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publication August 23, 2017

Beyond Scarcity: Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa

Water has always posed great challenges for the Middle East and North Africa. With rapid growth, regional instability, and climate change, these challenges are more pressing than ever. This report describes how the region’s current water challenges go far beyond age-old constraints of water scarcity. The report explores how countries can anticipate and act to strengthen water security, rather than waiting to react to the inevitable disruptions of water crises.

Key Findings:

  • The Middle East and North Africa is a global hotspot of unsustainable water use, especially of groundwater. In some countries, more than half of current water withdrawals exceed what is naturally available;
  • 82% of wastewater is not recycled, presenting a massive opportunity to meet water demands;
  • The region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6–14 percent of GDP by 2050;
  • Total water productivity in the Middle East and North Africa is only about half the world’s average;
  • Despite its scarcity, the region has the world’s lowest water tariffs and the highest proportion of GDP (2 percent) spent on public water subsidies;
  • Flood and drought risks are increasing and are likely to harm the poor disproportionately;
  • Some 60 percent of surface water resources in the region are transboundary, and all countries share at least one aquifer, highlighting the importance of cooperative management of shared water resources;
  • Positive innovations are already taking place in the Middle East and North Africa:
    • Morocco’s nation-wide efforts on groundwater management;
    • Jordan’s efforts to harness private sector innovation, financing for recycling wastewater, and to enhance supply through desalination;
    • Saudi Arabia pursuing reforms to reduce untargeted subsidies and enhancing the role of private operation in support of public interest outcomes;
    • Egypt’s renewed focus on strengthening local accountability for water supply and sanitation services – particularly in under-served rural areas. 
  • The real challenge is to generalize and accelerate these positive innovations throughout the Region. This requires a “new water consciousness” amongst citizens which recognizes that moving beyond scarcity is everyone’s responsibility be they a farmer, business, public agency, or as individuals.