AFED report: state of water resources in the Arab world is precarious and worsening

The Arab world is facing the prospect of severe water and food shortages unless rapid and effective measures are taken to address the region’s water scarcity dilemma, according to a report by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED).

Even if all available fresh water resources in the region were utilized, Arab countries on the whole would still find themselves below the water scarcity level. Alarmingly, the 2010 report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) has found that Arabs will face, as early as 2015, the condition of severe water scarcity, at which the annual per capita share will be less than 500 cubic meters. This is below one-tenth of the world’s average, currently estimated at over 6,000 cubic meters. Water scarcity is a limitation to economic development, food production, and human health and well being.

...Water supply sources in the Arab world, two-thirds of which originate outside the region, are being stretched to their limits. Thirteen Arab countries are among the world’s nineteen most water-scarce nations, and per capita water availability in eight countries is already below 200 cubic meters, less than half the amount designated as severe water scarcity. The figure drops to below 100 cubic meters in six countries. By 2015, the only countries in the region which will still pass the water scarcity test, at above 1,000 cubic meters per capita, will be Iraq and Sudan – and even that assumes that water supplies from Turkey and Ethiopia will continue to be sustained at their present levels. Without fundamental changes in policies and practices, the situation will get worse, with drastic social, political and economic ramifications.

...A core recommendation of this AFED report is that before investing large capital into increasing supplies, less expensive investments that reduce water losses and enhance efficiency should be implemented. This means a reorientation in government’s role, from being focused exclusively on being a provider to that of becoming an effective regulator and planner.

Arabs cannot afford to waste a single drop of water. Governments should urgently implement sustainable water management policies which rationalize demand to ensure more efficient use. This can be achieved by attaching an economic value to water, measured by the value of the end product from each drop. Governments should implement water efficiency measures, shift from irrigation by flooding to more efficient irrigation systems including drip irrigation, introduce crop varieties that are resilient to salinity and aridity, recycle and reuse wastewater, and develop affordable technologies for water desalination. More research is needed to address the challenges of food security and adaptation to climate change.

The main message of this report is threefold: First, the Arab world is already living a water crisis that will only get worse with inaction. Second, the water crisis, though serious and multi-dimensional, can be addressed through policy and institutional reforms as well as education, research, and public awareness campaigns. Third, averting a water crisis and suffering in the Arab world is only possible if Arab heads of state and governments make a strategic political decision to take up the recommendations for reforms seriously and urgently. The state of water resources in the Arab world is precarious and worsening. It is perhaps the most serious challenge facing the region in the coming decades, and without concerted efforts at improving water management and institutions, the situation will only deteriorate further

AFED held its third annual conference in Beirut on 4-5 November 2010; the conference endorsed the findings of the report and made a series of recommendations in an attempt to address the crisis.

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