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Water withdrawals


Table 4 shows the distribution of water withdrawal by region between the three major sectors of water use: agriculture (irrigation and livestock), communities (domestic water supply) and

industries. Water requirements for navigation, fisheries, mining, environment and recreation, although they may represent a significant part of the water resources, have a very low net consumption rate and are computed in very different ways by the different countries. For these reasons, they are not included in the computation of regional water withdrawal.

TABLE 4 - Sub-regional distribution of water withdrawal

Region Water withdrawal by sector % by region (1993) m/year per inhabitant
agricultural domestic industrial total
km per year % of total km per year % of total km per year % of total km per year
Maghreb 21.1 85 2.5 10 1.2 5 24.8 4.8 363
North-eastern Africa 65.0 88 3.9 5 4.8 7 73.7 14.4 764
Arabian Peninsula 21.2 87 2.6 11 0.5 2 24.3 4.8 659
Middle East 77.7 85 7.7 8 6.0 7 91.4 17.8 907
Central Asia 282.9 95 8.3 3 7.0 2 298.2 58.2 1 302
Total Near East 467.9 91 25.0 5 19.5 4 512.4 100.0 964
World 1990 2 235.6 69 259.2 8 745.2 23 3 240.0   660
N East as % of world 20.9   9.68/td>   2.6   15.8   146

In the Near East, 91% of the water withdrawal is directed towards agriculture. Central Asia has the highest level of water withdrawal for agriculture (95%). This is the sub-region where the largest part of the cultivated area (80%) is irrigated, as compared to 16% in the Maghreb (Table 8). Afghanistan is the country with the largest percentage of water withdrawal directed to agriculture (99%), Malta, with 12%, is the country with the lowest percentage (Table 14). In Malta by far the largest part of the total water withdrawal, over 87%, is directed to the communities, due to the extremely high population density (1 158 inhabitants/km) and the extensive development of tourism in the country, among other reasons. In absolute terms, Central Asia represents over 58% of the total water withdrawal for the Near East, Pakistan alone withdrawing 30%. The water withdrawal per inhabitant varies from 20 m/year in Djibouti (1985) to over 6 000 m/year in Turkmenistan (1989). At sub-regional level, the water withdrawal per inhabitant in Central Asia (1300 m/year) is on average 3.6 times the water withdrawal per inhabitant in the Maghreb (360 m/year; Table 4).

Use of non-conventional sources of water

Water withdrawal, expressed as a percentage of internal renewable water resources is an indicator of the sub-region's or country's capacity to rely on its own, renewable, sources of water. Values above 100% indicate that either renewable water flowing into the subregion or country from outside, or fossil, or nonconventional sources of water are used in addition to the internal renewable water resources (Figure 6 and Table 14). In North-eastern Africa, where the percentage is 171% (Table 5), water transfer plays a crucial role (the Nile flows into the region from upstream countries outside the region), while in the Arabian Peninsula, with a percentage of 317%, the deficit is mainly made good by the use of fossil and non-conventional sources of water.

TABLE 5 - Sub-regional water withdrawal as % of IRWR

Region Water withdrawal
total km/year as % of IRWR
Maghreb 24.8 51
North-eastern Africa 73.7 171
Arabian Peninsula 24.3 317
Middle East 91.4 37
Central Asia 298.2 55
Total 512.4 58

Water withdrawal, expressed as a percentage of actual renewable water resources is a good indicator of the pressure on the renewable water resources. Roughly, it can be considered that pressure on water resources is high when this value is above 25%. In the Near East, only five countries are below the 25% limit (Figure 7 and Table 14). Values above 100% indicate that the country relies at least partly on non-conventional water sources (desalinated water, treated wastewater) or is mining its groundwater resources. In 14 countries, annual water withdrawal is greater than the internal renewable water resources (Figure 6), but five countries benefit from rivers flowing in from upstream countries, resulting in an annual water withdrawal that is lower than the actual renewable water resources (Table 6). This is the case for Egypt (the Nile river), Turkmenistan (the Amu Darya), Mauritania (the Senegal river), Syria and Iraq (the Euphrates and Tigris rivers). The remaining nine countries are those of the Arabian Peninsula (except Yemen), Libya, Jordan and Malta. In these countries, water withdrawal is greater than the total actual renewable water resources and they have to rely on non-conventional water sources and on fossil water to satisfy water demand (Table 15).

TABLE 6 - Countries with total water withdrawal greater than the internal renewable water resources and contribution of other sources of water to total water withdrawal

Country Water withdrawal Use of non-conventional water and groundwater depletion as % of total water withdrawal
in % of IRWR in % of ARWR non- conventional groundwater depletion total
Countries with water withdrawal above IRWR, but below ARWR:
Egypt 3 061 95 0.4 2.5 2.9
Turkmenistan 2 280 32 - - -
Mauritania 408 14 0.1 - -
Syria 206 55 2.6 12.6 15.2
Iraq 122 57 - - -
Countries with water withdrawal above IRWR and above ARWR:
Kuwait IRWR negligible 2 690 52.6 46.5 * 91.1
Bahrain 5 981 206 21.8 40.2 62.0
United Arab Emirates 1 405 1405 23.4 70.9 94.3
Libya 767 767 3.7 90.0 * 93.7
Saudi Arabia 709 709 5.5 79.7 85.2
Qatar 559 538 43.5 14.9 58.4
Malta 359 359 59.2 32.2 91.4
Jordan 145 112 5.3 17.5 22.8

* Figures have been estimated

It can be seen in Table 14 that Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan have high rates of use of their internal renewable water resources (between 48 and 63%), but benefit from important internal resources as well as from incoming water. Tunisia and Yemen also use most of their internal renewable water resources (87 and 72% respectively), but they cannot benefit from important internal resources or incoming water. It is likely that these two countries will have to rely increasingly on alternative sources of water in the future.

TABLE 7 - Countries using the largest quantities of desalinated water and treated wastewater

Country Use of non conventional sources of water
desalinated water
106 m/yr
as % of total withdr. as % of withdrawal of country treated wastewater
106 m/yr
as % of total withdr. as % of withdrawal of country total non- conventional 106 m/yr as % of total withdr. as % of withdrawal of country
Saudi Arabia 714 41.3 4.20 217 18.1 1.28 931 31.8 5.48
United Arab Emirates 385 22.3 18.26 108 9.0 5.12 493 16.8 23.38
Kuwait 231 13.4 42.94 52 4.3 9.67 283 9.7 52.61
Syria - - - 370 30.8 2.57 370 12.6 2.57
Egypt 25 1.5 0.05 200 16.7 0.36 225 7.7 0.41
Other 24 countries 372 21.5 0.09 253 21.1 0.06 625 21.4 0.15
Total Near East 727 100.0 0.34 1 200 100.0 0.23 2 927 100.0 0.57

The total use of desalinated water in the Near East is estimated at 1727 million m/year. In absolute terms, three countries, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, are by far the largest users of desalinated water with 77% of the total for the region, with Saudi Arabia alone accounting for 41% (Table 7).

The total quantity of reused treated wastewater in the Near East is estimated at 1200 million m/year. Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the largest users of treated wastewater in absolute terms, accounting for almost 66% of all the wastewater reused in the region, with Syria alone accounting for almost 31%.

Considering the use of both desalinated water and treated wastewater, the above five countries account for almost 80% of the total for the Near East (Table 7).

The Arabian Peninsula is the sub-region using the largest quantity of desalinated water and treated wastewater: 1 953 million m/year or almost 67% of the total in the Near East Region. It is also the sub-region where the contribution of non-conventional sources of water to total water withdrawal is greatest (8%). Central Asia uses the smallest quantity of desalinated water and treated wastewater: 12 million m/year or only 0.4% of the total in the Near East Region. The contribution of non-conventional sources of water to water withdrawal is also lowest in this sub-region (0.004%). In two countries (Malta and Kuwait), the contribution of non-conventional sources of water to total water withdrawal is over 50%. In three countries (Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) it is between 20 and 50% (Figure 8 and Table 15). For the remaining countries it is less than 10%.


Irrigation potential


Methods used by countries to estimate their irrigation potential vary, with significant influence on the results. In computing water available for irrigation, some countries only consider renewable water resources, while others, especially arid countries, include the availability of fossil or nonconventional water. For this reason, comparison between countries should be made with caution. In the case of international rivers, calculation by the individual countries of their irrigation potential in the same river basin may lead to double counting of part of the shared water resources. It is thus not possible to systematically add up country figures to obtain regional estimates of irrigation potential.

Already at present, as shown above, most countries of the Near East have to rely on fossil and non-conventional water. This means that, for those countries, any extension of existing irrigation would require more fossil or non-conventional water if no improvement in water use efficiency is made.

By far the largest irrigation potential is concentrated in Pakistan and Iran and is based only on renewable water resources (Table 11). One country, Cyprus, estimates that its irrigation potential is lower than the area equipped for irrigation at present, even including the future availability of nonconventional water (Table 16). The reason for this is the increasing demand for water for domestic and industrial purposes and the groundwater depletion already taking place.

Arid countries, where no agriculture is possible without irrigation, tend to consider the cultivable area as the irrigation potential area, for the development of which they would certainly have to rely on the use of fossil groundwater and non-conventional sources of water. In the United Arab Emirates, where the irrigated area is reported to be equal to the irrigation potential (which is in turn equal to the cultivable area), the land is usually developed by transporting suitable soil to areas where water (renewable, fossil or non-conventional) is available. For this reason the terms 'cultivable land' and 'irrigation potential' are somewhat relative and subject to changes over time.


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