Researchers say Middle East is probably the least water-secure region in the world, with 12 countries and the Palestinian territories expected to face ‘exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future’.

Thomson Reuters Foundation 08.26.15

BARCELONA – Israel is among the top ten countries expected to face extremely high water stress by 2040, said experts who ranked 167 nations.

Thirteen of the 33 countries projected to face extremely high water stress in 25 years’ time are in the Middle East, where surface water is limited and demand is high. Eight of these Middle Eastern countries and entities fell in the global Top 10: Bahrain, Kuwait, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Researchers from the World Resources Institute (WRI) – 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 sea water, 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 impacts 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 told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, citing Singapore as an example of a state that uses 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 ground water. These and other highly water-stressed nations may also need to move away from producing their own food because agriculture gobbles water, Otto noted.

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 the Palestinians 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.

The analysis singled out four countries whose level of water stress is due to rise particularly sharply between 2010 and 2040 – Chile, Estonia, Namibia and Botswana – putting new pressure on their businesses, farms and communities.

It also warned that national-level rankings mask large differences within countries. The United States, for example, is ranked 49 for 2010 and 47 for 2040, but California is currently grappling with a crippling drought.

That smoothing effect could help explain why some West African and Central American countries that regularly suffer drought-related food crises in rural areas have a low water-stress ranking.

Otto said some of those countries may also see their future water supply from precipitation increase due to climate change, and that agriculture may be rain-fed rather than relying on irrigation, avoiding direct demand on surface waters.

In southern Africa and other parts of the world where water supply is projected to fall as demand grows, policy makers should act to prevent water stress worsening, Otto said.

“We need to understand the relationship between available supply and demand for that water, and we need to take steps to use the water we have more efficiently and more effectively,” she said.,7340,L-4694710,00.html

Israel likely to be water-stressed in 2040, study finds
Developing new sources critical to quenching region’s thirst, says Water Authority.
Of the 33 countries and regions likely to be most waterstressed by the year 2040, 14 of them – including Israel – are located in the Middle East, according to a new index published by the World Resources Institute.

Israel claimed the eighth spot on the Washington, DC-based research organization’s list.

Attributing the increased stress to rapidly growing populations and emerging middle classes, the index describes how “the world’s demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades.”

Topping the charts with equal rankings of first place were five Middle Eastern entities – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority – as well as San Marino and Singapore.

Israel received as high a water stress score as the top seven, but placed eighth, with Saudia Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Iran and Jordan closely following.

To arrive at the water-stress rankings, which measure both competition and surface-water depletion, World Resources Institute researchers created projections for 167 countries in 2020, 2030 and 2040. The data come from the organization’s June 2015 Aqueduct Water Stress Projections.

In the Middle East in particular, which the authors describe as “already arguably the least water-secure [region] in the world,” the report foresees increased challenges in the coming decades. Acknowledging that water may seem like a tangential issue in comparison to regional violence and turmoil, the authors write that water shortages likely contributed to unrest in Syria – as dwindling water supplies forced farmers to move to urban areas and general destabilized the region.

“The problem extends to other countries,” the authors write. “Water is a significant dimension of the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel.”

More than 50 percent of Israel’s water comes from man-made resources, such as desalination and sewage recycling.

This has enabled the Water Authority to significantly reduce its pumping of natural fresh water resources, such as those in Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), according to the authority.

Desalination is expected to account for about 600 million cubic meters of the country’s annual 2.1-billion cubic meter water supply once an additional facility in Ashdod opens later this year. Treated wastewater accounts for a similar amount of the water supply. By far leading the world in reclaiming wastewater, Israel treats more than 85 percent of its sewage – most of which is then reused for watering agricultural fields.

In response to the World Resources Institute index, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor explained that the study is based on the same types of global climate models that the Israeli Water Authority also uses.

“The Water Authority recognizes the predictions that our region is encountering a trend of decreasing water resources, primarily because of climate change,” Schor said. “The Israeli Water Authority also published such forecasts, in collaboration with various research centers around the world.”

As a result of the trend, the region must optimize its water use, as well as adopt a variety of technological solutions, he added.

“Recognizing this, the Israel Water Authority has started to prepare for the occurrence of a depletion of its natural water resources, developing additional water resources by recycling treated wastewater for agriculture, constructing seawater and brackish water desalination facilities, and at all times optimizing the use of water in all sectors,” Schor said.

Regarding the water relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel is required by the Oslo Accords to provide the PA with 31

of water annually. As of the end of 2013, Israel was in reality supplying the PA with 52

– an amount that the Water Authority said increases annually.

In addition to the amount directly provided by Israel, the PA harvests about 196 from the region’s aquifers.

Gaza, which receives a separate supply from Israel and has its own independent – albeit highly polluted – aquifer, now gets 10 from Israel, which was doubled from 5 in March.

Responding to the World Resources Institute statement about Israel and the PA’s water tensions, Schor expressed optimism.

“In the past, the water shortage has been a pretext for war,” he said. “Today, in our region, like throughout the world, the subject of developing new water sources can serve as a bridge for peace.”