How can the Middle East avert a water crisis?

Chris Arsenault
Writer, The Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Much of the Middle East and North Africa is set for acute water shortages and the region must do more to conserve water while expanding a series of pilot programmes including solar-powered water pumps, scientists and officials said.

“The situation is critical,” Essam Khalifa, a senior official from Egypt’s water ministry, said at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. “We are using almost every drop of water due to population growth.”

Across the region, water availability is only 10 percent of the world average, according to FAO. This has decreased by more than 60 percent during the last 40 years, and is set to drop by another 50 percent by 2050.

Agriculture in the Middle East and North Africa uses about 85 percent of the total available fresh water, the FAO reported, so reducing the amount of water needed to produce food is seen as crucial.

In 2014 the Middle East suffered its driest winter in several decades, triggering drought across the limited arable areas in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous state, is attempting use solar power to extract water from the Nubian Aquifer, a large underground water source shared by four countries, Khalifa said.

Setting-up solar powered drilling operations has a high initial cost, but operating new systems would not be prohibitively expensive, he said.

In neighbouring Sudan, a significant food producer, officials want to improve their ability to gauge and conserve their water resources.

“We need to be able to measure water resources to give us a baseline,” Shahira Wahbi, a former Sudanese ambassador and the Arab League’s head of sustainable development told the forum.

“Wasted water is not acceptable anymore.”

Middle Eastern experts predict more frequent drought cycles in coming years, accompanied by delayed winter rainy seasons that damage fruits and prevent cereal crops growing to full maturity.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Chris Arsenault covers global food security and agricultural politics for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Image: A woman carries a bottle filled with water from a public tap amidst water shortage in Sanaa, Yemen. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

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