The Near East and North Africa: growing demand, limited resources
The Near East/North Africa is the world’s most arid region with the highest levels of water deficit. In 14 countries in the region, water resources amount to less than 500 cubic metres per person per year, compared to the global average of almost 7000 cubic metres.
Extending from Morocco in the west to Afghanistan in the east and from Turkey in the north to Yemen in the south, the Near East/North Africa region covers 5.2 percent of the world’s total area and contains 4.4 percent of its population. Its water resources, however, account for only 1.2 percent of total renewable water resources worldwide.
Water resource levels vary throughout the region. The Maghreb, northeastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula suffer severe water scarcity, while the Middle East has greater water resources, mostly thanks to abundant flows generated in the mountainous areas of Turkey.
Many countries in the region are consuming water at a higher rate than can be replenished naturally. This depletion has been compounded by domestic pollution, which has contributed to a deterioration of usable resources and a general decline in the quality of available water.
As a whole the region withdraws 63 percent of its internal renewable water resources (compared to a total global figure of less than 9 percent), and 88 percent of the water withdrawn is used in agriculture.
Irrigation has always been crucial to agriculture in this water-scarce region, but growing urban and industrial demand for water associated with high population growth means a gradual reduction in the volume of water available to agriculture. The total area under irrigation is about 28 million hectares (10 percent of the world’s total area under irrigation), which means that one third of the arable land is irrigated.
Any increase in agricultural productivity requires an improvement in irrigation technologies and a diversification in production towards crops with high added value. Other components of good water management in this part of the world are the recycling of treated wastewaters and a better control of soil drainage and salinity.
Most countries in the region rely on non-conventional water sources, such as desalinated water or treated wastewater, and on mining non-renewable "fossil water" trapped for millennia in aquifers deep beneath the earth’s surface.
Total use of desalinated water in the Near East and North Africa is estimated at 1 681 million cubic metres a year. Three countries, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, are by far the largest users of desalinated water with 79 percent of the regional total, with Saudi Arabia alone accounting for 42 percent.
An estimated 4 070 million cubic metres of treated wastewater is reused in the region each year. Egypt, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia account for almost 94 percent of all wastewater reused in the region, with Egypt alone accounting for 73 percent.
Salinization affects irrigated agriculture in most arid regions, and the Near East and North Africa are no exception. Around 20 percent of irrigated land is reported to have salinization problems in the nine countries for which such figures are available, with the extent of the problem varying from 3.5 percent in Jordan to over 85 percent in Kuwait.
Appropriate drainage facilities prevent irrigation-induced waterlogging and salinization in dry areas. In combination with adequate irrigation scheduling, drainage allows for the leaching of excess salts from the plant root zone.
Figures on drained areas are available for 13 of the 21 countries in the region. About 29 percent of the irrigated areas in these countries have been provided with drainage facilities, varying from 0.6 percent in Iran to over 88 percent in Egypt.
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