Water Insecurity At Top Of Agenda As NENA Countries Meet

Via Future Directions, a look at  how water insecurity will feature prominently during the FAO Regional Conference for the Near East and North Africa (NENA):


According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), per capita freshwater availability in the NENA region shrank by two-thirds over the past 40 years. The region, (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen), faces serious water access concerns as populations continue to grow and food demand rises. Climate change is also expected to create greater challenges for the already water scarce region, with the FAO estimating water availability could halve by 2050 as a consequence.


Agricultural ministers and other delegates from NENA region states will meet this month to discuss the new Regional Water Scarcity Initiative. Designed to identify and restructure agricultural policies relating to water management, the initiative aims to reduce water wastage and create a more sustainable agricultural industry, adaptive to the changing environment and growing demand.

The NENA region includes some of the world’s most water-scarce states and a higher than average population growth. The region faces severe water and food insecurity if freshwater shortages are not addressed. Agricultural water consumption, according to the FAO, represents as much as 85 per cent of available freshwater in the region; leaving only a small percentage for domestic and industry uses. More importantly, the region will require greater food production to meet population growth and must achieve this without further straining water resources.

With agricultural productivity already below optimum due to political turmoil and market volatility over the past decade, food security remains in a fragile state. As a result many states in the region are net food importers, vulnerable to external market conditions, policies and interests. To rectify this, agricultural policy in recent years has tended to focus on increasing local production and thus reducing reliance on global markets. Agricultural production, which relies on water intensive irrigation systems, will further strain freshwater access in the region, unless new policies are put in place soon. 

The Regional Water Scarcity Initiative aims to address these conflicting insecurities and ensure greater water management to boost agricultural production and thus food security, while sustaining water resources for other users and the environment. A linked objective of the initiative is to enhance co-operation among member states and with international and regional partners. With its focus on policies, investments and best practice for the industry, the FAO believes the initiative can ‘ensure sustainable intensification of agricultural production under water scarce conditions.’

The FAO carried out a regional review and national assessments to identify major constraints and challenges in achieving food security and water sustainability throughout 2013. At the Regional Conference this month it will present its findings and recommendations to begin project implementation.

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