The Middle East and ‘Day Zero’ on water

By 2050, which is not that far away, regional population growth will reduce water availability per capita by half.
Sunday 08/04/2018
Workers look at the pumping station of the Disi water Project in Amman. (AFP)
Harnessing resources. Workers look at the pumping station of the Disi water Project in Amman. (AFP)

As the Middle East and North Africa region prepares for the summer, regular as the changing of seasons comes the perennial worry — water shortages.

The region is the most water-scarce in the world and has long had to reckon with a shortage and portents of a permanent crisis. Already, there is World Bank data showing that more than half the people in the MENA region live under conditions of “water stress” — that is, demand outstrips supply. By 2050, which is not that far away, regional population growth will reduce water availability per capita by half.

Add to this the drying effects of climate change and continuing mismanagement of so precious a resource as water and the stage seems set for an intensely thirsty spell with no end in sight.

A recent report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlighted the links between water scarcity and human migration. The FAO report presented research, done with the Global Water Partnership and Oregon State University, that highlighted the precarious situation of the water-stressed, warming Middle East and the central Sahel.

By extrapolation, it raised the truly terrible prospect of a mass exodus from the region. This would mean the fragmentation of long-settled communities and possible conflict as the MENA’s thirsty, climate-change refugees move into water-rich countries.

Governments in the MENA region need to look at the example of South Africa. Drought-hit Cape Town has been trying desperately to avoid “Day Zero,” the point when the water level at dams falls below the level that could supply taps. Residents would have to queue at distribution points to receive a daily quota of 25 litres per person. Stringent rationing has pushed back Cape Town’s “Day Zero” into next year but the impending water crisis is still on Cape Town’s mind, as it should be for the MENA region, too.

The hope is the Arab League summit will prioritise water — its management and conservation.

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