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Watering the Middle East

FEZ – The United Nations World Water Development Report confirms what many already know: hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – especially in Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – have faced the worst water shortages in decades in 2016. This is the last thing the region needs, as it works toward economic growth and diversification.

Multiple factors have contributed to the current situation, including climate change, desertification, water pollution, and misuse of natural resources. Inadequate information, education, and communication exacerbate many of these challenges, as it reinforces a lack of awareness of – much less commitment to – environmentally friendly practices. Add to that inadequate disaster-risk reduction and management by governments – many of which are dealing with other conflicts and crises – and the situation has become truly dire.

Algeria, for example, has been experiencing its worst drought in five decades. With much of the country’s agriculture relying heavily on rainfall, owing to underdeveloped infrastructure, cereal yields are down 40% this year. Despite its vast oil and gas wealth, Algeria has failed to ensure sufficient affordable water resources for its population, not to mention adequate employment opportunities. As a result, the country is now being rocked by popular protests.

Libya has faced even greater instability, wrought by years of internal conflict. The resultant power cuts and fuel scarcity undermined water distribution in the country. Last summer, the UN had to procure some five million liters of water from neighboring countries to meet the country’s needs.