News / Africa

NENA Region Faces Fresh Water Scarcity

This dry river bed is part of an extreme dry zone characterized by long droughts and sand dune encroachments.  (Credit: FAO / Rosetta Messori)
This dry river bed is part of an extreme dry zone characterized by long droughts and sand dune encroachments. (Credit: FAO / Rosetta Messori)

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Joe DeCapua
Water scarcity will be at the top of the agenda next week when officials from the Near East and North Africa meet in Rome. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warns the availability of fresh water in the region could drop by 50 percent by 2050.

The NENA region includes Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria,Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Agriculture ministers and others will meet on the new Regional Water Scarcity Initiative. The goal is to identify strategies and policies to help the region adapt to the freshwater shortfall. Water scarcity could mean food insecurity.

The FAO’s representative in Egypt Pasquale Steduto said, “This region is already known to be very scarce – one of the most scare in the world.  But we are observing that there is an acceleration, and there is an intensification of water scarcity that in the next 40 years will bring to the highest intensity in history of this scarcity.”

The FAO reports in the previous 40 years “per capita freshwater availability in Near East and North African countries plummeted by two-thirds.” Steduto says it’s a complex situation.

“Several things are coming into play from the population [growth], but also climate change. So, we need to be ready to address all the challenges that will come and the region will face in the coming years,” he said.

The U.N. agency estimates that agriculture uses more than 85-percent of the “available rainfed, irrigated and groundwater resources.”

Steduto said, “There is probably enough water for drinking. But for agriculture – for producing food – there is not enough. There was never enough in the past. There will be much less in the future. So one of the major challenges is that agriculture has to be more performing. It has to be more productive.”

In other words, countries must produce more food with the water that’s available. The problem is the Near East and North Africa population is growing faster than the global average -- and along with it the demand for food. 

“Due to the food crisis of 2008 – the volatility of the price and so on – the [countries] have been limited in production. They are the largest importer of food from outside. So they discovered [themselves] very vulnerable to the [imports]. Consequently, most of the agricultural policy in some [countries] tends to increase the production inside --  the internal productivity -- because if you want more food, you need more water,” said Steduto.

The FAO said the Regional Water Scarcity Initiative aims to identify and streamline policies in agriculture water management. It says these are policies “that can significantly contribute to boosting agriculture productivity, improving food security and sustaining water resources.”

The initiative’s pilot project was launched last June in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia and Yemen.

The FAO Regional Conference for the Near East and North Africa will be held in Rome from February 24th through the 28th.

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