Effective management of water resources in the Arab world i key to future growth and stability in the region, according to a new joint report from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Bank.
The report says that water scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region can either be a destabilizing factor or a motive that binds communities together, with the difference determined by the policies adopted to cope with the growing challenge.
Water Management in Fragile Systems: Building Resilience to Shocks and Protracted Crises in The Middle East and North Africa outlines the risks associated with region’s water challenges and the policies needed to address them.
The report is calling for a shift away from current policies focused on increasing supplies toward long-term management of water resources. Ineffective policies have left both the region’s people and communities exposed to the impacts of water scarcity, growing ever more severe as a result of rising demand and climate change.
More than 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%.
If left unchecked, climate-related water scarcity is expected to cause economic losses estimated at 6 to 14% of Gross Domestic Product by 2050, the highest in the world, the report warns.
Pasquale Steduto, FAO Regional Programme Coordinator for the Near East and North Africa and co-lead author of the report commented:
“Economic losses mean rising unemployment, compounded by the impact of water scarcity on traditional livelihoods such as agriculture. The result can be food insecurity and people forced to migrate, along with growing frustrations with governments unable to guarantee basic services, which risks becoming another driver of the region’s widespread instability.”
“The good news is that actions can be taken to prevent water scarcity and instability from becoming a vicious cycle, by focusing on sustainable, efficient and equitable water resources management and service delivery.”
The report says a balanced approach will be needed that addresses the short-term impacts of water scarcity while investing in longer-term solutions, including the adoption of new technologies, as the basis for sustainable growth.
In Egypt, 10 percent of agricultural water is recycled drainage water, while Morocco plans to install more than 100,000 solar pumps for irrigation by 2020.
“Water scarcity always has both a local dimension, as it directly impacts communities, and a regional one, as water resources cross borders,” said Anders Jagerskog, World Bank Senior Water Resources Management Specialist and report co-lead author. “Addressing water scarcity is an opportunity to empower local communities to develop their own local consensus on strategies for addressing the challenge. At the same time, it is a motivation for strengthening regional cooperation in the face of a common problem.”
More than half of all surface water in the region are transboundary, and all the countries share at least one aquifer. Regional partnerships to manage shared resources is a step toward greater regional integration. The report emphasizes that while the policies are critical for effective water management, they are also vital contributions to long-term stability.
The joint World Bank-FAO report says that institutional failures to address water-related challenges can act as risk multipliers, compounding existing situations of fragility. However, improving water management can contribute to building resilience in the face of protracted crises.
Key findings contained in the report include:
The Middle East and North Africa water challenges are intensifying. Rising demands, climate change, inter-sectoral competition and urbanization are exacerbating the region’s age-old water scarcity challenges. In some countries of the region, poorly adapted governance structures and distorted incentives mean that these challenges are largely left unaddressed and actions and policies are not sustained. Distortions in policies and institutions have created a system that does not recognize the value of water.
The scale of the challenge is unprecedented. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been at the forefront in developing practices and institutions to manage scarce water resources in the context of a largely arid and highly variable climate. However, the scale of the current water crisis is unprecedented and requires coordinated responses across institutions in many locations.
Failure to find solutions to water challenges aggravates fragility. Water crises strain the ability of individuals and societies to maintain livelihood security and political stability.
Fragility makes it harder to address water issues. Fragile situations – characterized by weak and ineffective institutions, histories of conflict, unsustainable livelihood systems and decaying or damaged infrastructure – compound challenges to sustainable water management.
The compounding nature of water and fragility gives rise to a vicious cycle. In this vicious cycle, fragility makes it more difficult for water management to be effective, in turn amplifying the negative political, social and environmental consequences of water-related challenges. At the same time, as water issues are left unaddressed, their impact increases, eroding government legitimacy and destabilizing fragile contexts.
The way ahead – move to balanced long-term approach
Addressing water and fragility challenges requires a move from a focus primarily on immediate, reactive responses to a balanced long-term approach, the report says. This approach would build growth-oriented resilience to shocks and protracted crises focused on sustainable, efficient and equitable water resources management and service delivery. Other recommendations include:
Use decentralized, participatory approaches. Because of the essentially local nature of water and agriculture problems, community consultation, participation and ownership are vital, as is working with whatever local government may exist on the ground.
Invest in innovative policies and practices. Research, technology development and transfer can provide further improvements to water efficiency and crop productivity in the region.
Working together within countries and across boundaries is essential. Given the scale and commonality of the challenges, the relatively small size of many countries in the region and the transboundary nature of important issues like climate change and shared water resources, collective action and partnerships are essential.
Building resilience: water management to promote peace and stability
Building resilience in water and agricultural systems in fragile and conflict-affected situations requires both short-term and long-term planning.
Water scarcity is pervasive throughout the Middle East and North Africa and getting worse. Even before the recent political turmoil, the report says several countries in the Middle East and North Africa were struggling to manage their water resources sustainably and to expand water supply and sanitation services efficiently. Conflict combined with weak institutional performance has contributed to an intensification of water challenges and a deterioration of water services.
While addressing short-term livelihood and food security needs is essential in the short-term, sustainable water management is necessary for the long-term, according to the report.
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