Water wars in the Mid-East are on the horizon

An editorial in the latest edition of Middle East Report on the issue of dwindling water resources in the region:

The Middle East is running out of water.

It is a statement that may seem both banal and unduly apocalyptic. Most of the land in this arid region is desert. Large oil-exporting states like Saudi Arabia and Libya exhausted their indigenous renewable water supply decades ago. The desalination plants of the Gulf are well known; the Great Manmade River constructed by Libya is notorious. At the same time, water runs freely from the tap in most heavily populated areas of the region. Though it has endured more than its fair share of war, the Middle East has mostly been spared the murderous drought and famine that has accompanied civil strife in the Horn of Africa. The inter-state “water wars” that have been predicted for some time have never been fought and, though the predictions keep coming, these conflicts are not on the horizon.

But the Middle East has entered a new water era, one in which its relative lack of fresh water supply will bump up against growth in demand. The total population of the region—defined as North Africa, Sudan, Somalia, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran—is expected to climb from 309 million in 2000 to about 651 million in 2030. Rising living standards, attained by at least portions of these populations, translate into more water consumption per capita. During the same period the absolute supply of water is projected to decrease, due to drops in precipitation and river flows induced by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most prestigious body examining the matter, has forecast that “annual rainfall is likely to decrease in much of Mediterranean Africa and northern Sahara, with the likelihood of a decrease in rainfall increasing as the Mediterranean coast is approached.” An independent study published in Nature magazine likewise estimated that regional rainfall could decrease by 10–30 percent by the year 2050.