MENA Water Security

Via SmartWater Magazine, a report on water scarcity in the MENA region:

Water crisis, extreme weather events, and failure of climate change adaptation continue to be ranked in the top 10 global risks for business continuity and growth especially for the Middle East and North Africa, the most water scarce region in the world. The Synthesis Report that UN- Water released last year to inform the review of the sustainable development goal on water and sanitation at the High Level Political Forum alerted the world that we are off track on most SDG targets relevant for waterfood and agriculture. The world is also not on track to meet the Paris climate agreement’s goals: to avoid two degrees Celsius of warming and bridge the emissions gap by 2030.

Water security in the Arab region faces unprecedent change pressures of rapid population growth and the accompanying demands of urbanization, and agriculture. Moreover, climate change, bringing greater climate variability and more frequent and severe droughts and floods, will exacerbate the already precarious situation created by chronic water scarcity.

The Arab world confronts the triple threats of climate change, rising food and energy costs, and the economic crisis. All three are under fragile contexts of conflict and political instability in many Arab countries, exacerbating poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. Clearly, if the Arab region is to achieve sustainable development, it is paramount to achieve water security for all.

Water security should be defined as “the dynamic capacity of the water system and water stakeholders to safeguard sustainable and equitable access to adequate quantities and acceptable quality of water that is continuously, physically, and legally available at an affordable cost for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability?

A new paradigm is therefore needed for achieving water security. Water security is not only about access, we need holistic and integrated solutions to achieve water security that go across key policy tracks. These must also benefit from existing but untapped synergies and co-benefits while minimizing adverse cross-impacts through better, more explicit management of trade-offs (Drinking water and human beings, Ecosystems, Socio economic, Disaster Risk Reduction, Refugee policies, and Climate Change).

A new paradigm for achieving water security and substantiable development

Water security has shaped the region in the past and will shape the future as a vital resource. It matters for the following reasons:

  • Water security for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being and socio-economic development

Over 60% of MENA’s population lives under high or very high-water stress, much higher than the global average of some 35% for the rest of the world. Access is especially low for countries affected by conflict (Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Libya).The poor suffer the most from lack of access as they need to rely on expensive water of questionable quality from private vendors. Drinking water is still supplied on an intermittent basis in most Arab countries such as Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon or Palestine. An intermittent water supply creates inequities in clean water availability for people who live furthest from the water source and carries public health risks associated with the ingress of contaminants from the surrounding ground through flaws in the aged piping systems. Except in situations of extreme drought, some countries like Egypt still supply drinking water continuously (24×7) but this may change as water challenges are intensifying and presenting the first risk that Egypt may face in the future. Agricultural livelihoods and food security issues are exacerbated by variable and unpredictable water availability.

World Bank infographic: Water in the Middle East and North Africa

Losses and waste of water and food are untapped resources that can achieve a paradigm shift towards water and food securities in the Arab region

  • Water security for peace and political stability

When a water crisis manifests itself, it is often embodied within wider economic and political crises. Transboundary waters, which represent 60% of MENA’s surface and groundwater resources, add a layer of complexity and tension. The conflict, both in its root causes as well as its impacts, has much to do with water.

Cooperation over shared waters creates win-win solutions for the region to share: international trade, climate change adaptation, economic growth, food security, improved governance and regional integration

  • Water security for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters and for preserving ecosystems

Climate-related water scarcity could cause a decrease in regional GDP (6-14%) by 2050. Climate change will also imply greater variability in terms of where and when rains occur. Population growth rates continue to be high (2% compared to the world average of 1.1%). Agricultural productivity has not increased in meaningful proportions. Food loss and waste have reached alarming quantities with huge implications on water, land, energy, and GHG emissions. The region is a global hotspot of groundwater over-exploitation. Demand management opportunities are well articulated but underutilized. Interlinkages across sectors (water, food, energy, environment) and the natural resources base (water, land, soils) are understood but not adequately reflected in policies and practice.

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