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Middle East


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Data on water withdrawal by sector refer to the gross quantity of water withdrawn annually for a given use.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.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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