London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Arab world is facing an escalating water crisis that demands quick answers in order to avoid major humanitarian consequences, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report warned this week.
The report, entitled Water Governance in the Arab Region: Managing Scarcity and Securing the Future, revealed that out of a total of 22 countries, 15 regional states fall into the “water poor” category, while the situation in seven other states is described as “deteriorating.”
The Middle East and North Africa accounts for 10 percent of the world’s landmass and is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but has less than one percent of global water resources. An average Arab citizen has eight times less access to renewable water than citizens of other parts of the world, the report said.
“Urbanization and population growth are straining already scarce resources. The population of Arab countries, estimated at 360 million, is expected to reach around 634 million by 2050,” the report warned.
“The gap between water supply and demand, estimated at more than 43 cubic kilometers a year in 2009, is expected to reach 127 cubic kilometers a year by 2020–2050,” the report added.
“Water challenges can and must be addressed if the Arab region is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, attain shared prosperity, and reach a future of sustainable human development. Addressing water challenges now can also help strengthen resilience by managing the risk of potential crises that could result from inaction: such as unplanned migration, economic collapse or regional conflict,” Sima Bahous, the assistant administrator of the UNDP, said in the report’s foreward.
“Resolving the crisis will require enduring progress towards political, social, economic and administrative systems that shape the use, development and management of water resources and water delivery in a more effective, strategic, sustainable and equitable direction,” she added.
The UN report, commissioned by the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States, affirms that while water scarcity is the primary reason for the crisis, an absence of good governance has only served to exacerbate the problem. The report confirmed that major challenges include fragmented institutions with unclear and overlapping responsibilities, insufficient funding, centralized decision-making and ineffective enforcement.
The report overview concludes: “To succeed, any long-term vision for water governance requires a solid understanding of the social and cultural changes brought by modernization. As lifestyles evolve with rising education levels, accelerating urbanization and ongoing political and social reform, governance must evolve in tandem. Arab countries must also prepare for the impacts of climate change on water resource planning and augment their adaptive capacity.”