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1. Introduction

The Near East region is facing a huge challenge with around 65% of its population being food insecure. Population of the 30 countries exceeds 652 million and is expected to increase to 1.5 billion over the next 30 years. The region, which comprises South-West Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, is characterized by an acute and unequalled deficit in water resources, to the extent that 16 countries have less than the scarcity threshold of 500 m3/capita/yr. This alarming situation is aggravated by the dry climate which prevails in the region and which makes the stability of the agricultural production and thus of food security dependent on irrigation. When adding the fact that the economy of countries of the region, excluding the major oil producers, is based primarily on agriculture, the importance of water resources for economic and social development of the region becomes more evident. The paramount role of water in food security for the coming years is indicated in a report recently published by FAO, stating that 70 to 80 percent of the increase in food demand by the year 2030 would need to be provided by irrigated agriculture, whereas only the remaining 20 to 30 percent will be provided from the expansion of rainfed agriculture.

The demand for water does not stop and continues to grow with the increase of population and the improvement of the standards of living. To overcome this situation, countries of the region resorted, during the last decades, to a massive mobilization of their water resources, which required big investment efforts. At present, not only almost all renewable resources are already put in use, but also many countries have resorted to their non-renewable resources and to the use of non-conventional resources such as treated waste and low-quality water.

Thus, the option of continuing to increase the usable quantities of water is no longer possible in most countries, as only limited quantities remain available for mobilization and given the prohibitive costs required for their mobilization. At the same time, the share of resources allocated to agriculture, now being close to or even exceeding 90 percent, is subject to decrease because of competition and the priority given to other sectors. Therefore, countries are shifting from supply driven management to demand management policy.

In addition to the efforts exerted by individual countries, the region has an important potential for addressing the complex and multiple issues related to water shortage, through regional cooperation. This will spur agriculture production and reduce food insecurity.

Conscious of these issues, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have reached an agreement for collaborating to address food insecurity in the region. The process which came a result of consultations between the two organizations and to which other financing institutions will be invited to join, will be launched by a joint High Level Technical Workshop on "Regional Programmes for Food Security: Towards Sustainable Food Security and Poverty Alleviation", held in October 2003 in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The event will be attended by senior management and technical advisors of the Regional Economic Organizations (REO) and FAO as well as representatives from national, regional and international financing institutions.

The Workshop aims at spearheading the process of formulation and implementation of Regional Programmes for Food Security; promoting agricultural trade and effective measures at regional and sub-regional levels to alleviate poverty in rural areas; and strengthening the dialogue among REOs and between them and the other technical and financing agencies.

This paper gives an overview of the situation of water resources development and management issues in the region and proposes recommendations to address future challenges through regional cooperation.

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