The key question for the Near East countries is whether the current policy frameworks for water and land use will lead to the achievement of the region's food security objectives. Food security is a priority issue. It will be achieved by enhancing economic growth, sustainability in land and water resources management on which agriculture production depend, and managing population growth to reduce the pressures on limited resources. The current policy frameworks in the sub-region fail to promote more efficient measures for managing scarce water and agricultural land in a sustainable manner. The main issues facing water sector that affect agriculture and food security pertain to its growing scarcity, its deteriorating quality, the rising cost of irrigation development, and the low efficiency of irrigation (both productive and allocative). Within the food security context, there is an urgent need to assess how the growing food deficit can be met under water constraints and what role virtual water can play in narrowing the gap.
220.127.116.11 Renewable fresh water resources
Water resources in the region are limited and vary from year to year, with an average representing less than 2.2% of the total water resources of the world. This share becomes only around 1.2% when considering internal renewable water resources, as the rest flows from outside the region. The average annual precipitation is only 3.5% of the world total freshwater (110000 km³) which falls through the hydrologic cycle every year. Water resources are available for about 9.8% of the world population living on 13.8% of the total area of the world. Annex 1 shows the available water resources and their use in the countries of the region.
18.104.22.168 Non renewable groundwater resources (Fossil Water)
Groundwater continues to be one of the dominant sources of bulk water in the Near East region. Its use has been essential for meeting water demands and household food security. In addition to being a regular source of water under normal climatic conditions, it plays a critical role in food supply and livelihood security during dry periods, in view of its ability to act as a buffer against drought and precipitation variability. Increased access to groundwater reduces risk substantially enabling many formers make out of poverty. From the environment perspective, groundwater plays another role of no less importance.
Shortages of groundwater in areas of excessive abstraction and groundwater pollution by various sources are now common in the region and emphasize the importance of correct estimates and proper development, regulation and protection of supplies, in order to ensure the continued availability of this key natural resource. However, the management of groundwater has not always met the required standards and there are clear indications of major problems with over-abstraction and its consequences in many parts of the region.
The available information clearly indicates that groundwater over-abstraction and quality degradation are among the major emerging problems in the Near East. In several parts of the region, over-abstraction is severe and water levels are declining at rates that range from 1-3 meters per year. Water level changes and fluctuations are the most important factors influencing access to groundwater for the environment and human uses. Even small drops in groundwater level can have substantial impacts on surface water availability because of the close link between surface and groundwater. In the Near East, the number of springs that have dried out or whose discharge has been reduced as a result of groundwater level decline has not been estimated; but the impact is evident in many areas where populations have had to resort to alternative sources.
The extent of groundwater depletion in the region and its consequences are impacting many rural and urban populations but are not well known. Most groundwater monitoring networks are relatively new and collect data only on limited ranges of area related to quality parameters. Detailed data and information particularly on quality is often available on small locations and for specific purposes. In addition, groundwater level variations can be misleading as aquifers take tens or even hundreds of years to reach equilibrium after they are disturbed. As a result, the available data on groundwater in the region is limited and does not allow a comprehensive and accurate regional assessment of the groundwater resource status. Point data collected for groundwater levels and quality are merely samples and are not naturally integrated as the point measurements for surface water. This difficulty which is inherent to groundwater assessment precludes an accurate and comprehensive assessment despite the levels of detailed groundwater studies in some countries like the Arabian Peninsula, Cyprus and to some extent North African countries. Consequently, continuing efforts are needed in order to assess groundwater availability and use at the national and regional scales, with a focus on trans-boundary aquifers whose characterization requires joint efforts and close coordination between the concerned countries.
The mining of non-renewable water resources could come to an end when the policy for their use includes a long-term strategy for water exploitation, as well as the identification of replacement solutions. These alternatives of replacement solutions should be examined simultaneously with the main issue, namely the choice of a long-term strategy. It has been proposed to include the replacement solution among the criteria that should be considered when a choice is made of a programme for water exploitation.
In several counties, groundwater resources have been over-exploited because there is no other alternative. The question that arises here is one of choosing between maintaining the present trend or modifying it by increasing or reducing production levels. The use of non-renewable groundwater resources could stimulate economic development and may be an effective means for promoting more economic forms of water used; although the cost of water production will increase. Therefore, water resources system should be planned under restrictions imposed by nature and by users.
Several countries have been developing water resources projects depending on utilization of fossil ground water. For instance, Libya is working to utilize 2 bcm per year for irrigation and domestic uses. It is executing the Greater Manmade River Project in 5 phases to convey water from the desert in large diameter concrete pipes (Diameter>5m) and distribute it for irrigation and domestic uses. With a total pipeline length of 4000 km, the project total cost is estimated at US$ 25 billion. The United Arab Emirates in 1995 was using 1.615 bcm of groundwater resources mostly from fossil groundwater. Saudi Arabia is pumping more than 700 mcm per year of fossil groundwater and using it in irrigation mainly to produce wheat crop irrigated with sprinklers and central pivot systems. At this rate, water in these aquifers will be depleted in 30 years. Jordan is withdrawing 75 mcm per year from fossil groundwater for agriculture and domestic uses. Plans are ready to convey 100 mcm per year through a distance of 320 km to cover domestic needs in Amman. Life span of these aquifers is estimated to be around 100 years. Jordan is looking for international investors to execute this project on BOT basis.
22.214.171.124 Non conventional water resources
Countries with limited quantities of surface and ground-water resources, not sufficient to meet the water requirements of their socio-economic development plans and population growth, have invested in augmenting their supplies through desalination of seawater. This is mainly the case of the oil producing countries which adopted the process to produce water for domestic and industrial uses and to spare most of the available conventional water resources for agriculture. Low energy cost and the availability of foreign currency from oil exports allowed these countries to build large-scale desalination plants.
The six Gulf States have been investing billions of dollars to produce desalinated water from the sea through plants located along their costs. The total production of desalinated water in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates is around 1507 mcm per year. The Gulf countries produce more than 40% of the total desalinated water from the sea in the world. In Saudi Arabia, the largest producer in the world, desalinated water is conveyed in pipelines with a total length of 3722 km. Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Malta produce 64, 70, 25 and 31 mcm per year of desalinated water, respectively. Other countries also produce desalinated water, but in limited amounts.
Wastewater in most countries of the Near East Region (NER) is being more and more recognized as of vital importance to be treated and made safe for reuse. It contributes considerably to the water budget in several countries, particularly those suffering from water scarcity. Treated wastewater is used directly in irrigation of farms or landscape green areas. Limited indirect use includes recharge of groundwater aquifers to control over-draft and salt intrusion in coastal areas. A large share of wastewater is still not treated and part of it is used in an uncontrolled manner, including for the production of uncooked food crops the consumption of which poses health risks. Expansion of treated wastewater reuse in the region is linked to a number of issues and constraints. The high cost of treatment and management of reclaimed wastewater is one of the major limitations facing the week economy of most countries. Unclear polices, institutional conflicts and lack of regulatory frameworks constitute other important constraints that hinder implementation and proper operation of wastewater reuse projects. The manpower capacity is at varying levels between countries, but additional training and capacity strengthening are generally needed throughout the region.
The total usage of treated wastewater in the years 1995 and 2000 was estimated at 1.2 and nearly 3 bcm per year, respectively. The untreated volume amounted to between 2 and 50 times this amount, with a mean of 25 bcm per year. According to FAO estimates, the total volume of domestic wastewater will reach more than 40 bcm per year, by the year 2015.
The Gulf Countries use domestic wastewater, treated to the secondary or tertiary level, for irrigating landscape and crops such as date palm. Jordan blends treated wastewater with fresh water and uses it of the irrigation of vegetables and fruit trees. In Cyprus, most of the wastewater produced is treated and reused for irrigation. Several other countries have adopted the use of treated wastewater in agriculture during the past years. These include Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Syria and Yemen.
The demand for water in the Near East continues to grow due to population growth and the push for economic development. Population growth at high rates (more than 3% for certain countries) has steadily reduced the per capita share of water resources over the past half century, offsetting socio-economic plans and putting high pressure on the limited water resources. Examples of water per capita decrease in some countries are in indicated in table 1.
Table 1: Evolution of per capita water resources in selected countries (m3/year)
At the beginning of this decade, the countries of the region could be grouped according to per capita share of fresh renewable water resources as indicated in table 2.
Table 2: Per capita water resources in the year 2000
|Freshwater (m3 per capita per year)||Countries|
|Acute Scarcity: < 500||16 countries|
|Scarcity: 500-1000||Egypt, Cyprus, Morocco|
|Stress: 1000-1700||Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon|
|Abundance: 170||Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan|
From the above figures and discussion, it is evident that the available water resources are insufficient to meet the expected demand in the coming years. Although continuing to match population growth is possible, the water constraint will bind increasingly tightly in the years ahead. The water situation in the region is a serious concern equally for economic growth and food security. Renewable water resources per capita fell from 3,500 m3 in 1960 to 1,500 m3 in 1990. Population growth ensures that these numbers will fall further in the coming decades; the World Bank projects that there will be only 667 m3 per person by 2025, compared with a world-wide average of 4,780 m3 per person (World Bank, 1994). In ten countries, plus Gaza, water use already exceeds 100% of renewable water supplies; whereas water quality problems plague another ten countries.
The era of meeting growing demand by developing new supplies has only limited potential and focus is increasingly being placed on demand management. In the long-term, desalination provides an opportunity to enhance water supply for drinking purposes in the countries that are endowed with cheap energy. However this option is not cost effective for food production in view of the high cost of desalination. Its generalization to the region is constrained as long as the low value of water for traditional supplies does not represent its scarcity value and the cost of backstop technology remains high. The most viable option that can complement supply enhancement efforts is through the adoption of demand management policies.
Food production, demand, trade and cost will be affected by this declining water availability in the region. The international costs of strategic food security crops are highly sensitive to variations in water supply, which directly or indirectly depend on rainfall. Under the prevailing arid and semi-arid climatic conditions in the Near East region, reliable food production depends heavily on water resources.
The water quantity issue with regard to food security has to be addressed considering the natural resources base production capacity and the region's capacities to import, meaning "access to virtual water". Energy rich countries might not face any problems, but it raises concerns for middle income and least developed countries of the region.
Water quantity problems are exacerbated by water quality ones. These are becoming increasingly serious as the region tries to meet its water demands through water recycling. While water has been instrumental in enhancing food security in the region, its mismanagement has resulted in overuse and the resulting quality degradation. The ways in which freshwater resources are used, particularly for agriculture, leave much to be desired. In some places, these resources are overused in the sense that use exceeds renewable supply rates, and so cannot be indefinitely continued; elsewhere, wasteful overuse in one area deprives users in other areas, leading to falls in agricultural production, loss of jobs and of food security.
Large areas in many countries of the region have been under heavy rain and intensive irrigation. Saline water tables have risen in the soil profile causing salinity of the surface soil layers and water logging in the deep ones. Several countries have been facing salinity problems on large areas of their irrigable soils. Drainage surface and covered networks have been constructed to reclaim the soil by leveling the land, leaching and carrying away drainage water. Egypt drained 90% of its irrigated area and Pakistan puts 5.10 million ha under drainage. Iraq invested heavily on drainage and constructed the Third River to be the main collector drain with the capacity of 210 m³/sec. The length of the watercourse is 565 km and will move saline drainage water from 1.5 million ha in the middle and south of Iraq and carry it to Shat El-Arab.
Water logging and salinity are among the principal causes of decreasing production on many irrigated projects. In irrigated agriculture, artificial drainage is essential under most conditions; but it is vital to minimize drainage requirements and costs by reducing the sources of excess water through improved system design and on-farm water practices.
In Iran for example, intensification of agricultural and industrial activities has led to the contamination of surface and ground water by fertilizers and other chemicals, a rapid rise in the level of groundwater, which leads to waterlogging and soil salinity, and high loads of the most common water pollutant (organic matter from domestic sewage, municipal waste and agro-industrial effluents). Similar situations exist in many other countries of the region.
Sewage water is a source of contamination of both surface and ground water resources. It is produced mostly from large cities in urban areas. Sewage water is treated and released for agricultural use in many countries. It is increasing and expected to be used in larger areas in the region. Industrial liquid waste is hazardous and contaminates large quantities of freshwater with small volumes produced from industrial plants. The industrial plants should be built far from watercourses and groundwater basins and should not e allowed to dump their wastes in hazardous areas without prior treatment.
Pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers, which are used intensively in agriculture, might cause serious contamination to freshwater resources, and pose a threat to both human health and the environment.
Deterioration of groundwater can be caused by the depletion of its level or through contamination, or both. Such forms of deterioration can be direct or indirect, and they stem from inaccurate assessment, inadequate planning, and the lack of appropriate management. Table 3 indicates groundwater mining as percent of the total water withdrawal in selected countries of the region.
Yemen is facing this problem in the Sana'a Basin, which is the main supplier of drinking water to the capital city, as well as in other aquifers. Rapid drop in some aquifers reaching 2-6 m/year is observed in these aquifers. In Pakistan drop in some aquifers reached 0.3 m/year. Salinity is threatening many aquifers in United Arab Emirates. Depletion is a major threat to renewable ground water basins in Jordan and other countries.
Table 3: Groundwater mining in selected Near East countries
|Country||mining as % of total water withdrawal|
|United Arab Emirates||70.9|
|Libyan Arab Jamahirija||90.0|
Source: FAO. www.fao.org aglw
The present level of water pollution warrants that steps be taken through more serious pollution control legislation and economic incentives to safeguard the available water resources. There is compelling evidence that at least 20 to 30 percent of the water currently used in households, agriculture, mines, and industry can be saved by adopting appropriate regulatory and policy instruments. The twin benefits of suitable water and reduced demand can be obtained if water recycling and reuse of treated and untreated water is encouraged wherever practical and enacted as law.
The water quality issue is of both local, or national, and regional dimensions. Water pollution and quality problems encompass borders and often threaten more than one country at a time. This issue is valid for both surface water and groundwater and can be addressed appropriately only if national efforts are supplemented with regional cooperation. Much can be leant through the exchange of experience between countries of the region.
In the Near East, the area favorable for agriculture represents only about 8-10% of the total and agricultural production remains highly tributary of irrigation. The latter covers 47.7 million, according to FAO, and uses 90% of the total water withdrawals or 60% of the potential withdrawals. Central Asia represents 59% of the total irrigated area, although it covers only 21% of the total area of the region. Pakistan alone, covering a little over 4% of the region, accounts for 33% of the irrigated area. When adding Iran Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, 72% of the areas under irrigation are controlled by these five countries, which cover only 25% of the Near East (table 4). Irrigation contributes more than 50% of the total agricultural production in the region.
Table 4: Sub-regional distribution of water management methods1
|Irrigation||Flood recession cropping||Water managed area|
|Full or partial control||Spate irrigation||Equipped wetl./ivb||Total irrigation||As % of total||% of cultivated|
|Total Near East||45618122||2002361||115164||47735647||100||48||1304552||49040199|
NE as % of world
Source: FAO. www.fao.org aglw
These achievements were the result of important investments during the past fifty years for the development of small, medium, and large-scale irrigation schemes. In most of the countries irrigation schemes have been executed, operated, and maintained by governments. The huge investments were allocated to irrigation in view of the important role this sector plays in fulfilling the following main objectives:
The importance of the area under different types of irrigation within the total agricultural land varies considerably both between sub-regions and between countries. In the Arabian Peninsula as a whole, 80% of the cultivated area is under irrigation. In all of the seven countries within this sub-region, except Yemen, the whole cultivated area is under irrigation. In Central Asia, 75% of the cultivated area is equipped for irrigation, playing a crucial role in the production of cereals (especially wheat) and cotton. The part of the cultivated areas under irrigation is less important for the other regions as a whole, but is crucial for some countries within the regions, like Egypt and Djibouti, where the whole cultivated area is under irrigation, and Iraq, where almost 95% of the cultivated area is under irrigation. On the contrary, less than 20% of the cultivated area is under irrigation in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Malta.
Full or partial control irrigation is by far the most widespread type of water management, covering 93% of the area (Table 4). In relative terms, spate irrigation is most important in the Maghreb with 11% of the water-managed area. In absolute terms however, spate irrigation occupies by far the largest area in Pakistan, accounting for 70% of the spate irrigation in the whole Near East and 8% of the water managed area in Pakistan. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (ivb) are reported only in Turkey and flood recession cropping is practiced in Pakistan (with over 94% of the flood recession cropping area of the whole region), in Mauritania (5%) and Iran (< 1%).
In four of the 22 countries for which information is available (Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Somalia and Syria), over 80% of the irrigation potential is at present already equipped for irrigation.
A review of water policies for selected countries is provided below. In Morocco, the government is pushing ahead with its policy of expanding irrigated areas through an ambitious programme of dam constructions. Core objectives of the programme include an expansion of agricultural exports through irrigation and an increase in power supplies. By the end of 2001, the area under perennial irrigation developed by the State reached 1,018,770 ha, of which 67% is large-scale irrigation and 33% is small and medium-scale irrigation. Surface irrigation is predominant and relates to 87% of the area developed by the State. In large-scale irrigation, nine large schemes have been set up in the main water basins of the country, each of which is run by a Regional Office for Agricultural Development. In addition to the area developed by the State, the private sector covers an area of over 185,000 ha. Improving on-farm water management to reduce wastage is also part of the irrigation programme.
Algeria, where irrigation covers 7% of arable lands, is also pursuing a programme of water mobilization through the construction of dams. Works have resumed on a major dam project that was abandoned in 1993.
In Tunisia, the national water policy foresees the construction of a number of large and smaller dams, but the potential for further expansion of irrigated areas is limited. During the 1960s and 1970s, significant efforts were exerted to create public irrigated areas throughout Tunisia. This approach aimed at developing an intensive agriculture of high economic value capable of satisfying the food needs of the country and achieving export surplus, while mitigating the negative impact of drought which renders rain-fed agriculture a risky and fragile enterprise. Water savings in agriculture, through a variety of means (review of policies and regulations, incentives, water pricing and creation of water users associations) constitutes the focus of irrigation improvement in Tunisia.
In Jordan, the Jordan Valley Authority is focusing its efforts on water conservation and improved irrigated efficiency to increase water availability to agriculture. Examples derived from water use can be found in Syria, where the unrestricted drilling of wells in the past affected the underground water levels in some areas, and in Yemen where the water table is falling rapidly. In Saudi Arabia, cereal production has been based on non-renewable underground aquifers. In recent years, the government has been deliberately attempting to shift production away from water-intensive cereal production to more water efficient types of horticulture production.
By far the most ambitious water management scheme in the region is, however, Egypt's South Valley project, which was announced in 1997. The scheme aims at expanding both agricultural and populated areas of the country by diverting water from Lake Nasser. When completed, the scheme is planned to be able to settle 6 million people and irrigate an area of nearly 0.5 million ha, an addition of almost 30 percent to the present cultivated area. The Government announced that the total cost of the scheme up until 2017 would be 300 billion Egyptian pounds ($88 billion). The first phase of the project involves the construction of an irrigated canal 67 Km in length to reclaim an area of 34,000 ha, to be extended subsequently.
In Iran, where 36 percent of arable land is cultivated, water constraints are the main limiting factor to both expansion of the cultivated areas and yield improvement. Of the total arable land, about one-third is irrigated essentially under traditional systems. Important efforts are currently underway to promote the use of pressurized irrigation systems; at present, 250,000 ha are equipped with drip and micro irrigation. The goal is to increase the area by 100,000 ha annually, in order to reach 1 million ha. For improving irrigation management, efforts are focused on the empowerment of water users associations and their involvement in resource management. For the 1.2 million ha under modern irrigation schemes in Iran, regulations are being prepared for better water use and lowering water losses.
In Pakistan the ninth five-year plan (1998-2003) envisages a total outlay of Rs110 billion (Rs60 to US$ 1) for water sector projects, comprising irrigation, drainage and reclamation, flood control, research, on-farm management and planning and investigation. Of this total outlay, the federal portion is Rs70.35 billion and that of provinces Rs39.72 billion. The total outlay for drainage and reclamation amounts to Rs 50.84 billion, followed by Irrigation with an allocation of Rs36 billion, flood control (Rs13.8 billion), on-farm water management (Rs10.34 billion) and research (Rs1.9 billion.) (Kiani Khaleeq , 1998).
Other countries where efforts are being made at expanding irrigated areas are Turkey, notably with its Southeast Anatolia project.
In the CIS countries, half of the total area under irrigation is located in Kazakhstan and about one-quarter in Uzbekistan. For central Asia as a whole, 26% of the cultivated area is irrigated, ranging from 10% in Kazakhstan to over 99% in Turkmenistan. Full or partial control irrigation is by far the most widespread type of irrigation, covering 94% of the area. Spate irrigation, accounting for 5% of the total, is reported only in Kazakhstan, where it represents one-third of the total irrigated area. The remaining 1% consists of wetland equipped for irrigation and is reported in Kazakhstan and Georgia.
Between the late 50s and up to the 80s, most countries invested heavily in irrigation development, especially infrastructure such as dams, water conveyance and distribution schemes and irrigation networks. The irrigated area expanded by an average of 1 percent per year during the early 1960s, reaching a maximum annual rate of 2.3 percent per year from 1972 to 1975. The trends slowed down later on. The financial crises in the second half of the 1990s adversely affected private financial flows and their recovery has continued to lag output and trade growth.
Total net external flows to developing countries peaked in 1997 (table 5). Net official flows have since declined to 63 percent of their level at the beginning of the decade. Net private flows (both capital and Foreign Direct Investment - FDI) have also declined since 1997 but are still nearly 6.6 times higher than official flows. However, for many developing countries official flows provide important support to their economic growth momentum while their market-based reforms continue. To date, FDI flows have not been sufficiently responsive to these changes because of risk perceptions about the legal and regulatory frameworks and contract enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms. The share of FDI in net private flows increased from 58 percent in 1997 to 69 percent in 2000, about US$5 000 million more than in 1997. FDI flows to low-income countries quadrupled between 1991 and 2000, but remained less than 2 percent of their GDP. The share of the low-income countries in all FDI flows to developing countries fell to 7 percent (13 percent in 1991). Poor countries have had particular difficulty in attracting FDI, due to insufficient market size, poor infrastructure, political uncertainty, corruption and restrictive policy regimes. The top ten developing country recipients of FDI (none in the Near East region) accounted for 74 percent of total FDI flows to developing countries in 2000, amounting to 3.8 percent of their GDP.
Table 5: Net long-term resource flows to developing countries, 1991-2000
|US$ 000 million|
|Total of which:||123||261||311||343||335||265||296|
|Of private flows:|
|Share of developing countries Percent|
|In global total private flows||12||12||13||14||10||8||8|
|In global FDI||22||32||35||37||26||19||16|
|FDI inflows as a share of total developing-country FDI|
|Least developed countries||5||2||2||2||2||3||3|
Where net private capital flows and FDI decline, the need for official aid flows comes into sharper focus. The year 2000 levels of foreign aid, at some 0.24 percent of annual GDP, fall short of the 0.7 percent target set by developed countries. The actual aid falls short of that target by some US$100 000 million a year. Overseas aid to Africa fell from US$32 per person in 1990 to US$18 per person in 1998.
International official resource transfers provide about US$5 000 million a year, about 10 percent of official development assistance (ODA), to fund international public goods, e.g. health, agricultural research and environmental protection. An additional US$ 11 000 million finances complementary domestic infrastructure.
The proportion of sectorally allocable aid reaching agriculture, forestry and fisheries fell sharply from the mid-1970s to about 20.2 percent in 1987-89 and then to 12.5 percent in 1996-98. The real value of net aid disbursed to agriculture in the late 1990s was 35 percent of its level in the late 1980s. The share of agricultural lending in the loan portfolio of the World Bank fell below 10 percent in 2000, compared to an average of 14 percent for the decade ending 2000. Thirty years ago the figure was 40 percent. In constant 1995 prices, total commitments for agriculture are 8 percent below the level in 1990. Contributions from bilateral donors, mainly countries in the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), were about US$4 300 million in both 1997 and 1998. The increased levels of assistance in 1997 and 1998 over that of 1996 were due entirely to increased levels of multilateral assistance, particularly from the International Development Association (IDA), while bilateral assistance was actually lower than in 1996.
The share of agriculture in total government expenditure in developing countries ranges from 0.015 percent to 23 percent, with this share being lower than 10 percent in 90 percent of cases. Countries with high levels of undernourishment are also those with severe budgetary constraints. This points to the case for a larger flow of concessional development assistance to such countries to effectively face the challenge of food insecurity and undernutrition.
Returns from investment in irrigation are comparable to alternative investments (Carruthers, 1996). The most comprehensive evaluation of irrigation project performance is the World Bank study of 208 World Bank funded irrigation projects implemented and evaluated between 1950 and 1993. It also examined a further 614 projects with irrigation components, more than 100 irrigation projects at various stages of implementation and non-World Bank studies that enriched the exercise. World Bank lending for irrigation during the period was US$31 000 million (Jones, 1995).
Of 192 projects subjected to both appraisal and evaluation, 67 percent rated satisfactory and their average estimated economic internal rate of return (IRR) at evaluation was 15 percent. After allowing for inflation, this level of return is impressive especially as most projects require large initial investments and have a long gestation period before net benefits materialize. The comparable satisfactory rates for agriculture as a whole and the all-project average are 65 and 76 percent respectively. The IRR for agriculture as a whole is 13 percent and the all-project average is 16 percent. Weighting irrigation projects by size of area served raises their average IRR to 25 percent with 84 percent of the projects rating satisfactory.
These overall ratings are surprisingly good as typical irrigation projects are extremely complex. They involve engineering, agronomic, sociological and organizational changes which render implementation and sustainability difficult. A positive element is that irrigation projects have quantifiable objectives which facilitate establishing their degree of success or failure by measuring them against no-project situations. In addition, the projects achieved their average evaluation IRR of 15 percent in an era when overvalued exchange rates and a variety of indirect taxes or subsidies to competing urban interests penalized agriculture (Carruthers, 1996).
Implementation Completion Reports on 11 World Bank financed irrigation projects in Asia and Latin America (mainly in the 1990s) for a total loan amount of approximately US$1 973 million had an average economic rate of return at completion of 17 percent.
A strong indication that irrigation pays is the amount of private investment it attracts. Private investment provides all the financing for about 20 percent of the total area currently irrigated (about 264 million ha in 1995/7). The share of private investment in the remaining 80 percent is approximately half of the total investment. Furthermore, there is an estimated additional 70 million ha of land under informal private irrigation that falls outside government control.
This information indicates that it would not be rational to avoid investing in irrigation projects on the grounds of low investment returns. Continued inadequate attention to agriculture and the rural economy will have severe consequences for the region, particularly low and medium-income countries. Low productivity results from weak investment in productivity-enhancing factors such as irrigation, the use of fertilizer and other purchased inputs and mechanisation.
Location of several countries within the catchments area of the major river basins in the region affects the actual share of these countries from the flows of these rivers. Turkey is the upstream riparian of Euphrates and Tigris rivers, while Syria and Iraq are mid and downstream riparian, respectively. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are upstream users for Amu Darya and Syr Daraya basins. Sudan and Egypt are mid and downstream users on the Nile River. Jordan is the mid riparian on the Yarmouk River and downstream riparian on lower Jordan River. The cases of Euphrates, Tigris, Nile, and Jordan rivers have been creating disagreements and unilateral actions for water development plans leading to political conflicts and tension among the riparian countries in these water basins.
During the 60s and 70s, governments of the region were obsessed with the idea of achieving self-sufficiency for basic food crops like wheat and other cereals. The food security concept in the past was synonymous with achieving a high degree of self-sufficiency, irrespective of natural resources base of the country and often ignoring the economic and environmental cost of such a policy. With collapse of income growth, growing water scarcity, broader policy reforms and new and changing global trade policies, the old paradigm of food security policy is being replaced with concepts of self-reliance and competitiveness.
One of the main driving forces of this shift - at least in the Near East region - is water scarcity, caused by rapidly growing populations, which have reduced per capita water and land availability. At the same time, competition for water increases as demand in other sector grows, especially in domestic use. According to Allan (1999), until about 1970 the region was able to find, or otherwise mobilize, new water through regulating surface flows or pumping additional water from the ground. Since then, and although it was possible to mobilize additional water from both sources, these were not sufficient to meet the region's strategic water needs for food self-sufficiency. As a result, since 1970 the region has been importing large quantities of food through virtual water.
Generally speaking there is not enough water in the region to meet the large and growing food deficit. The gap would have to be covered through food imports, which is equivalent to importing water in a condensed form, called `virtual water'. The underlying assumption of virtual water is to diversify production based on the comparative advantage of a country or a region and to earn foreign exchange to buy food imports instead of growing low-value, high water consuming crops. In a recent survey of irrigation and water resources in the Near East, FAO (1994) estimated that 86.5 km3 of water would be needed to grow the food equivalent to net food imports to the region - a figure that is comparable to the total annual flow of the Nile at Aswan. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Iran import 44 bcm of water equivalent in food. Turkey is the only country in the region which is a net exporter of cereals. International costs of food, in particular cereals have fallen in real terms and importing food to save water for other competing uses is a prudent policy adopted by these countries. It makes obvious sense for water-scarce countries to import basic foods such as cereals from water-surplus areas and use their own limited water resources to grow high value crops for export - such as cut flowers, strawberries and other fruits. The foreign exchange thus earned can in turn be used to buy cereal imports. Being a very sensitive subject, this option needs to be evaluated on both political and economic grounds. We will review this in the following section, along with other options to enhance food security under water constraints.
1 Different types of water management have been distinguished. The areas on which water, other than direct rainfall, is used for the purpose of agricultural production have been called water managed areas in the text. The term irrigation refers to that part of the water managed areas equipped to provide water to the crops and includes areas equipped for full and partial control irrigation, spate irrigation areas and equipped wetland or inland valley bottoms.