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'Irrigation in the Middle East region in figures: AQUASTAT Survey - 2008'
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Version 2009

General summary Middle East region

Ten years after the first publication on the Near East region, it appeared necessary to update the data and to identify the main changes in water use and irrigation that had occurred there. However, the countries forming the region in this publication are not to the same as the ones in the previous publication. While in the first publication the composition of the Near East region was determined by the countries covered by FAO’s Regional Office for the Near East, it was judged more logical to follow in AQUASTAT the regional distribution given in FAO’s Water Report 23 "Review of world water resources by country" (2003). In that report the world was divided into ten large regions as shown in Figure 7. It was also decided to call the region "Middle East" rather than "Near East", since Near East is considered to be a subregion of the Middle East.

The Middle East region has been grouped into four sub-regions, based on geographical and climatic homogeneity, which has a direct influence on irrigation. These sub-regions (Figure 8) and the countries and territories they include are:

  • Arabian Peninsula: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.
  • Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.
  • Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • Near East: Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey.

The Arabian Peninsula and the Caucasus are identical to the sub-regions with these names in the previous reports, "Irrigation in the Near East Region in figures" (FAO, 1997) and "Irrigation in the countries of the Former Soviet Union in figures" (FAO, 1997) respectively, which allows for comparison with the earlier data. The Islamic Republic of Iran is considered separately because it has not a clear geographical, climatic or hydrologic homogeneity with any of the other three sub-regions. The Near East sub-region in this report is similar but not identical to the Middle East sub-region included in the previous report "Irrigation in the Near East Region in figures" (FAO, 1997): Cyprus and Malta have been removed from this sub-region, while Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including the West Bank and Gaza Strip) have been added.

This regional overview presents distinguishing features arising from the new data collected on a national scale for issues addressed in the eighteen country profiles and the four transboudary river basins in the region. The interest of this new survey lies in the updating of data and in the trends during the last ten years.

Country profile:
River Basin profile:

arrow Presentation of the study
arrow Geography, climate and population
arrow Economy, agriculture and food security
arrow Water resources
arrow Water withdrawal
arrow Irrigation and water management
arrow Cultivation in full/partial control irrigation schemes
arrow Trends in the last ten years
arrow Legislative and institutional framework of water management
arrow Environment and health
arrow Prospects for agricultural water management
arrow Main sources of general information
arrow Summary tables
arrow Regional figures


To the two objectives of the previous publication (FAO, 1997a) a third has been added in this new survey of the Middle East region:

  • to provide for every country the most accurate status of rural water resources management, with a special focus on irrigation, by featuring major characteristics, trends, constraints and prospective changes on irrigation and on water resources;
  • to support regional analyses by providing systematic, up-to-date and reliable information on the status of water resources and of agricultural water management that can serve as a tool for regional planning and predictive studies;
  • to prepare a series of chronological data in order to highlight the major changes that have occurred in the last decade on national and regional scales.

To obtain the most reliable information possible, the survey is organized as follows:

  1. Review of literature and existing information at country and sub-country level.
  2. Collection of information by country using a detailed questionnaire filled in by national consultants, international consultants, or the AQUASTAT team at FAO.
  3. Compilation and critical analysis of the information collected using dataprocessing software developed for this survey, and selection of the most reliable information.
  4. Preparation of country profiles and submission to national authorities responsible for water resources or water management for verification, correction and approval.
  5. Preparation of the final profile, the tables and the figures presenting the information by country.
  6. Updating the on-line database.
  7. Preparation of the general regional analysis, the figures and the regional tables.

Where possible, AQUASTAT has made use of national capacity and competence.While collecting the information by country, preference was given to national experts as they have a better knowledge of their own country and easier access to national or so-called ‘grey’ documents, which are not available outside the country. The choice of the countries for which a national consultant was recruited depended on several factors, namely: the importance of irrigation in the country; the availability of an expert; the scarcity of data observed during the previous survey; and the funds available. For about half of the countries concerned, a national consultant assisted the AQUASTAT team.

Country profiles

Country profiles are prepared in English, which is the FAO official language in the Middle East region. They describe the state of water resources and water use in the respective countries, as well as the state of agricultural water management. The aims are to describe the particularities of each country and the problems met in the development of the water resources and, in particular, irrigation. They summarize the irrigation trends in the country and the prospects for water management in agriculture as described in the literature. The country profiles have been standardized and organized in sections according to the following model:

  • Geography, climate and population;
  • Economy, agriculture and food security;
  • Water resources and water use;
  • Irrigation and drainage development;
  • Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture;
  • Environment and health;
  • Prospects for agricultural water management;
  • References and additional information.

Standardized tables were used for each country. A hyphen (-) indicates that no information was available. As most information is available only for a limited number of years, the tables present the most recent reliable information and indicate the year to which it refers. In the AQUASTAT database, however, all available information is accessible.

The information in the country profiles is much more detailed than that in the first AQUASTAT survey of 1997. In order to establish a more complete picture of the agricultural water sector in each country, it addresses issues related to water and to irrigation that were not previously included. Some issues have been added in response to user demand.

Data collection, processing and reliability

The main sources of information were:

  • National policies, and water resources and irrigation master plans
  • National reports, yearbooks and statistics
  • Reports from FAO and other projects
  • International surveys
  • Results and publications from national and international research centres
  • The Internet

Furthermore, the following sources systematically provide certain data:

  • FAOSTAT. This is the only source used for variables of area (total, arable land and permanent crops) and population (total, rural, urban, female, male, and economically active). An exception has been made for those countries where all the cultivated area is irrigated and where there is a difference between the AQUASTAT data related to area of irrigation and the FAOSTAT data related to cultivated area (arable land and permanent crops). In that case the data obtained by AQUASTAT through this survey are retained. FAOSTAT data on areas are provided every year by the countries through the FAO representations.
  • World Development Indicators. This is the World Bank’s premier annual compilation of data on development. This source provides the data on gross domestic product (GDP).
  • The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for water supply and sanitation. This is a joint programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Chrildre's Fund (UNICEF), providing data on access to improved water sources.
  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This provides the data on the Human Development Index (HDI).

In total, more than 50 variables have been selected and these are presented in the national tables attached to the respective profiles. They are ordered in categories corresponding to the various sections of the profiles: characteristics of the country and population; water resources and use; and irrigation and drainage. See the online glossary for the definitions of the variables. Additional tables have been added to the country profiles where information is available, especially in order to specify regional or river basin data.

In most cases, a critical analysis of the information is required in order to ensure the general coherence of information collected for a given country. Where several sources result in divergent or contradictory information, preference is given to information collected at national or sub-national levels rather than at regional or world levels. Moreover, except in the case of evident errors, official sources are privileged. As regards shared water resources, the comparison of information between countries has made it possible to verify and complete the data concerning the flows of transboundary rivers and to ensure coherence at a river basin level. This information has been added more in detail in the country water resources sheets, which can be accessed from the water resources page.

In spite of these precautions, the accuracy, reliability and frequency with which information is collected vary considerably according to the region, the country and the category of information. These considerations are discussed in the profiles.

The regional analysis tables show the period 1997-2007 as the period between the two surveys. The AQUASTAT team justifies this choice by virtue of the slow evolution of data for different years for each country. However, should more precision be required, the summary tables and the on-line database specify the exact year for the items of national data.


The total area of the Middle East region is 6.56 million km2, or almost 5 percent of the world’s emerged landmass (Table 1 and Table 42). Out of the total of 18 countries, the three largest (Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey, in decreasing order) represent 71 percent of this territory, while the smallest seven (Bahrain, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lebanon, Qatar, Kuwait, Israel and Armenia) constitute barely 1.5 percent. The cultivated area is estimated at 64 million ha, or 39 percent of the cultivable land in the region. This percentage is lowest in the Arabian Peninsula, where the cultivated area is only 5 percent of the cultivable land and where cultivation almost entirely depends on irrigation, whereas in the Near East sub-region the cultivated area represents 84 percent of the cultivable area (Table 1).

Average annual rainfall, estimated at 238 mm for the region, varies from less than 100 mm in parts of the Arabian Peninsula to over 1 000 mm in Georgia in the Caucasus (Figure 9).

Total population was estimated at 283 million inhabitants in 2005, representing about 4.4 percent of the world’s population (Table 2 and Table 43). Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran are the most populous countries, containing together over half of the population of the Middle East region (Table 43 and Figure 1). The part of the population living in rural areas in the region (34 percent) is below the world average (51 percent), due to the low rural population in most of the countries of the region, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. In Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, rural population accounts for less than 15 percent of the total. In the most populated countries, Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran, rural population represents one-third of the total population, in the Caucasus and the Syrian Arab Republic it is almost half and in Yemen almost three-quarters. The average population density of 43 inhabitants/km2 conceals wide variations (Figure 10). The four most densely populated countries are Bahrain, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lebanon and Israel, with 1 024, 615, 344 and 324 inhabitants/km2, respectively (Table 43). On the other hand, most countries of the Arabian Peninsula are not very densely populated (18 inhabitants/km2 on average), especially Oman and Saudi Arabia, which only have 8 and 11 inhabitants/km2 respectively. In 2006, almost 10 percent of the total population of the Middle East region had no access to safe drinking water. In the same year, average life expectancy was 71 years.

Arabian Peninsula

The Arabian Peninsula, consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, covers an area of about 3.1 million km2, or 47 percent of the Middle East region (Table 1). Saudi Arabia covers almost 70 percent of the area of this sub-region (Table 42). Each of the countries in the Arabian Peninsula has access to the sea. Out of a total cultivable area of 59 million ha, only 2.7 million ha are cultivated, or 5 percent of the potential. The main reason for this low percentage is lack of water for irrigation. The sub-region is bordered to the north by Jordan and Iraq, to the east by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, to the south by the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and to the west by the Red Sea and Egypt. The climate is dry with very limited water resources. Annual average precipitation in the region reaches only 117 mm, ranging from 62 mm in Oman to 121 mm in Kuwait and 167 in Yemen, which allows no cultivation without irrigation in all countries except in Yemen where rainfed production is possible in the highlands.

The population of the Arabian Peninsula was 57 million in 2005, of which 80 percent lives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen (Table 43). About 35 percent of the population lives in rural areas (Table 2). The average population density in the sub-region, 18 inhabitants/km2, is lower than the average density of the Middle East region as a whole, which is 43 inhabitants/km2. The population is concentrated mainly on the coasts, where density can reach 1 024 inhabitants/km2, as in Bahrain, while the desert is practically uninhabited. The overall annual population growth of 3.2 percent in the period 1995-2005 and 3.9 percent in the previous decade (1985-1995) is extremely high, mostly because of immigrant labourers.


The Caucasus covers three countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and is located in the north of the Middle East region, between the Black Sea in the west and the Caspian Sea in the east. It is situated at the southern foothills of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, which is considered the boundary between Europe and Asia. The highest peak in the region stands at about 5 000 m above sea level. Large areas around the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the river deltas are lowlands. The total area of the Caucasus is 0.2 million km2, or only 3 percent of the total area of the Middle East region (Table 1). Azerbaijan, bordering the Caspian Sea, represents about 50 percent of this territory (Table 42). Georgia, bordering the Black Sea, represents about 34 percent. Armenia, finally, covers only 16 percent and is landlocked. The cultivable area is 8.7 million ha, 50 percent of which is in Azerbaijan, and in 2005 about 3.7 million ha was cultivated, or almost 42 percent of the cultivable area. The climate varies from typical dry continental, with average summer temperatures up to 27 ºC, to warm, humid, subtropical in the northwest near the Black Sea coast, with average temperature of 22 ºC in summer and 5 ºC in winter. Average annual precipitation is 702 mm, varying from 200 mm in the Ararat valley in central Armenia to 1 700 mm in western Georgia. In the southern and eastern parts of this region irrigation is necessary, but drainage is also required in larges areas to reduce irrigation-induced salinization.

In 2005 about 16 million people lived in the Caucasus, which is equal to a density of 85 inhabitants/km2 (Table 2). National average densities range from 64 inhabitants/km  in Georgia, to 101 inhabitants/km2 in Armenia (Table 43). About 47 percent of this population is rural. Population in this sub-region decreased by almost 0.1 percent per year in the period 1995-2005, Armenia accounting for 0.7 percent per year of the decrease, and Georgia for 1.2 percent. Only in Azerbaijan has the population increased in the last ten years, with a yearly growth rate of 0.8 percent.

Islamic Republic of Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran, located at the eastern part of the Middle East region, covers an area of 1.74 million km2, which represents almost 27 percent of total area of the region. It is almost nine times the area of the Caucasus sub-region and slightly less than the area of the entire Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered to the north by the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, and to the west by Iraq and Turkey. The cultivable area is 51 million ha, of which about one-third was cultivated in 2005. Annual precipitation is 228 mm, varying from less than 50 mm in the desert to 2 275 mm near the Caspian Sea in the north.

Almost one-quarter of the total population of the Middle East region lives in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has a density of almost 40 inhabitants/km2. Almost one-third of the population is rural. Annual population growth was only 1.1 percent in the period 1995-2005.

Near East

The Near East sub-region comprises seven countries: Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey. The total area is 1.5 million km2, representing 23 percent of the total area of the Middle East (Table 1 and Table 42). Of the total cultivable area of 47 million ha, about 40 million ha were cultivated in 2005, which is 84 percent of the potential. The sub-region is bordered to the north by the Black Sea and the Caucasus, to the east by the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the south by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and to the west by Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The annual average precipitation is 440 mm, varying from 94 mm in Jordan to 823 mm in Lebanon.

The population in the Near East sub-region was 141 million inhabitants in 2005, of which 52 percent live in Turkey (Table 2). Average density was estimated at 92 inhabitants/km2, ranging from 64 inhabitants/km2 in Jordan to 615 inhabitants/km2 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Table 43). About one-third of the population is rural. Annual population growth ranges from barely 1.2 percent in Lebanon to 3.5 percent in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with a regional average of 2.1 percent in the period 1995-2005.


The economy of the Middle East region is dominated by oil and in the Arabian Peninsula countries the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is among the highest values of the world. On the other hand, conflicts between some of the countries have a negative effect on the stability of the region. The sum of national GDPs in 2007 amounted to US$1 978 470 million, which is 3.6 percent of world GDP. It corresponds to a GDP of about US$5 160/inhabitant, ranging from US$800/inhabitant in Yemen to more than US$52 000/inhabitant in Qatar. As far as the Human Development Index (HDI) is concerned (range = 01), the countries rank between the 23rd and the 108th place out of a total of 177 countries, except for Yemen which holds the 153rd place with a HDI of 0.508. Israel, with 0.932, has the highest HDI in the region. The HDI for Iraq is unknown.

In 2006, the added value of the primary sector (agriculture) contributed 6.3 percent to the GDP of the Middle East region. It ranged from 0.4 percent in Kuwait (2000) and 0.9 percent in Bahrain (2002), to 18.3 percent in the Syrian Arab Republic and 19.6 percent in Armenia. In most countries less than 25 percent of the economically active population is engaged in the farming sector (Table 2 and Table 43). Oman (32 percent), Turkey (43 percent) and Yemen (45 percent) are exceptions. Most Arabian Peninsula countries have less agriculture and more industries, especially oil, and services. In the Caucasus countries, since the end of the Soviet era a transformation process has occurred, with transition towards a market economy. In Armenia and Azerbaijan industry is the main sector, followed by services and agriculture, while in Georgia services is the most important sector, followed by industry and agriculture. The Near East is the sub-region with more economically active people involved in agriculture. Turkey is responsible for this higher percentage of active agricultural workers. The cultivated area per person economically active in agriculture varies from a low 0.2 ha/person in Oman and 0.4 ha/person in Yemen and Qatar to over 6 ha/person in Israel and more than 9 ha/person in Iraq and Lebanon, giving an average for the region of 2.1 ha/person (Table 42 and Table 43).


One of the problems encountered during this update is the confusion between “water resources” and “water supply sources” when information is provided. This report concentrates on “water resources” rather than “water supply sources”:

  • Water resources are natural potential; they are state variables indicating the state of the resources, with conjunctural variations, that are renewable and stable (except in the case of climate change) or non-renewable.
  • Water supply sources give information on the origin of water withdrawn or produced for use. They are decision variables, with an underlying evolution, that are subject to an inventory, coherent with statistics on “water use”, with the reference date to be specified.

Renewable water resources

The volume of annual precipitation in the Middle East region is estimated at about 1 564 km3, equal to a regional average of 238 mm/year, but with significant disparities between countries (Table 3 and Figure 9). The driest country is Oman with 62 mm/year on average, followed by the other countries of the Arabian Peninsula, which is the driest sub-region in the Middle East with an average of 117 mm/year. Jordan in the Near East sub-region also has a low average annual precipitation, below 100 mm, while Lebanon is the rainiest country with 823 mm, followed by Turkey with 643 mm. The Caucasus countries receive an average precipitation of 702 mm/year with Georgia having about 1 065 mm. Average annual precipitation in the Islamic Republic of Iran is 228 mm.

While the Middle East region covers 4.9 percent of the total area of the world and contains 4.4 percent of its population, its water resources, which total 484 km3, are only about 1.1 percent of the total renewable water resources of the world (Figure 11 and Figure 12). Moreover, large differences exist between the 19 countries and territories, as shown in Table 44.

Turkey accounts for 47 percent of Middle East region’s resources on only 12 percent of the region’s area, following the Islamic Republic of Iran, which accounts for 27 percent (Figure 2). On the other hand, the Arabian Peninsula is the most disadvantaged sub-region with only 1 percent of the renewable water resources for an area equivalent to 47 percent of the Middle East. Kuwait has no internal renewable water resources. In the Arabian Peninsular, with the exception of land serviced by spate irrigation, all irrigated production is reliant upon groundwater pumping and associated ‘quanats’.

For the region as a whole, the renewable shallow groundwater circulation associated with alluvial deposits in wadis channels and extensive alluvial fans are important sources of water for potable water supply, stock watering and localized irrigation. The resources of these localized aquifer systems are dependant on indirect recharge from intermittent flows in watercourses. Other sources of renewable groundwater are also obtained from where outcrops of permeable limestones and sandstones accept direct recharge from rainfall. The distinction between direct and indirect recharge processes is important to make in any water resource accounting at basin or aquifer system level. Indirect recharge processes tend to dominate so that the frequency, magnitude and duration of runoff events are important indicators of groundwater resource recharge.

Due to population growth, there has been a decrease in average annual internal renewable water resources (IRWR) per inhabitant since the previous AQUASTAT survey. In 2005, the average per habitant IRWR was 1 717 m3 for the region, ranging from 0 m3 in Kuwait to 6 m3 in Bahrain and to 12 993 m3 for Georgia (Table 44). The distribution of total actual renewable water resources (TARWR) is different because of transboundary river basins, with values ranging from 7 m3 per inhabitant in Kuwait and 33 m3 in the United Arab Emirates to 14 155 m3 in Georgia.

Table 4 presents the IRWR and TARWR for ten countries and territories where resources per inhabitant are very limited. With respect to IRWR, their resources are lower than the cut-off point of 500 m3/inhabitant per year, considered to be the threshold for absolute water scarcity. With respect to TARWR, all except the Syrian Arab Republic remain below this threshold: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen do not benefit from any outside contributions (dependency ratio of zero); Qatar and the Occupied Palestinian Territory benefit only slightly (ratio lower than 10 percent); and Bahrain, Israel, Jordan and Kuwait have a high dependency ratio despite low external renewable resources. Only the Syrian Arab Republic has a relatively high proportion of external renewable resources, although it is still in a situation of chronic water scarcity (threshold 1 000 m3/inhabitant per year).

Transboundary waters

The main transboundary rivers in the Middle East region are the Euphrates–Tigris flowing to the Persian Gulf, the Kura–Araks flowing to the Caspian Sea, the Asi–Orontes flowing to the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan flowing to the Dead Sea. These four transboundary river basins cover 17 percent of the total area of the Middle East region (Table 5 and Figure 13).

Some major aquifers in the region can also be considered transboundary, the most notable being the Disi aquifer which straddles Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

A more detailed description of these four transboundary basins is given in the chapter on the description of four transboundary river basins.

Water resources in endoreic basins

Generated by both the dominant aridity of the climate and structural geological conditions, an endhoreic basin, also called closed or interior basin, is a basin which has no outflow to the sea. This is a major characteristic of the hydrography of the Middle East region. The endhoreism in the Middle East region is either structural, in the case of completely closed basins surrounded by a continuous watershed line (such as exist in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey, or the basin of the Dead Sea), or functional, in the case where the basins are theoretically exoreic or open but where the local outflow never reaches the sea (such as exist in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates) (Figure 14).

By definition, in the water balance of an endhoreic basin the rainfall is equal to the evapotranspiration and final runoff is equal to zero. However, superficial runoff and recharge of aquifers take place in part of the basin and can offer locally exploitable water resources. Estimation of those resources is based on the distinction in each endhoreic basin between an upstream “producing” zone, where water courses and aquifers have a runoff that significantly increases from upstream to downstream, and a downstream “consuming” zone, where runoff decreases from upstream to downstream and which can coincide with an evaporation area or an interior lake, such as the Dead Sea or Lake Van in Turkey. Determining the exact border between these two zones is very difficult, because it can be instable. It is a matter of determining for each water course the point where the average natural discharge is maximal and taking measurements there. But the real discharges are often influenced, which complicates the evaluation. “Consuming” zones with decreasing runoff can be included in exoreic basins (basins having an outflow to the sea), in arid or semi-arid zones, such as happens for example in the Euphrates–Tigris basin.

Table 6 below shows natural renewable water resources (i.e. total runoff) of the endhoreic basins in the Middle East region, although a uniform estimation approach is not guaranteed.

Non-renewable groundwater aquifers in the Middle East region

Deep aquifer systems with significant stores of freshwater provide important sources of supply to municipal and agriculture uses. However, these large systems generally experience low rates of recharge (less than 1/100 or 1/1000 of their stock in an average year). In many instances these groundwater resources are referred to as “fossil aquifers” since the bulk of the storage was emplaced during much wetter climatic periods. Dating of these waters indicates emplacement occurring between one thousand to several tens of thousand years before the present. These resources are particularly precious in arid and semi-arid zones and have been progressively depleted as pumping technology and energy availability has evolved. Non-renewable water resources can be defined as an economically recoverable ‘stock’, such as oil or minerals.

The Middle East region contains one of the most important multi-layered aquifer systems centred on the Arabian Peninsula and extending over an area of around 1.5 million km2, mainly in Saudi Arabia and continuing into Jordan in the northwest and the Gulf countries in the east (Figure 15). Khater (2003) identifies three main sub-systems: (i) the Cambrian-Triassic Western Arabia sandstone aquifer system comprising the Saq, Tabuk, Wajid and Minjur aquifers; (ii) the Cretaceous Central Arabia sandstone aquifer system comprising the Biyadh and Wasia sandstones; (iii) the Tertiary Eastern Arabia carbonate aquifer system comprising the Umm er Radhuma and Dammanm aquifers together with later Neogene sands and limestones. This huge multilayer sedimentary basin (with a thickness up to 4 500 m) comprises several aquifers one above the other, from Cambrian (“Saq”) in Jordan and north-western Saudi Arabia to the superficial Neogene aquifers along the eastern margin of Arabian peninsular. The combined stock is estimated to be in the order of 2 000 km3 and the actual replenishment around 1 km3/year. However, water quality throughout the system is variable with salinities ranging from an average of 1 000 ppm in the Saq to 150 000 ppm in parts of the Biyadh system. The whole multi-layered system has been extensively exploited for several decades, particularly following the introduction of deep submersible pumps: approximately 380 km3 are estimated to have been extracted in 25 years (between 1975 and 2000).


The total dam capacity in the Middle East region is 870 km3. Turkey, Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic contain more than 93 percent of the total dam capacity, most of it in the Euphrates–Tigris Basin. Turkey' accounts for 651 km3 (75 percent of the Middle East) and Iraq accounts for 140 km3 (16 percent of the Middle East). The Caucasus countries have 3 percent of the total dam capacity, of which 82 percent is located in Azerbaijan. The Arabian Peninsula countries have a small dam capacity, representing 0.2 percent only (Table 7). Twelve dams in the Middle East region have a capacity over 5 km3, most of them in the Euphrates–Tigris basin, except the Mingechevir dam located in Azerbaijan in the Kura Basin and the Hirfanli and Atinkaya dams located in Turkey in the Black Sea Basin. In total these twelve large dams account for 234 km3, or 27 percent of the total dam capacity in the Middle East region. The dam with the largest capacity is the Samarra–Tharthar (73 km3) in Iraq, followed by the Ataturk dam (49 km3) and the Keban dam (31 km3), both in Turkey (Table 8).

Non-conventional sources of water

The water scarcity that prevails in the region has forced and will continue to force national economies to find alternative ways to satisfy the demand for water. The reuse of treated wastewater and water desalination take place mainly in dry countries seeking to increase their limited sources of water. Some oil-rich countries convert a significant amount of saline water from the sea or from poor-quality aquifers (brackish water) into drinking water. Similarly, wastewater treatment and reuse is becoming a common practice in the Middle East region. Countries such as Armenia and Georgia have not yet developed non-conventional sources of water because they have enough renewable water resources.

Total treated wastewater reused in the Middle East region is 2 663 million m3. On a sub-regional scale, the Near East sub-region accounts for 72 percent of the total reused treated wastewater, the Arabian Peninsula for 22 percent and the Caucasus for 6 percent. Country-wise, Turkey accounts for 38 percent of the total reused treated wastewater of the Middle East region, followed by the Syrian Arab Republic, Israel and United Arab Emirates with 21, 10 and 9 percent respectively. Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan each represent 6 percent of the total.

The total use of desalinated water in the Middle East region is estimated to be 3.22 km3/year. On a sub-regional scale, the Arabian Peninsula accounts for 87.4 percent of the total desalinated water and the Near East sub-region and the Islamic Republic of Iran for 6.4 percent and 6.2 percent respectively. The Caucasus has not started to produce desalinated water because its renewable resources are not as limited as in the Arabian Peninsula and the Near East countries (Table 9). In absolute terms, three countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) are by far the largest users of desalinated water, accounting for 77 percent of the region’s total. Saudi Arabia uses an annual 1 033 million m3 and United Arab Emirates and Kuwait 950 and 420 million m3 respectively (Table 46 and Figure 16). The Occupied Palestinian Territory has not developed these techniques because of lack of economic resources; however reused treated wastewater in the Gaza Strip amounts to 10 million m3.

Only three countries, Iraq, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, provide data about reused agricultural drainage water, which amounts to 1 500 million m3, 165 million m3 and 2 246 million m3 respectively.


Water withdrawal by sector

Data on water withdrawal by sector refer to the gross quantity of water withdrawn annually for a given use. Table 45 presents the distribution of water withdrawal by country for the three large water-consuming sectors: agriculture (irrigation and livestock watering), water supply (domestic/municipal use) and industry. Although able to mobilize a significant portion of water, requirements for energy purposes (hydroelectricity), navigation, fishing, mining, environment and leisure activities have a low rate of net water consumption. For this reason, they are not included in the calculation of the regional withdrawals but they do appear in the country profiles where information is available.

For most countries, the methods used for calculation or the measurements for obtaining the values of withdrawals are not specified.

Total annual water withdrawal for the Middle East region is 271.5 km3, which is around 7 percent of world withdrawals (Table 10 and Table 52). About 83 percent of inventoried withdrawals are by agriculture, which is higher than the value for global agricultural water withdrawal (70 percent). However, this figure varies by country. In the Syrian Arab Republic, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and the Islamic Republic of Iran, agricultural withdrawal accounts for more than 85 percent of the total water withdrawal, while in Bahrain, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Kuwait, Israel and Qatar it represents less than 60 percent. The Caucasus countries use 73 percent of their withdrawal for agriculture. The annual precipitation in this sub-region allows rainfed agriculture, which is not feasible in dry countries, such as most of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq and Turkey cover the highest withdrawals in the Middle East region, accounting for 34 percent, 24 percent and 15 percent respectively. Saudi Arabia is the country with the highest withdrawals in the Arabian Peninsula at 9 percent of the total withdrawals in the Middle East. These four countries have both the highest area under irrigation and the highest population. Azerbaijan accounts for 73 percent of the total withdrawal in the Caucasus (Table 45). Water withdrawal per inhabitant is 963 m3/year, but this average conceals significant variations between countries. The figure ranges from 113 m3/inhabitant in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to 1 452 m3/inhabitant in Azerbaijan and 2 632 m3/inhabitant in Iraq. In the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates account for the highest annual per capita withdrawal with 963 and 889 m3/inhabitant respectively (Figure 17).

Municipal water withdrawal per inhabitant is 90 m3/year for the Middle East region as a whole, with variations between countries from 13 m3/inhabitant in Yemen to 51 m3/inhabitant in Jordan, 245 m3/inhabitant in Bahrain and 280 m3/inhabitant in Armenia. Industrial water withdrawal per inhabitant is 70 m3/year for the Middle East on average. However, this figure also varies considerably at country level. In seven countries it amounts to less than 10 m3/inhabitant per year, especially Yemen, where industrial water withdrawal is 3 m3/inhabitant per year, whereas in Azerbaijan and Iraq the figures are 280 and 337 m3/inhabitant per year respectively.

Water withdrawal by source

Data on water withdrawal by source refer to the gross quantity of water withdrawn annually from all the possible sources, which are divided into freshwater resources and non-conventional sources of water. Table 11 presents the distribution of water withdrawal by sub-region, distinguishing between freshwater (surface water and groundwater), desalinated water, reused treated wastewater and reused agricultural drainage water.

For most countries, the methods used for calculation or the measurements for obtaining the values of the withdrawal by source are not specified. For the countries for which recent data were not available or were not reliable, estimations that take into account total water withdrawal by sector have been used, given that total water withdrawal by source and total water withdrawal by sector must be equal.

Total annual water withdrawal by source is 271.5 km3 for the Middle East region (Table 46). Freshwater accounts for 96.4 percent of total water withdrawal, reused agricultural drainage water for 1.4 percent, desalinated water for 1.2 percent and reused treated wastewater for 1.0 percent. Considering the 14 countries for which data on surface water and groundwater withdrawal is available, surface water withdrawal represents 48 percent of the freshwater withdrawal and groundwater 52 percent in the region. In the Arabian Peninsula, groundwater is the largest source of freshwater withdrawal, amounting to 84 percent of the total, while in the Caucasus countries surface water accounts for 87 percent of the total freshwater withdrawal. Turkey’s surface water withdrawal represents 73 percent of the total freshwater withdrawal, whereas in Iran and Jordan groundwater withdrawal accounts for almost 60 percent. The Arabian Peninsula countries are the most advanced regarding non-conventional sources of water: desalinated water represents 8 percent and reused treated wastewater 2 percent of the total water withdrawal. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates account for 32 percent and 29 percent respectively of the use of desalinated water in the Middle East region. In the Caucasus countries there is no desalinated water and reused treated wastewater represents only 1 percent on average. Turkey, the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel register the largest reuse of treated wastewater in the Middle East region with 38, 21 and 10 percent respectively (Figure 16). In the Syrian Arab Republic reused agricultural drainage water amounts to 2 246 million m3.

The water indicator of the Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) water indicator, which is the total freshwater withdrawal as a percentage of total renewable freshwater resources, reflects the overall anthropogenic pressure on freshwater resources. In many areas, water use is unsustainable: withdrawal exceeds recharge rates and the water bodies are overexploited. The depletion of water resources can have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems and, at the same time, undermine the basis for socio-economic development.

When relating freshwater withdrawal to the renewable water resources in the Middle East region, the Arabian Peninsula stands out with values over 100 percent in all the countries, except Oman, indicating that more water is withdrawn than the quantity annually renewed on a long-term basis, thus depleting the freshwater resources and using fossil groundwater. At country level, Kuwait has by far the highest water indicator, 2 075 percent, meaning that large use is made of fossil groundwater (Table 12 and Table 46). The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia follow, with 1 867 percent and 936 percent respectively. In contrast, freshwater withdrawal in Oman represents 91 percent of renewable water resources (Figure 18).

In other areas of the Middle East region the percentage of use of renewable water resources is lower, with total freshwater withdrawal amounting to less than 100 percent of renewable water resources in most of the countries. Only in the Gaza Strip does withdrawal reach 173 percent of the total renewable water resources. The countries in which water withdrawal represents the smallest proportion of total renewable water resources are Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia, with values of 24 percent, 18 percent and 3 percent respectively.

Evaporation losses from artificial reservoirs

For six countries information on surface areas of the reservoirs behind the dams is available: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq (partial) and Turkey. Using, for each of these countries, an estimate for evaporation from open water bodies, the total annual evaporation losses from these reservoirs amounts to about 15.5 km3 (Table 13).

However, these data should be looked at with caution and a more in-depth study would be necessary to confirm and complete the information for the whole region. Once this information is available it should be added to the sectoral (agricultural, municipal and industrial) water withdrawal figures.


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 non-conventional sources of water. For this reason, comparison between countries should be made with caution. In the case of transboundary 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 therefore not possible to systematically add up country figures to obtain regional estimates of irrigation potential.

Already, as shown in the previous Chapter, many countries of the Middle East region rely for a considerable part on fossil groundwater and non-conventional sources of water, or are depleting their renewable freshwater resources. For those countries any extension of existing irrigation would require more fossil groundwater or non-conventional sources of water if no improvement in water use efficiency and productivity is made.

The largest irrigation potential is concentrated in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with 5.6 million ha, based only on renewable water resources (Table 48). The Syrian Arab Republic and United Arab Emirates estimate that their irrigation potential is lower than the area equipped for irrigation at present. The reason for this may be the increasing demand for water for domestic and industrial purposes, groundwater depletion already taking place, and failure to take into account the availability of non-conventional water. They are also among the countries that have developed non-conventional sources of water. For these two countries, and those countries without data, irrigation potential is estimated as the total area equipped for irrigation, in order to be able to calculate a regional average. The irrigation potential of the Middle East region is estimated at more than 38.4 million ha, of which 76 percent corresponds to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and Iraq. The Caucasus countries account for 12 percent of the total irrigation potential of the Middle East region, whereas the Arabian Peninsula countries represent barely 7 percent.

Arid countries, where no agriculture is possible without irrigation, tend to consider the cultivable area as the potential irrigation area, for the development of which they would certainly have to rely on the use of fossil groundwater and non-conventional sources of water.

Typology of irrigation and water management

Depending on the sub-regions, irrigation is seen as a necessary technique without which agricultural production would be practically impossible in dry countries, or as a means to increase productivity and cropping intensity and to favour crop diversification in the most humid countries.

The total area where water other than direct rainfall is used for agricultural production has been named “area under water management”. The term “irrigation” refers to areas equipped to supply water to crops. Table 47 and Table 48 present the distribution by country of these areas under water management, making a distinction between areas under irrigation, which is the sum of full/partial control irrigation areas, spate irrigation areas, and equipped lowlands (wetlands, inland valley bottoms and flood recession areas) and areas under other forms of water management, which are non-equipped lowlands (wetlands, inland valley bottoms and flood recession cropping areas). The distinction between irrigation and water management is sometimes difficult. In particular, the demarcation between equipped and non-equipped lowland areas is often vague, and for that reason only one figure for non-equipped flood recession cropping area has been provided in the region, by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The total area equipped for irrigation covers more than 23.3 million ha in the Middle East region, but the geographical distribution is very uneven, both from sub-region to sub-region and from country to country (Table 14, Figure 19 and Figure 20). More than 71 percent of the area equipped for irrigation is concentrated in the Islamic Republic of Iran (35 percent), in Turkey (21 percent) and in Iraq (15 percent). Within the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia has the largest area equipped for irrigation, accounting for 7 percent of the total area of the Middle East region, followed by Yemen which represents 3 percent. Finally, the Caucasus countries have 9 percent of the area equipped for irrigation, which is a high value taking into account that their total area is only 3 percent of the Middle East region.

Spate irrigation is typical of dry countries. In this survey only a figure for Yemen has been provided, amounting to 217 541 ha (Table 15 and Table 47). Equipped lowlands are frequent in countries with more renewable freshwater resources, such as Georgia and Turkey, amounting to 31 500 ha and 13 000 ha respectively. However, the figure for Yemen also is 7 799 ha.

Full/partial control irrigation, which covers 23.1 million ha, is by far the most widespread form of irrigation in the Middle East region. It accounts for 98.9 percent of the area equipped for irrigation, of which 71 percent is concentrated in three countries (the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq and Turkey).

Irrigation is practiced on 36 percent of the total cultivated area of the region (Table 15 and Figure 21). This percentage is much higher in the Arabian Peninsula, 99 percent, because of the fact that it is only in Yemen that rainfed crops can be cultivated. In the other countries of the Arabian Peninsula farming would be impossible without irrigation (Table 47).

Full/partial control irrigation techniques

Table 16 presents the sub-regional distribution of irrigation techniques used on areas under full/partial control irrigation. For countries where techniques were described in the previous publication and where no new data are available, this report uses the earlier values for the analysis in Table 16, and includes the difference between the total area of the previous survey and of the present survey under surface irrigation. Table 49, however, provides the exact data available by country and the year to which they refer. As shown in Table 16, surface irrigation, which accounts for 86 percent of the irrigation techniques, greatly exceeds pressurized irrigation techniques, which are sprinkler irrigation (9 percent) and localized irrigation (5 percent).

Pressurized irrigation techniques are concentrated mainly in the Arabian Peninsula where sprinkler and localized irrigation are practised on over half of the area. This region is dry but it also contains some of the most advanced countries in the use of these techniques. For example, localized irrigation in the United Arab Emirates represents 86 percent and sprinkler irrigation in Saudi Arabia represents 60 percent of the irrigation techniques in the country. However, in the Arabian Peninsula, surface irrigation also still is practised on almost half of the area. In fact in all countries, except Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, it is practised on more than three-quarters of the area and in Yemen it is almost the only technique used. In the Caucasus, the area under surface irrigation accounts for around 90 percent of the area equipped for full or partial control irrigation, sprinkler irrigation represents 8 percent and localized irrigation 2 percent. In Iraq almost the entire area is under surface irrigation, while in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey surface irrigation accounts for around 90 percent of the irrigation techniques. In Jordan localized irrigation represents 81 percent, and in Lebanon sprinkler irrigation represents almost 30 percent and localized irrigation 9 percent of the irrigation techniques.

Origin of water in full/partial control irrigation

Table 17 presents available data concerning the origin of irrigation water in the areas under full/partial control irrigation: surface water, groundwater, mix of surface water and groundwater, and non-conventional sources of water. Data are available for all countries, except Israel. For the purpose of the analysis in Table 17, it was assumed that 50 percent of the area in Israel was irrigated with surface water and 50 percent with groundwater. Finally, for the earlier data, the percentages for each of the sources were retained and applied to the areas under full/partial control at present. Therefore, these values are in order of magnitude only and are not an exact reflection of the real situation. However, it seemed worth attempting to complete the data based on the field knowledge of the AQUASTAT team in order to form a more precise picture of the sources of water used for irrigation in the Middle East region. In Table 50, however, the exact information as available is given for all countries.

With respect to “other sources of water”, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic use a mix of surface water and groundwater, while Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have started using non-conventional sources of water to increase their resources (Table 17 and Table 50). Kuwait accounts for the highest percentage of non-conventional sources with 39 percent.

Surface water is the main source of water for irrigation in the Middle East region as a whole (54 percent), since countries such as Turkey and Iraq, which have large areas under irrigation, irrigate mainly with surface water (78 percent and 94 percent respectively), mainly coming from the Euphrates–Tigris Basin. In the Caucasus countries, surface water accounts on average for 94 percent of the area equipped for irrigation and comes mainly from the Kura–Araks Basin. In this sub-region non-conventional sources of water are not used since it is not as dry as in the other sub-regions. In contrast, the Arabian Peninsula has no area irrigated by surface water and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory feed their irrigation systems mainly with groundwater.

Scheme sizes

The definition of large schemes varies from one country to another. While certain countries, such as Bahrain, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Oman, consider a scheme of 50 ha to be large, other countries, such as Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey use a minimum area of 1 000 ha for a scheme to be classified large. Azerbaijan even considers large schemes those over 20 000 ha. The Arabian Peninsula schemes are the smallest ones, since Qatar and Saudi Arabia consider a scheme of 100 ha and 200 ha respectively to be large (Table 18).

Rather than by its size, a scheme is often described by its type of management: small private farms, commercial farms, communal schemes or public schemes.

Table 18 below shows the scheme sizes in several countries and the criteria used. If no recent information on scheme sizes is available, the information of the previous survey is used, as is the case for Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.


Level of use of areas equipped for full/partial control irrigation

It is difficult to calculate the areas actually irrigated for the Middle East region as a whole because information is missing for most of the countries in both AQUASTAT surveys. Where a country did not have new data, those of the previous survey are used. Given that data about actually irrigated areas are available for only 7 out of the 18 countries, Table 19 focuses on these countries.

Use rates vary considerably among those the countries providing such data. In Bahrain and Yemen the total area equipped for full or partial control irrigation is actually irrigated. Jordan has a rate exceeding 90 percent and Turkey a rate of 87 percent. Armenia and Saudi Arabia have use rates lower than 70 percent and Qatar even has a use rate of only 49 percent. In numerous cases, low rates are explained by deterioration of the infrastructure owing to a lack of maintenance (caused by a lack of experience or the use of non-adapted techniques) or political and economic reasons. Other causes are: inadequate management of technical means of production under irrigation, soil impoverishment, local instability and insecurity, and the reduction of public funds allocated to irrigation.

Cropping intensity

Cropping intensity, another indicator of the use of equipped areas, is calculated based on the area actually irrigated in full or partial control irrigation for the 7 countries for which that information is available. For the other 11 countries, it is estimated equal to the area equipped for full or partial control irrigation. Thus cropping intensity is probably underestimated because the area actually irrigated might be smaller than equipped area in several of these 10 countries. The calculation only refers to irrigated crops. This means that in a country with one or two wet seasons only the crops grown under irrigation are taken into consideration. The crops grown on the full/partial control equipped area during the wet season without irrigation (but using the residual soil humidity) are not included in the irrigated crop area when calculating cropping intensity.

National cropping intensity ranges from 31 percent in Georgia to 138 percent in Jordan (Table 51). In the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arabian Peninsula cropping intensity is 106 and 105 percent respectively (Table 20). In the Near East and the Caucasus sub-regions it amounts to 87 and 85 percent respectively.

Table 21 shows the cropping intensity for those countries where the area effectively irrigated is available and therefore it is easier to evaluate the real situation. It is calculated for 7 countries owing to the lack of data. As shown, figures range from 100 percent, meaning that one crop per year is irrigated, to 138 percent in Jordan.

The calculation of cropping intensity is straightforward for dry countries because irrigation is indispensable for the growing of crops in all seasons. However, the calculation is more problematic for countries with one or more wet seasons. For two crop cycles a year, only one is irrigated (during the dry season), the second uses soil moisture provided by the precipitation. Therefore, the cropping intensity (irrigated crops only) is 100 percent on the area considered, while the harvested area is double.

Irrigated crops in full/partial control schemes

Table 22 shows the sub-regional distribution of irrigated crops for those countries and territories that have provided such information. The equipped areas with several crop cycles a year are counted several times, which explains why the total is superior to the physically equipped areas or physically actually irrigated areas in some countries. This also gives an idea of the cropping intensity under irrigation (see below). Georgia is included in the total irrigated crops area, but it is not in the distribution of each crop because there is no data available.

Cereals represent about 44 percent of the harvested irrigated crop area, of which wheat constitutes 60 percent. The group of vegetables (including roots and tubers) and pulses are the second most widespread crop, representing 16 percent. Irrigated fodder follows with 9 percent, and cotton represents 6 percent of the harvested irrigated crop area. Permanent crops account for 15 percent.

In the Arabian Peninsula, cereals and perennial crops are the dominant crops, representing 39 percent and 31 percent respectively, followed by fodder which accounts for 15 percent. The United Arab Emirates has the largest area of perennial crops (mainly dates) at 82 percent of the total irrigated crops area of the country. In Oman and Bahrain perennial crops represent 58 and 55 percent respectively. In the Caucasus countries, perennial crops only account for 10 percent on average, whereas cereals represent 55 percent and vegetables 12 percent. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and Iraq, the countries with the largest irrigated crop area, cereals account for 48, 21 and 70 percent respectively. In the Islamic Republic of Iran and in Turkey, irrigated fodder represents around 10 percent. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia it accounts for 49, 27 and 12 percent respectively of the total area under this crop in the Middle East.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has 76 percent of the area under rice in the Middle East, followed by Iraq with 15 percent. In Turkey vegetables (including roots and tubers) account for 23 percent. Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran have 35 percent and 34 percent respectively of the total area of vegetables (including roots and tuber crops) in the Middle East region. Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran represent 53 and 33 percent of the total area of pulses, followed Yemen, which accounts for 6 percent. Cotton is the main industrial crop and covers 6 percent of the total irrigated crop area in the Middle East region. Cotton cultivation is concentrated in Turkey (55 percent), the Syrian Arab Republic (23 percent), the Islamic Republic of Iran (12 percent) and Azerbaijan (7 percent) (Table 51). Other industrial crops are sugarcane, olives and bananas. Citrus is found mainly in the Islamic Republic of Iran (50 percent), Turkey (23 percent), Iraq (15 percent) and the Syrian Arab Republic (6 percent). In Lebanon, citrus accounts for 36 percent of the total irrigated crop area of the country.

Table 22 provides data of the distribution of irrigated crops for those countries where information is available.


During the previous survey the population of the Middle East region was 236 million, slightly more than 4.1 percent of the world’s population. At present it is 283 million, or about 4.4 percent of the world’s population. Population density has risen from 41 to 43 inhabitants/km2. The annual rate of population growth over the last ten years is 1.8 percent, a sharp decrease from the 3.1 percent/year for 1984–1994. While ten years ago about 36 percent of the population in the Middle East region lived in a rural environment, at present it is 34 percent (Table 2 and Table 43). This indicates that there is low migration towards cities.

Water withdrawal by sector

On a sectoral basis, the proportions of water withdrawal have changed only slightly: agricultural water withdrawal has decreased by 2 percent, while municipal and industrial withdrawals have increased by 1 percent each. However, total water withdrawal has grown by 29 percent over the last ten years (Table 23).

Between the two survey dates, withdrawal per inhabitant has also increased (by 72 m3). This growth is due to a per capita increase in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in the Near East sub-region of 301 and 87 m3 respectively, while in the Arabian Peninsula Region and in the Caucasus sub-region withdrawal per inhabitant has decreased by 22 and 380 m3 respectively.

Looking at the municipal sector, water withdrawal per capita has increased from 74 m3/year, or 203 litres/day, to 89 m3/year, or 316 litres/day. There is quite some variation between the sub-regions and countries. In the Arabian Peninsula sub-region it has increased from 67 to 69 m3/year, while in the Near East sub-region there has been an increase from 71 to 96 m3/year. However, in the Caucasus sub-region it has decreased from 148 to 108 m3/year. Qatar and Iraq have the largest increases, from 120 to 214 m3/year and from 63 to 149 m3/year respectively, while the United Arab Emirates has the largest decrease, from 263 to 137 m3/year. Moreover, in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Lebanon water withdrawal per capita has decreased by 65, 38 and 16 m3/year respectively.

In agriculture, the annual water withdrawal per hectare of area equipped for irrigation seems to have increased from 8 650 m3 to 9 700 m3. The reason for this is not fully clear. It could be a result of data quality or changed cropping pattern. In the Near East sub-region it has gone from 8 678 m3 to 9 549 m3, in the Islamic Republic of Iran from 8 832 m3 to 10 576 m3 and in the Arabian Peninsula sub-region from 9 487 m3 to 10 765 m3. However, in the Caucasus sub-region it has decreased from 7 072 m3 to 5 742 m3. In Iraq it has increased from 11 172 m3 to 14 752 m3 while in the United Arab Emirates it has decreased from 21 115 m3 to 14 616 m3. These data should be used with caution since, as mentioned above, the reason for the general increase is not fully clear.

Water withdrawal by source

For the Middle East region as a whole, annual freshwater withdrawal has increased from 206 km3 to 262 km3, which represents an annual increase rate of 2.4 percent (Table 24). Desalinated water has doubled from 1.5 km3 to 3.2 km3, equal to an annual increase of 7.6 percent, and reused treated wastewater has increased in volume at an annual rate of 12 percent, from 2.4 to 6.6 km3. This shows the necessity of using non-conventional sources of water in the Middle East region. However, freshwater remains by far the most important source, accounting for 96 percent of the total and decreasing by only two points from 98 percent in 1997.

The countries with data on non-conventional sources of water are practically the same as in the previous survey, with all of them increasing the quantity of water withdrawn. In 2007 Iraq and Lebanon report using desalinated water, while in 1997 no data was available. In the same year Azerbaijan, Israel and Turkey report using treated wastewater, while in 1997 there was no data available. Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic report using agricultural drainage water. On a sub-regional level, the Arabian Peninsula Region now desalinates 1 303 million m3 more than in 1997. In particular, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have increased annual desalinated water use by 565 and 319 million m3 respectively. In the Caucasus, total withdrawal has decreased from last survey, mainly due to a decrease in the actually irrigated area. Reused treated wastewater accounts for 161 million m3 in this sub-region compared with 0 in 1997. In the Near East sub-region withdrawal has increased for both freshwater and non-conventional sources of water, especially reused treated wastewater and agricultural drainage water, which are up from 2 percent to 4.6 percent of the total withdrawals of this region. However, some caution is needed here. Reused agricultural drainage water is reported only in 2007 by Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. This does not mean that it was equal to 0 in the previous survey just that no data were available at that time.

Areas under irrigation

Table 25 presents the trends in the area under irrigation during the last ten years. It should be taken into account that the information for some of the countries is for earlier years as new data was not provided (Table 47).

For the Middle East region, the increase in the equipped area is 12 percent, which is equal to an annual rate of 1.31 percent using a weighted year index. The weighted year index is calculated by allocating to the year for each country a weighting coefficient proportional to its area equipped for irrigation, therefore giving more importance to countries with the largest areas under irrigation.

The area under full or partial control irrigation has an annual rate of increase of 1.35 percent, which is a little higher than the annual rate for total irrigation. This is explained by the fact that the area of spate irrigation has not increased as much as the area of full or partial control irrigation and also because equipped lowlands area have decreased since 1997.

The Arabian Peninsula has an annual rate of increase of more than 2.2 percent. The rate for the United Arab Emirates is 13 percent, the largest increase in equipped areas in the Middle East region. However, this could also be explained by the reclassification of areas previously indicated as non-equipped, which have been counted as equipped areas this time because of better knowledge of the field situation. Other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen, have shown annual rates of increase of 4 percent, while the annual increase in Saudi Arabia and Qatar is close to zero. Oman has recorded a drop in the areas equipped for irrigation, with an annual rate of –0.4 percent.

The Caucasus is the only sub-region where the area under irrigation has not increased. The rate of abandonment of full or partial control irrigation area has been almost 0.4 percent per year in this period (–0.7 percent in Georgia, –0.4 percent in Armenia and –0.2 percent in Azerbaijan). Reasons are civil strife, war, vandalism and theft, as well as problems associated with land reform, the transition to a market economy, and the loss of markets with traditional trading partners, high pumping costs, which all have contributed to the widespread deterioration of the irrigation conveyance systems.

In the Near East sub-region the annual increase rate is 1.7 percent. The Syrian Arab Republic has an annual rate of increase of around 4 percent; while in Lebanon it is close to zero (Table 25). Jordan has shown a drop in areas equipped for irrigation, at an annual rate of –0.9 percent.

Spate irrigation has increased in area by 0.1 million ha (121 percent), all in Yemen, which is the only country in the region reporting information on spate irrigation. The area of equipped lowlands has decreased by 94 365 ha. This may be due to the fact that in Turkey this area was previously included in the category of equipped lowlands but is now considered to be equipped for full/partial control irrigation, probably due to improved infrastructure.

Irrigation techniques

Table 26 presents the trends in irrigation techniques. To facilitate the comparison between 1997 and 2007, data has been estimated for Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, taking into account either the previous survey or the current survey. Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory are not included in the Near East sub-regional figures as data was not obtained for these countries in both the previous and the present survey. Therefore, it should be considered that the real area is larger than the total presented below, for every technique.

The area under surface irrigation, the most important technique, has increased by 1.4 million ha (9 percent). However, in all sub-regions except the Caucasus, the relative importance of surface irrigation has decreased. Sprinkler irrigation has increased by 0.3 million, which represents a growth rate of 18 percent for this technique. While its relative importance has become less in the Arabian Peninsula and the Caucasus, it has grown especially in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Near East sub-region. Localized irrigation, which is the technique that requires less water, has increased in area by 0.7 million ha, representing a growth rate of 424 percent during the ten years. Its relative importance has increased in all sub-regions. It is developing most, however, in the Arabian Peninsula, where the percentage compared with the other techniques has increased from 3.5 to 10 percent; the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Near East follow with increases from 0.6 to 5.2 percent and from 1.0 to 3.5 percent respectively. These regions include the driest countries in the world, but are also among the more developed regions, two factors favouring the adoption of these techniques.

Irrigated crops

The main change in the last ten years has been a decrease in wheat-growing areas and their proportion in the whole area under full/partial control irrigation. This reduction has occurred mainly because of the increase in other cereals, especially barley but also maize and rice. Irrigated cereals as a percentage of total irrigated crops have decreased from 60 percent in 1997 to 44 percent in 2007. The area under permanent crops has increased from 6 to 15 percent, indicating that a higher percentage of irrigated area is dedicated to these crops. The area under vegetables and cotton has also increased, while the area under fodder has decreased from 11 percent to 9 percent. These statistics must be considered with caution as Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory were not included in the previous survey and therefore old data are not available.

Use rate of areas equipped for irrigation

Amongst the five countries for which information is available, i.e. Armenia, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, three have seen their rate of use for equipped areas improve in the last ten years, in two it has decreased, and in one it has remained the same. Areas actually irrigated in Armenia have increased from 60 percent of equipped areas in 1995 to 64 percent in 2006, while there has been a small decrease in equipped areas. The same holds for Turkey, where areas have increased from 74 to 87 percent between 1994 and 2006. Conversely, two countries have experienced a reduction in the use of their irrigation systems. In Qatar, the area actually irrigated has declined from 66 percent in 1993 to 47 percent in 2004, for almost the same equipped areas. In Saudi Arabia the use rate has fallen from 100 percent to 69 percent between 1992 and 1999, for a slight increase in equipped area. In Bahrain, the area actually irrigated represented 100 percent of the equipped areas in 1994 and in 2000. While a more extensive use of equipped areas in the first two countries can be explained by the rehabilitation of degraded schemes, it is often the degradation of equipment that justifies the abandonment of equipped areas in the latter group of countries.


In 14 out of the 18 countries of the Middle East region for which information is given, water management is generally based on a water code, on a specific water law or on several water laws. Armenia and Azerbaijan have a Water Code, signed in 2002 and 1997 respectively. A specific Water Law has been enacted in Georgia (1997), the Islamic Republic of Iran (1982), Israel (1959), Lebanon (2000), Occupied Palestinian Territory (1996) and Yemen (2002). In six other countries (Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Syrian Arab Republic) certain aspects of water management such as pollution, drilling, irrigation or water rights are regulated, but these specific arrangements are not grouped in a water code. In Iraq a law on irrigation was enacted in 1995. In Jordan, laws and regulations are imposed to enable the authorities and other bodies to perform their duties in respect of water. In Oman, several decrees concerning water and irrigation have been enacted, and in Qatar a decree was issued to govern drilling of wells and use of groundwater. In Saudi Arabia various water laws are under revision and reformulation, although there are still grey areas of overlapping responsibilities regarding irrigation and the control and implementation of water reuse for irrigation. In the Syrian Arab Republic, over 140 laws that address water have been passed since 1924. No information is available for Bahrain, Kuwait, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates; however, these countries have institutions responsible for water management or water supply.

The national institutions responsible for the management and planning of irrigation development are, for a large majority of the Middle East countries (12 out of 18), departments or divisions within the Ministry of Agriculture. In Azerbaijan irrigation management depends on the State Committee of Amelioration and Water Management, in Jordan on the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and in Kuwait on the Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and Fish Resources. In the Syrian Arab Republic there is a Ministry of Irrigation, and in Turkey the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSI) and the General Directorate of Rural Services (GDRS) are responsible for irrigation and drainage development activities.

The management and conservation of water resources are generally the responsibility of a different ministry (environment, nature protection, natural resources, energy or water resources), although in Israel it falls to the Water Commission (part of the Ministry of National Infrastructures), in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to the Palestinian Water Authority, in Qatar to the Permanent Water Resources Committee, in the Syrian Arab Republic to the Council of General Commission for Water Resource Management, and in the United Arab Emirates to the General Water Resources Authority. Municipal water supply and wastewater treatment depend in some countries on another ministry again (such as territorial administration, health, public works or housing and construction).

The management of the irrigation systems is generally performed jointly by the State, as regards the primary infrastructure or public systems, and by user associations or independent users for the secondary and tertiary infrastructure or private systems. There are countries where water user associations do not exist, such as Lebanon. In the Caucasian countries, after the Soviet period there was a disengagement of the State from the irrigation sector and subsequent creation of user associations that are now in place or in the pipeline. In Turkey, the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works began an Accelerated Transfer Program (ATP) in 1993, transferring irrigation systems management to users. In most of the countries surface water and groundwater are state property and the right to use either is acquired through licences. In many countries landowners have priority for water taken from a well on their land. There are exceptions such as Bahrain, where groundwater is property of the landowners.

Water tarification is used in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Israel, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey. In Israel, urban users pay much higher rates for water than farmers, and irrigation water is subsidized, though the subsidy has declined since 1987. In the United Arab Emirates water used for agriculture is free of charge while water for municipal use, which is mostly desalinated water, is subsidized by the State. Charges on wastewater discharge exist in Azerbaijan. The government of Bahrain is planning an appropriate pricing system for excess water utilization. In Armenia, the State budget finances about 50 percent of the annually assessed operation and maintenance (O&M) requirements of the water services for irrigation. In Jordan, the funds for the public irrigation schemes and dams come from international loans and the national budget, while in the private sector irrigation projects, investors and owners pay for the full cost of construction and for the rehabilitation and the annual running O&M cost. In Kuwait, the Industrial Bank of Kuwait (IBK) is responsible for administering the “agriculture and fisheries credit portfolio”, which is a fund for soft loans for investment in agriculture and fisheries. Finally, in the United Arab Emirates 50 percent of the costs of the infrastructures such as bubbler, drip and sprinkler irrigation are subsidized by the government.

Most countries are making considerable technical, policy and institutional progress within the water sector. The region manages sophisticated irrigation and drainage systems, and has spearheaded advances in desalination technology. Governments in some cities have shifted from direct provision of water supply services to regulation of services provided by independent or privately owned utilities. In some countries, farmers have begun managing irrigation infrastructure and water allocations. Some countries have established agencies to plan and manage water at the level of the river basin. To implement the new policies, most governments have established ministries that manage water resources and staffed them with well-trained and dedicated professionals. However, these efforts have not led to the expected improvements in water outcomes for several reasons. One issue is that cropping choices are a key determinant of water use in agriculture and they are affected far more by the price the farmer can get for those crops than by the price of irrigation services (World Bank, 2007).


In the Middle East region, surface water and groundwater quality is commonly affected by agricultural, industrial and domestic wastewater. Also, the quality of groundwater has drastically deteriorated due to over-pumping and subsequent salinization. In the Caucasus countries the largest source of pollution is municipal wastewater, which pollutes rivers downstream of large cities with organic matter, suspended solids, surfactants, etc, followed by industrial and agricultural wastewater discharges. In the Near East sub-region, water quality of rivers, such as the Euphrates and Tigris, is affected by return flow from irrigation projects and municipal and industrial wastewater. Groundwater quality is decreasing because of overexploitation of aquifers and leaching of fertilizers and pesticides. Deterioration of the quality of irrigation water is increasing owing to the use of treated wastewater, particularly in drought years. In the Arabian Peninsula, groundwater availability may be further reduced due to groundwater salinization in coastal areas and groundwater pollution in urban areas and areas of intensive agriculture.

The overexploitation of aquifers (when water withdrawal exceeds water recharge) and the subsequent lowering in their levels is a problem in all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula and in the Near East, such as Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This overexploitation is at the origin of seawater intrusion and/or the upward diffusion of deeper saline water in at least Bahrain, Gaza Strip, Israel, Oman and Qatar, which leads to a deterioration of groundwater quality. Using saline groundwater for irrigation may increase soil salinity. The use of fossil water, which is water from aquifers whose rate of renewal is very slow and which are therefore considered non-renewable, will cause depletion of the aquifers in the long term.

Scarcity of water resources, severe climatic conditions, pollution of groundwater, unsuitable cropping patterns and incorrect cultural practices lead to soil degradation and cause desertification. In addition to these factors, improper farm layouts and erroneous irrigation designs, together with poor water management, intensify the problem of desertification. Consecutive accumulation of salts year after year degrades the soils and renders them unproductive, this being regarded as the main reason for the abandonment of farms.

Arid areas are sensitive to salinization problems because the volume of rainwater dissolving the salts generated by the soil is low. By extracting water from the soil, evaporation and evapotranspiration tend to increase salt concentrations. Direct evaporation from the soil surface causes a rapid accumulation of salt in the top layers. When significant amounts of water are provided by irrigation with no adequate provision for leaching of salts, the soils rapidly become salty and unproductive. Water storage in the reservoirs, where evaporation is intense, tends to increase the salt concentration of the stored water. For all these reasons, the Middle East is a region subject to salinization, a problem that has been recognized for a long time. However, assessment of salinization at national level is a difficult enterprise and very little information on the subject could be found during the survey. Furthermore, no commonly agreed methods exist to assess the degree of irrigation-induced salinization. New figures on areas salinized by irrigation were available for only 5 of the 19 countries and territories, and for that reason figures from last survey for 6 more countries have been used (Table 27). In the near future, more information on salinization will probably become available and strategies to improve the situation should be defined, as this has been recognized as a priority by most of the Middle East countries. Considering the 11 countries which have reported figures, around 28 percent of the irrigated areas is under salinization on average. The situation is of particular concern in Kuwait, where the area salinized by irrigation exceeds 85 percent of the total equipped area for irrigation. In Azerbaijan, salinization affects 45 percent of the equipped area and in Bahrain, Turkey, and the Islamic Republic of Iran around 30 percent. In Lebanon or Jordan on the other hand the figures are only 1 and 4 percent respectively.

One of the measures needed to prevent irrigation-induced waterlogging and salinization in arid and semi-arid regions is the installation of drainage facilities. Drainage, in combination with adequate irrigation scheduling, allows for the leaching of excess salts from the plant root zone. Figures on drained areas are available for 13 of the 19 countries of which 5 are from the previous survey, since no new information could be obtained (Table 28). About 16 percent of the area equipped for irrigation in these countries has been provided with drainage facilities, varying from 0 percent in Kuwait and Oman to over 50 percent in Israel.

Only 7 out of the 19 countries of the Middle East region have reported information about water-related diseases for this survey, although these diseases are also represented in other countries of the region. The major factors favouring the development and dispersion of these diseases are as follows:

  • the orientation towards the use of wastewater to meet water shortage
  • lack of infrastructure, especially related to wastewater treatment and disposal
  • lack of health awareness and proper handling of polluted water
  • non-existence of regulations related to the protection of the environment and public health.

In Armenia, more than 1 600 persons were affected with water-related diseases in 2006 and more than 1 100 malaria cases were reported by 1998 although, owing to epidemic control interventions, the number of autochthonous malaria cases has decreased, dropping to 8 in 2003. In Georgia, the poor quality of water has resulted in several outbreaks of infectious intestinal diseases and epidemics. In Iran, water-related diseases are prevalent in some irrigated areas where the water is also used for domestic purposes, although the extent is unknown. In Jordan, contaminated water is a source of many human infections causing diarrhoea and other diseases, to which children are more exposed than adults. In Lebanon, water-related diseases, especially diarrhoea, are one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity among children under five. In addition, health problems resulting from exposure to water pollutants often result in health care expenditures and absence from work. Typhoid and hepatitis due to water quality result in a larger number of sick persons. In the Syrian Arab Republic, 900 000 cases of waterborne diseases caused by water pollution were reported in 1996. There are also high rates of infantile diarrhoea and typhoid and hepatitis infections have increased. Animals are also attacked by several diseases, such as tapeworm and pulmonary tuberculosis and others, resulting from the use of untreated wastewater for fodder crop irrigation. In Turkey, the two major water-related diseases connected with irrigation and water resources development are schistosomiasis (bilharzias) and malaria. Schistosomiasis occurs sporadically, but the implementation of the large-scale projects within the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) may eventually lead to epidemics. Malaria has long been a significant health problem in the country and is still common in areas of irrigation and water resources development.


Countries in the Middle East region consider water and irrigation management a key factor in the use and conservation of their water resources. In the near future, agricultural water management in the countries of the Middle East region for which information is available will take into consideration the following: control of groundwater abstraction in order to reduce overexploitation, use of non-conventional sources of water, improvement of the irrigation infrastructure and drainage network, rehabilitation and construction of dams, improvement of the water quality in irrigation, increasing water use efficiency and recovery of the expenses for water supply service. In some countries, in order to release the State budget from high expenditures related to water resources management, it has been considered necessary to involve the private sector. Developing water user associations is considered a priority in some countries.

In countries such as Iraq, Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic, water will be a limiting factor over the next years. Iraq expects that between 2020 and 2030 a situation may arise in which there will be a shortage in the Tigris and Euphrates owing to the increasing demand in the riparian countries. Since water shortages are forecast to occur with the development of irrigation, solutions have to be found for an integrated basin-level planning of water resources development. Jordan expects that within the next years all its available water resources will be developed. The available renewable water will never be enough to meet the escalating water demand. Water deficit will have to be met by extracting groundwater at rates not exceeding the safe yields, desalination of brackish and saline water and seawater, rationing of the water demand and improving the country’s water management. The Syrian Arab Republic estimates that its irrigation potential is lower than the area equipped for irrigation at present.

According to available information, the current use of non-conventional sources of water (desalination and/or reuse of treated wastewater) concerns 16 out of the 18 countries of the Middle East region. Only Armenia and Georgia do not use these sources of water as their resources are not as low as in other countries of the Middle East. Non-conventional sources of water are expected to develop considerably in the future to mitigate the lack of available resources in most of the Middle East countries. Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates include in their respective prospects for water management the increase of desalinated water and treated wastewater in the near future. The Islamic Republic of Iran, Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey include principally the development of reused treated wastewater. For Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraq and Yemen only, no information is available regarding an increase of non-conventional sources of water in the near future. Groundwater recharge with advanced wastewater treatment technologies could also be an option which is being taken into consideration in some countries, such as Kuwait and Qatar. However, there is a lack of experimental data on groundwater recharge, so that efforts should be focused in this direction.

Increasing water use efficiency will be possible by adopting efficient localized farm irrigation methods and irrigation scheduling. Increasing the net benefit per unit of land and water could be possible by reducing the growth of crops with high water requirements. In the Caucasian countries and in Turkey, donors and international financial institutions have developed projects dealing with the rehabilitation of irrigation and drainage. In Qatar interest-free loans will be provided to farmers to promote modernizing irrigation systems with a repayment period of several years.

The determination of relevant prices, which should recover the expenses for water supply service, is said to be one of the principles of effective water resources management. In Israel, increasing water tariffs is also a solution to reduce water demand for municipal gardening, home gardening, the domestic sector and the agricultural sector. Qatar is looking at the possibility of introducing a pricing system for water consumption with penalties for extravagant water use and incentives for water saving.

Information regarding specific water plans for the near future is available for some countries. In Armenia, the sub-programme on irrigated agriculture of the Millennium Goal programme aims to find a solution to the existing problems of irrigation systems. In Lebanon, the Water Plan 2000–2010 defines the strategy to satisfy Lebanon’s future water needs. In Oman, a National Water Resources Master Plan was prepared in 2000 to establish a strategy and plan for the period 2001–2020 for the sustainable development, management and conservation of water resources. In Saudi Arabia, a Future Plan of Agriculture has been developed which calls for reducing water demand through a policy of diversification of agricultural production, taking into account the comparative advantages of each region of the country. In Turkey, irrigation investment in the GAP which will finish at the end of 2010 comprises 910 000 ha in the Euphrates River Basin and 540 000 ha in the Tigris River Basin planned for irrigation. In Yemen, specific objectives of the second Five-Year Plan are the optimal exploitation of available water resources, improving the means and techniques for water resources recovery and for feeding aquifers, and protecting water resources from pollution.

Although they already exist in some countries, water transfers are not included in any water plan presented for the future or in major prospects for water management in the Middle East region.

Regarding transboundary river basins, riparian countries need to prepare joint water management plans for each basin in order to avoid lack of communication, conflicting approaches, unilateral development, and inefficient water management practices which cause international crisis in these countries. In that direction, in 2008 Turkey, the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq decided to cooperate on water issues by establishing a water institute that will consist of 18 water experts from each country to work towards the solution of water-related problems. The institute will conduct its studies at the facilities of the Ataturk Dam, the largest dam in Turkey, and plans to develop projects for the fair and effective use of transboundary water resources.

Water professionals across the Middle East region recognize the need to focus more on integrated management of water resources and on regulation rather that provision of services. The region has seen major advances, but on the whole, progress towards better management has been slow. A series of technical and policy changes to the water sector in most Middle East countries is needed if they are to accelerate on water policy and avoid the economic and social hardships that might otherwise occur. The changes include planning that integrates water quality and quantity and considers the entire water system; promotion of demand management; tariff reform for water supply, sanitation and irrigation; strengthening of government agencies; decentralizing responsibility for delivering water services to financially autonomous utilities; and stronger enforcement of environmental regulations. The water sectors of the region will need to tackle three types of scarcity – scarcity of physical resources, scarcity of organization capacity and scarcity of accountability for achieving sustainable outcomes – in order to reduce the region’s water management problems so that water can achieve its potential contribution to growth and employment (World Bank, 2007).


Documents cited in this section were useful for the writing of the summary and are not specific to a country or river basin. Literature relative to the individual countries is listed in the section "Main sources of information" at the end of each country profile.

Akanda, A., Freeman, S. and Placht, M. 2007. The Tigris-Euphrates river basin: Mediating a path towards regional water stability.

American University [AU]. 1997. Tigris-Euphrates river dispute. ICE case studies.

Attili S., Phillips D. and Khalaf A. After 2003. Historical developmental plans of the Jordan river basin.

Berrin, B and Campana, M. 2008. Conflict, cooperation, and the new ‘Great Game’ in the Kura-Araks basin of the South Caucasus

Bridgland D.R, Philip G., Westaway R. and White M. 2003. A long Quaternary terrace sequence in the Orontes River valley, Syria: A record of uplift and of human occupation. Current science, Vol. 84, No. 8, 25 April 2003.

Bucks, D.A. 1993. Micro-irrigation world wide usage report.

CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency). 2004. Factbook, country profiles: Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.

CILSS (Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel) / OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 1991. The development of irrigated crops in Sahel. Summary and reports by country. OECD / CILSS / CLUB of Sahel. Saturday / D (91) 366. E/F.

Comair, F.G. 2008. Gestion et hydrodiplomatie de l’eau au Proche-orient.

Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. 2007. Water for food, water for life: a comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture. London: Earthscan, and Colombo: International Water Management Institute.

Dogan Y.P. 2009. Turkey, Syria cooperate on water front. Today’s Zaman. 20 March 2009.

DSI (General directorate of state hydraulic works). XXst Regional Directorate of State Hydraulic works - Kahramanmaras.

El Fadel, M., El Sayegh, Y., Abou Ibrahim, A., Jamali, D. and El Fadl, K. 2002. The Euphrates-Tigris basin: A case study in surface water conflict resolution.

Erdem, M. (after 2002). The Tigris-Euphrates rivers controversy and the role of international law.

Estephan C., Nimah M.N., Farajalla N., Karam F. 2008. Lebanon. Rural Development Project. The Upper Bekaa valley of Lebanon. Orontes River Basin.

EU (European Union). 2004. EU Rapid Mechanism-End of programme report. Lebanon/Israel Wazzani springs dispute. European Commission Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management Unit.

Ewing, A. 2003. Water quality and public health monitoring of surface waters in the Kura-Araks river basin of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

FAO. 1995. Irrigation in Africa/L’irrigation en Afrique en chiffres. FAO Water Report No. 7. Rome.

FAO. 1997a. Irrigation in the Near East Region in figures. FAO Water Report No. 9. Rome.

FAO. 1997b. Irrigation in the countries of the former Soviet Union in figures. FAO Water Report No. 15. Rome.

FAO. 1997c. Irrigation potential in Africa - a basin approach. FAO Land and Water Bulletin No. 4. Rome.

FAO. 1999. Irrigation in Asia in figures. FAO Water Report No. 18. Rome.

FAO. 2002. Bilateral agreement between Syria and Iraq concerning the installation of a Syrian pump station on the Tigris River for irrigation purposes. Available at http://faolex.fao.org/waterlex/.

FAO. 2003. Review of world water resources by country. FAO Water Report No. 23. Rome.

FAO. 2004a. Directions for agricultural water management in Africa. FAO Land and Water Development Division. Internal document, unpublished.

FAO. 2004b. Support to the drafting of a national Water Resources Master Plan.

FAO. 2005. Irrigation in Africa in figures – AQUASTAT survey 2005. FAO Water Report No. 29. Rome.

FAO. 2006. Orontes basin (Al Assi).International Symposium on irrigation modernization: constraints and solutions. Damascus, Syria. 28–31 March 2006.

FAO. 2008a. FAOSTAT – database. Available at http://faostat.fao.org/.

FAO. 2008b. AQUASTAT – database. Available at http://www.fao.org/nr/aquastat/.

Gleick, P.H., ed. 1993. Water in crisis: a guide to the of world’s freshwater resources. New York, USA, Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press for Pacific Institute. 473 pp.

Gleick, P.H., ed. 2006. The world’s water 2006-2007: the biennial report on freshwater resources. Washington, DC, Island Press.

Green Cross Denmark. 2006. Cooperation over water resources in the Jordan river basin - Strategies for seveloping new water resources.

Green Cross Italy. 2006. Water for peace. The Jordan river basin.

Haddadin, M. After 2000. The Jordan river basin: water conflict and negotiated resolution.

Hohendinger, K. 2006. Water politics in the Middle East: The Euphrates Tigris basin.

ICID (International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage). 2005. Sprinkler and micro-irrigated area in some ICID member countries. Available at http://www.icid.org.

IPTRID (International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage) /FAO. 2003. The irrigation challenge - increasing irrigation contribution to food security through higher water productivity canal irrigation systems. Issue paper No. 4.

Kaya, I. 1998. The Euphrates–Tigris basin: An overview and opportunities for cooperation under international law.

Khater, A.R. 2003. Intensive groundwater use in the Middle East and North Africa In R. Llamas & E. Custodio, eds. Intensive use of groundwater challenges and opportunities. Abingdon, UK, Balkema. 478 pp.

Kibaroglu, A. 2002. Building a regime for the waters of the Euphrates-Tigris river basin.

Korkutan, S. 2001. The sources of conflict in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin and its strategic consequences in the Middle East.

Lehner, B., Verdin, K., Jarvis, A. 2008. New global hydrography derived from spaceborne elevation data. Eos, Transactions, AGU, 89(10): 93-94. HydroSHEDS. Available at the following link: http://www.worldwildlife.org/hydrosheds and http://hydrosheds.cr.usgs.gov.

Libiszewski, S. 1995. Water disputes in the Jordan basin region and their role in the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Lowi, M. After 1996. Political and institutional responses to transboundary water disputes in the Middle East.

L'vovitch, M.I. 1974. World water resources and their future. Russian ed. Mysl. Moscow. Translation in English by R.L. Nace, American Geological Union, Washington, 1979. 415 pp.

Milich, L and Varady, G. 1998. Openness, sustainability, and public participation in transboundary river-basin institutions. The Israel-Jordan Joint Water Committee (IJJWC)

Möllenkamp S. 2003. Transboundary river basin management - new challenges in EU 25 and beyond.

Nachbaur, J.W. 2004. The Jordan river basin in Jordan: impacts of support for irrigation and rural development.

NIC (National Intelligence Council). 2000. Central Asia and South Caucasus: Reorientations, international transitions, and strategic dynamics conference report. October 2000.

New, M., Lister, D., Hulme, M. and Makin, I. 2002. A high-resolution data set of surface climate over global land areas. Climate Research 2. Available at following link: http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/hrg.htm.

Newton, J. 2007. Case study of transboundary dispute resolution: the Kura -Araks basin.

OSU (Oregon State University). 2002. International river basins of the world.

OSU. 2008. South Caucasus river monitoring project.

Ruzgar. Problem of Kura-Araks..

Slim K., Saad Z, El-Samad O., Kazpard V. Chemical and algological characterization of surface waters in the Orontes River (Lebanon) in a semiarid environment.

Sofer A., Rosovesky M. and Copaken N. 1999. Rivers of fire: the conflict over water in the Middle East.

SPC (State Planning Commission). 2009. The five year plan 2006-2010.

The Jordan Times. 2008. Jordan, Syria to discuss Yarmouk basin, Wihdeh Dam storage. 04/09/2008.

UN (United Nations). 2006. The UN World Water Development Report II: Water, a shared responsibility. UNESCO / Berghahn Books.

UNDG (United Nations Development Group). 2005. The national water master plan – Phase 1 Water Resources Assessment. 26 pp.

UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). 2008. Human Development Index. Available at http://hdr.undp.org).

UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe). 2004. Environmental performance reviews: Azerbaijan.

UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). 2002. Caucasus Environment Outlook (CEO)

UNEP. 2003. GEO Year Book 2003. Theme: Freshwater.

UNESCO-IHE (Institute for water education). 2002. From conflict to cooperation in international water resources management: challenges and opportunities. Institute for Water Education Delft, The Netherlands.

UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund). 2005. Statistics by country. Available at http://www.unicef.org

UNICEF / WHO (World Health Organization). 2008. Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for water and sanitation. Available at http://www.wssinfo.org.

US Department of State. 2003. Roadmap for peace in the Middle East: Israeli/Palestinian reciprocal action, quartet support.

USAID (United States Agency for International Development). 2006. South Caucasus water program.

Vener, B. 2006. The Kura-Araks Basin: obstacles and common objectives for an integrated water resources management model among Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

Venot, J.P., Molle, F. and Courcier, R. 2006. Dealing with closed basins: the case of the Lower Jordan river basin. World Water Week 2006, Stockholm, August 2006.

Vermooten, J.S.A, Kloosterman F.H. After 2002. The reaction of the groundwater system of the Syrian Orontes basin to stresses from large scale groundwater pumping.

Waterwiki. 2007. Reducing transboundary degradation in the Kura/Aras river basin.

WHYMAP (World-wide hydrogeological mapping and assessment programme). 2008. Groundwater resources of the world.

WHO (World Health Organization). 2005. World malaria report 2005.

Wolf, A. 1996. "Hydrostrategic" Territory in the Jordan Basin: Water, War, and Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations.

World Bank. 1998. International watercourses: enhancing cooperation and managing conflict.

World Bank. 2007. Making the most of scarcity.

World Bank. 2008. Indicators of world development.

World Resources Institute. 1994. World resources 1994-1995. A guide to the global environment. Oxford University Press for WRI/UNEP/UNDP. 400 pp.

World Resources Institute. 2003. World resources 2002-2004. Decisions for the earth: balance, voice, and power.

Yavuz, Ercan. 2008. Turkey, Iraq, Syria to initiate water talks. Today’s Zaman 12/03/2008.


The following summary tables are available for the Middle East region:

Explanatory notes

Table 42- Land use and irrigation potential

  • The cultivable area for Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the United Arab Emirates was estimated as cultivated area. For Qatar it was estimated as the irrigation potential.
  • The cultivated areas for Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates do not correspond to the FAOSTAT values because there is no rainfed cultivation, thus cultivated land is equal to the total water managed area or, if known, the actually irrigated area (Qatar and Saudi Arabia).
  • The cultivated area for Yemen corresponds to the value provided by the national consultant because the FAOSTAT value is smaller than the total harvested irrigated crops area.
  • The cultivated area does not correspond to the year indicated in the column for Bahrain (2000), Kuwait (2003), Occupied Palestinian Territory (1998), Qatar (2004), United Arab Emirates (2003) and Yemen (2004).
  • The irrigation potential area for Israel, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen was estimated as equipped area, since there was no data available.
  • Figures on irrigation potential cannot be totalled due to possible double-counting of shared water resources.

Table 46- Water withdrawals by source

  • Freshwater (Surface water + groundwater) for Iraq, Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Syrian Arab Republic are unknown, however total freshwater has been estimated taking into account water withdrawal by sector.
  • Turkey’s surface water and groundwater refers to 2000 while total freshwater refers to 2003, and Azerbaijan surface water and groundwater refers to 2004 while total freshwater refers to 2005.

Table 49- Full/partial control irrigation techniques

  • There is no data available for Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, thus these countries are not included in the totals.

Table 50- Origin of full/partial control irrigation water

  • For Azerbaijan, Kuwait and Turkey surface water area + groundwater area + other sources of water area is not equal to the full/partial control irrigation area in Table 47 because it refers to different years.

Table 51- Harvested irrigated crops on full/partial control areas

  • For Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey, the harvested irrigated crops area, equipped area actually irrigated, or equipped full/partial control irrigation area which are used for the calculation of cropping intensity refer to the same year (2003, 2004, 1999, 2000 and 2004 respectively).


The following regional figures are available for the Middle East region:

  • Figure 7: Regional division of the world adopted by AQUASTAT,
  • Figure 8: Regional division of the Middle East,
  • Figure 9: Average annual rainfall,
  • Figure 10: Population density,
  • Figure 11: Internal renewable water resources,
  • Figure 12: Total renewable water resources per inhabitant,
  • Figure 13: Transboundary river basins,
  • Figure 14: Endoreic basins,
  • Figure 15: Non-renewable groundwater aquifers,
  • Figure 16: Non-conventional sources of water as percentage of total water withdrawals,
  • Figure 17: Annual water withdrawal per inhabitant,
  • Figure 18: Annual freshwater withdrawal as a percentage of total actual renewable water resources. Millennium Development Goal: Water Indicator,
  • Figure 19: Area equipped for irrigation,
  • Figure 20: Area equipped for irrigation as percentage of country area,
  • Figure 21: Area equipped for irrigation as percentage of cultivated area.

Explanatory notes

Figure 7: Regional division of the world adopted by AQUASTAT

  • This is the regional division as given in FAO. 2003. Review of world water resources by country. Water Report 23. FAO, Rome. 110 pp.

Figure 18: Annual freshwater withdrawal as percentage of total actual renewable water resources

  • Values over 100 percent indicate that more freshwater is withdrawn than the quantity annually renewed on a long-term basis, thus depleting the freshwater resources and using fossil groundwater. At country level, Kuwait has by far the highest value, 2 075 percent, meaning that large use is made of fossil groundwater. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia follow, with 1 867 percent and 936 percent respectively. For Qatar, Bahrain, Gaza Strip and Yemen, the values are 381 percent, 206 percent, 173 percent and 161 percent respectively.

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