Balanced approach needed to address MENA’s short-term impacts of water scarcity: WB

Hagar Omran
5 Min Read
water scarcity

In the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), a balanced approach will be needed to address the short-term impacts of water scarcity, as well as investing in longer-term solutions, including the adoption of new technologies, as the basis for sustainable growth, according to a new joint report from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank (WB).

Water scarcity in the MENA region can either be a destabilising factor or a motive that binds communities together, mentioned the report, adding that stakeholders should take into consideration the difference determined by the policies adopted to cope with the growing challenge.

In Egypt, 10% of agricultural water is recycled drainage water, while Morocco plans to install over 100,000 solar pumps for irrigation by 2020, said the report, noting that an FAO project in Iraq is supporting resilience to drought by providing cash-for-work to internally displaced people and refugees.

 A WB financed water-treatment plant in Gaza aims to reverse years of neglect, due to instability with the reliable supply of safe drinking water and the gradual replenishment of the aquifer with treated water, mentioned the report.

Building Resilience to Shocks and Protracted Crises in The Middle East and North Africa warns that instability combined with poor water management can become a vicious cycle that further exacerbates social tensions, while emphasising that the actions needed to break the cycle can also be essential elements for recovery and consolidating stability according to the report.

Launched on Tuesday during a special session focused on MENA at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden, calls for a shift away from current policies focused on increasing supplies toward long-term management of water resources.

Ineffective policies have left both the region’s people and communities exposed to the impacts of water scarcity, growing ever more severe as a result of rising demand and climate change, mentioned the report.

More than 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%. If left unchecked, climate-related water scarcity is expected to cause economic losses estimated at 6-14% of the GDP by 2050, the highest in the world.

“Economic losses mean rising unemployment, compounded by the impact of water scarcity on traditional livelihoods, such as agriculture,” said Pasquale Steduto, FAO Regional Programme Coordinator for the Near East and North Africa and co-lead author of the report.

“The result can be food insecurity and people forced to migrate, along with growing frustrations with governments unable to guarantee basic services, which risks becoming another driver of the region’s widespread instability. The good news is that actions can be taken to prevent water scarcity and instability from becoming a vicious cycle, by focusing on sustainable, efficient and equitable water resources management and service delivery,” noted Steduto.

“Water scarcity always has both a local dimension, as it directly impacts communities, and a regional one, as water resources cross borders,” said Anders Jagerskog, WB senior Water Resources Management Specialist and report co-lead author. “Addressing water scarcity is an opportunity to empower local communities to develop their own local consensus on strategies for addressing the challenge. At the same time, it is a motivation for strengthening regional cooperation in the face of a common problem,” added Jagerskog.

More than half of all surface water in the region are transboundary, and all the countries share at least one aquifer.  The long history of shared water management in the region demonstrates how water offers an opportunity to bring people together to solve complex challenges related to the allocation and delivery of water.

Consultations at the local level coupled with the restoration of water services, can help rebuild the bond of trust between citizens and the government, said the report, emphasising that while the policies are critical for effective water management, they are also vital contributions to long-term stability.

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