New ranking says 33 countries expected to face extreme shortages globally in 25 years’ time

Nearly half of 33 countries expected to face extremely high water stress by 2040 are in the Middle East, where surface water is limited and demand is high, said experts who ranked more than 160 nations.

Fourteen Middle Eastern countries are projected to face extremely high water stress in 25 years’ time, and eight fall in the global Top 10: Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Researchers from the World Resources Institute, who compiled the first index measuring competition for and depletion of surface water, such as lakes and rivers, each decade from 2010 to 2040, said the Middle East is already probably the least water-secure region in the world.

It draws heavily on groundwater and desalinated seawater, and faces “exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future”, they wrote in their findings.

Betsy Otto, director of the WRI’s Global Water Program, said it was important for governments to understand the potential risks they face in terms of the water needed to run their economies, including rising demand as populations grow and the still uncertain impact of climate change.

“The good news … is countries can take actions to reduce that stress and the risk associated with how they manage water resources,” Otto said, citing Singapore as an example of using innovative methods.

One measure likely to become more common in the Middle East and elsewhere is water reuse systems that recycle waste water.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to treat water to a potable standard, allow it to be used by households and then essentially throw it away,” Otto said.

Some Middle Eastern countries already rely on desalination, a technique to remove salt from sea and groundwater. These and other highly water-stressed nations may also need to move away from producing their own food because agriculture gobbles water, Otto said.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has said its people will depend entirely on grain imports by 2016, the WRI researchers said.

Conflict accelerator

While political turmoil may be the top concern in the Middle East today, drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the social unrest that stoked its civil war, the WRI experts said, as some 1.5 million people, mainly farmers and herders, moved to urban areas unable to provide enough jobs and services.

Water has also played a significant role in the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel, they noted.

“It’s unlikely that water becomes the cause of the conflict, but it can become an accelerator or multiplier of those conflicts,” Otto said.

(China Daily 08/27/2015 page11)