DR. MAJID RAFIZADEH. April 25, 2024

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In the not-too-distant future, a pervasive challenge will haunt the entirety of the Middle East and North Africa region: a time when water shortages will reach critical levels. Projections indicate an alarming trajectory whereby each nation within this geographical expanse will grapple with the profound implications of extreme water stress by the midpoint of the 21st century. This imminent reality underscores the pressing need for proactive measures and concerted efforts to address the impending crisis before its ramifications become insurmountable.

report published last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies has sounded the alarm, predicting that, by 2050, every single country in the region will grapple with extremely high water stress. This forecast paints a stark picture of a region that is already burdened with political strife, economic disparities and social unrest facing an existential threat. The report indicated: “If temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius, the region would experience a 75 percent drop in freshwater availability, and many countries in the region are expected to warm about 5 C by the end of the century.”

The implications of such a scenario are profound and far-reaching. First of all, water scarcity not only jeopardizes access to drinking water, but it also threatens agriculture, industry and public health. It exacerbates poverty, as well as conflicts, and fuels mass migration as communities seek refuge in more hospitable environments. In essence, water scarcity is a threat multiplier, amplifying existing vulnerabilities and laying bare any inadequacies in governance structures and resource management practices.

The causes and complexities surrounding water scarcity in the MENA region are multifaceted and intricately intertwined, stemming from a confluence of factors. Climate change is a primary driver, with escalating temperatures amplifying evaporation rates and diminishing crucial sources of water replenishment, such as snowpack and rainfall. Concurrently, burgeoning populations, coupled with rapid urbanization, exert mounting pressure on already strained water reservoirs and distribution systems. Unsustainable water use practices exacerbate the strain.

, increasing the imbalance between water supply and demand.

We need a multifaceted approach that addresses both the root causes and the immediate consequences of water scarcity

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Moreover, the region’s geopolitical landscape adds another layer of complexity, with political tensions and conflicts often disrupting essential water infrastructure and impeding effective water management strategies. These interrelated dynamics underscore the urgent need for holistic approaches to address the root causes of water scarcity in the MENA region, emphasizing not only environmental conservation but also sociopolitical cooperation and sustainable development initiatives.

In order to address the region’s water crisis, we need a multifaceted approach that addresses both the root causes and the immediate consequences of water scarcity. First and foremost, there needs to be a concentrated effort to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This requires global cooperation and a commitment to transitioning toward renewable energy sources, promoting energy efficiency and implementing sustainable land use practices.

In addition to addressing climate change, there is an urgent need for improved water management practices and infrastructure development in the MENA region. This includes investing in water conservation measures, such as drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting, to optimize water use in agriculture. It also entails upgrading aging water infrastructure to reduce leaks and losses and improve water distribution efficiency.

Furthermore, there needs to be greater cooperation and collaboration among countries in the region to manage shared water resources more effectively. For example, transboundary water agreements and mechanisms for joint water management can help mitigate conflicts and ensure equitable access to water for all stakeholders. Regional organizations such as the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council can play a critical role in facilitating such cooperation and dialogue.

Furthermore, at the national level, governments must prioritize water security and integrate it into their broader development agendas. This entails investing in water infrastructure, promoting water-efficient technologies and implementing policies to incentivize sustainable water use practices. It also requires improving water governance and transparency to ensure accountability and the equitable distribution of water resources.

At the national level, governments must prioritize water security and integrate it into their broader development agendas

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Moreover, there is a need for increased public awareness and engagement on water issues in the MENA region. This means that education and outreach campaigns can help raise awareness about the importance of water conservation and empower communities to take action at the grassroots level. Civil society organizations, academia and the private sector also have a crucial role to play in driving innovation and promoting sustainable water management practices.

In addition to addressing the immediate challenges posed by water scarcity, there is also a need to build resilience and adaptability to future uncertainties. This ought to include investing in research and technology development to improve water efficiency, enhance water recycling and desalination capabilities and develop climate-resilient agricultural practices. It also entails integrating water considerations into urban planning and development to ensure sustainable growth and resilience to future shocks.

Finally, addressing the region’s water crisis requires a collective effort from all parties — governments, civil society, the private sector and the international community. It also requires bold leadership, innovative solutions and a commitment to solidarity and cooperation in the face of a shared existential threat.

In a nutshell, the recent findings by the Center for Strategic and International Studies serve as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to address the water crisis in the MENA region. Failure to act decisively risks dire consequences for the region’s people, economies and stability. However, with cooperation among governments, civil society, the private sector and the international community, it is still possible to avert the worst-case scenarios and build a more sustainable and resilient future for the region. However, we should act immediately.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian American political scientist. X: @Dr_Rafizadeh