Water in Crisis - Middle East

Alexandra Barton, Guest Writer

The Middle East has experienced many environmental concerns lately. Water resources are becoming increasingly scarce, especially for the millions there who already lack access to sanitary water. Some of these countries, including Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, are facing unique problems that require global, immediate attention. Beside their neighboring location , one shared factor of all these countries is their lack of water resources and poor water management.

The Middle East has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, which produces most of the area's wealth. Even so, the region's climate and environment make living harsh. The Middle East requires water resources and suitable land for agriculture. Much of the land that is available for producing food is destroyed by increasing desertification.

Desertification is a sweeping environmental problem, with vast effects in countries such as Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran. Universal causes for a spread of arid environment are unsustainable agriculture practices and overgrazing. Agriculture uses 85 percent of water in this region. It is common to misuse land by heavy irrigation in the Middle East. In the area droughts are more frequent, and contribute to the changing landscape. The overuse of water in agriculture is affecting the countries' already undersized water resources.

Jordan, located in the Syrian Desert, and Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, both endure severe water scarcity in the Middle East. For example, Jordan's average freshwater withdrawal is less than ten percent of Portugal's average, despite being the same size. The cost of water in Jordan increased thirty percent in ten years, due to a quick shortage of groundwater. Yemen has one of the highest worldwide rates of malnutrition; over thirty percent of its population does not meet their food needs . In recent years, Yemen has not been able to produce enough food to sustain its populations. Water scarcity has damaged the standard of living for inhabitants of the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates, located on the Arabian Peninsula, is famous for its luxurious cities filled with lavish resorts, shopping, and attractions. The livelihoods of these extravagant emirates might create the assumption that water scarcity is not a problem for these rich states. In reality, however, the UAE is confronted with a serious depletion of their available water resources. A report from the Emirates Industrial Bank in 2005 said that the UAE had the highest per capita consumption of water in the world. Additionally, for the past thirty years the water table of this region has dropped about one meter per year. At this current rate, the UAE will deplete its natural freshwater resources in about fifty years. Even with a large amount of desalination plants to reduce water deficiency, the UAE needs to adjust its water use habits before its energy consumption doubles in 2020.

Desalination plants are an overuse of water resources in the Middle East. Seventy percent of desalination plants in the world are located in this area, found mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. While the plants produce water needed for the arid region, they can manufacture problems for health and the environment. The seawater used most in desalination plants has high amounts of boron and bromide, and the process can also remove essential minerals like calcium. Also, the concentrated salt is often dumped back into oceans where the increased salinity affects the ocean's environment. The plants harm local wildlife and add pollutants to the region's climate. In addition, desalination is the most energy-costing water resource. The Pacific Institute explains that the high use of energy results in raised energy prices and higher prices on water produced, hurting the consumer. The water produced can be beneficial towards substituting any lack of freshwater, but these areas have tendencies towards overuse of their natural resources. Concerns with the large amount of desalination plants in the Middle East focus on the improper dependency they will cause, instead of encouraging alternate forms of water and energy and conserving freshwater.

The Middle East has numerous struggles with its current water resources, and the region needs more than one solution to generate an optimistic environmental position for the future.