A combination of population growth, lack of pricing policy reforms, an increases in household incomes, droughts and in many cases the absence of adequate water treatment facilities has greatly reduced the availability of water suitable for consumption and agricultural purposes throughout the Arab region. In some cases water use is as much as 1.5 times higher than the natural recharge rate.
According to the World Bank the Middle East and North African regions are by far the driest and most water scarce regions in the world. The global per capita average water availability is close to 7,000 cubic meters per capita, per year. The regional average for the Middle East and North Africa is 1,200 cubic meters per year. Throughout this region, however, the averages ranges between 1,800 cubic meters per person in Iran to less than 200 cubic meters per person in Jordan, West Bank/Gaza, and Yemen. The regional average of available water per capita, per year is expected to plummet to only 500 cubic meters by 2025.
Agriculture in the region accounts for approximately 5 – 20% of the GDP yet consumes up to 90% of the available water supply, in many cases through the use of illegal wells. Yemen for example, is considered to be one of the worlds most water scarce countries; approximately 80% of the ground water supply is consumed by agriculture and in 2009 authorities discovered 494 illegal wells throughout the country.
Direct and indirect affects of climate change is expected to further complicating the problem. Some of the possible affects will be loss of coastal zones, more severe droughts and desertification, and increased groundwater salinity; this could potentially lead to an increase in epidemics and infectious diseases.
Following an assessment of the progress that is being made to combat the situation in the region Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said:
“Climate change is likely to aggravate these trends. Thus it is in the interests of nations across the region to constructively engage in the climate change negotiations as countries look to Mexico and the UN climate convention meeting later in the year,”