A new report coming from the Arab Forum for Environment and Development fills in some details on how water availability is going to decline in the region, with all but literally a couple of places remaining above the threshold of severe water shortage in as soon as five years.
The report, Water: Sustainable Management of a Scarce Resource, shows that by the end of the 21st century Arab countries could see a 25% decrease in precipitation, coupled with a 25% increase in evaporation as the global climate changes. The result: Average crop yields in the region studied dropping by 20%.
Currently eight of the thirteen Arab nations make do on less that 200 cubic meters of water per capita annually, with the threshold for being considered in conditions of water scarcity set at 1000 cubic meters per capita per year. By 2015, only Iraq and Sudan will remain about that.
The report concludes:
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.
On water pricing, Reuters notes that average prices paid for water in the region reflect just 35% of the cost of producing and distributing water, a figure that lowers to just 10% if that water is obtained through desalinization.
During environmental contract work in the United Arab Emirates, I was struck by the amount of effort that goes into keeping palms and trees alive where they would not have survived without artificial irrigation. Wealth created from oil reserves has resulted in water abstraction and desalination without much concern for costs- both financially and and environmentally. The problem is that this is unsustainable and there comes a point where no amount of money can buy water that does not exist!
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