest Arab state—Yemen—is expected to literally run out of water in a few years. As population numbers swell—and they are expected to grow to nearly 600 million in the Arab region by 2050—the competition for scarce water resources will increase. Climate change will hurt water availability, too, and increase droughts. That, in turn, will impact agriculture yields. Already, some 85% of the Arab world’s water is used for agriculture—compared with 70% on average worldwide.

“Without fundamental changes in policies and practices, the situation will get worse, with drastic social, political and economic ramifications,” reports the AFED.

Wealthier oil-producing Arab nations in the Persian Gulf rely mostly on expensive desalination plants for usable drinking water. But that’s less feasible for other nations, both because of the high cost and the need to power the plants. Egypt and Jordan have plans to build nuclear plants to power desalination facilities in the works, but those major undertakings will take years to achieve. The report urges the Arab world to act quickly, particularly in instituting better water management. A related article in Reuters notes that: "Governments, which often focus on seeking new supplies of water, should instead concentrate on improving water management, rationalizing consumption, encouraging reuse and protecting water supplies from overuse and pollution, AFED urges."

SOURCES: AFED; Reuters; TerraDaily