MENA region’s climate regime influences its water resources

MENA region’s climate regime influences its water resources

Orestes Morfín in MEI@75 of 20 April 2022, tells us how the MENA region’s climate regime influences its water resources. Let us have a look.


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces unique challenges to environmental sustainability and human habitation. First and foremost among these is the limited availability of freshwater. As a broad swath of arid to dry-subhumid mountainous desert, the region sees most of its precipitation fall as mountain snow. Surface water is relatively scarce and the major rivers are fed by snowmelt runoff in source areas far from major points of use. The headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in mountainous eastern Turkey and the headwaters of the Blue Nile in the Ethiopian Highlands are prime examples. Sustained availability of water to these river systems is therefore dependent on the predictable transformation of mountain snowpack into runoff.

The relative hydrologic “health” of a system is often thought of in terms of the absolute amount of precipitation falling on the watershed. While the quantity of precipitation is important, precipitation alone does not guarantee runoff. The capacity of any basin to efficiently translate precipitation into runoff is dependent on a complex, sensitive interplay of forces that must align if it is to be predictable — and predictability is the foundation of sound planning.

Timing

Water stores energy more efficiently than air. The oceans, therefore, are a significant reservoir of heat produced by human activity. Not surprisingly, temperature anomalies in the ocean have skewed overwhelmingly higher since the 1990s. This is important because warming oceans have the potential to contribute more moisture to the atmosphere through increased evaporation. A warming air mass, however, buffers this effect with an increased capacity to retain moisture, meaning that more moisture is needed to reach saturation. This impacts both the amount and the timing of precipitation. In other words, when coupled with a warming ocean, a warmer atmosphere may take longer to reach saturation, but will deliver more precipitation when it does.

Studies suggest that wet regions will get wetter and arid regions will have even less precipitation. For regions already feeling the effects of increased average temperatures and aridification — such as the MENA region — longer, hotter summers and delayed onset of autumn cooling and precipitation may mean both a delay in snowpack formation and a diminished snowpack. This may be the result not only of insufficient moisture in the atmosphere needed to reach saturation, but may also be due to more winter precipitation falling in the form of rain rather than snow. The potential coupling of warmer oceans and a warmer atmosphere has significant and possibly dire implications for the expected lifespan of surface waters in MENA.

Pre-existing conditions

Some regions have more naturally favorable conditions than others for generating runoff. Areas with cooler, wetter fall weather at elevation have soils at (or close to) saturation prior to the snow accumulation season. This is important because the state of the “soil moisture budget” is often an influential factor in how much runoff is generated during melt. In this context, soil that is closer to saturation will have a reduced capacity to retain additional water. Thus, snow accumulating on saturated soil will be more likely to generate runoff with the onset of spring melt.

By contrast, a warmer atmosphere with longer, hotter summers will have a drier prelude to snow accumulation season. Warmer air wicks moisture from the soil surface and increases evaporative stress on regional vegetation, resulting in a soil moisture “deficit” in this crucial period. Since a greater percentage of meltwater first must be absorbed into the soil, less runoff will be generated.

Dust on snow

The sun also plays a significant role in this process. Snowpack development is sensitive to the daily inbound/outbound fluctuation of solar radiation in the atmosphere. Snow reflects most incoming solar radiation. Snow that has accumulated on saturated soil after a wet autumn reflects most efficiently. Snow that has accumulated after a long, hot summer and dry autumn, however, may continue to accumulate dust on the surface of the snowpack, which absorbs solar radiation, increases the temperature at the snowpack surface, and tends to result in a premature melt.

Cumulative effect

MENA governments have poured money into developing large-scale hydropower and water projects. Perhaps the most notable of these are Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a series of 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric facilities, and agricultural diversions in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, and more recently the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Both mega-projects were designed to stimulate economic growth and ensure greater independence. The benefits of these projects may be overestimated, however, if both the quantity and quality of runoff proves increasingly disappointing.

Seasonal precipitation totals are important, but even the wettest of years will have reduced runoff if the timing of delivery is off, the autumn was warm and dry, and an already meager snowpack melts earlier than expected. In such years, a greater soil moisture deficit must be overcome before the watershed can generate any runoff in spring. 

Reduced streamflow can also have adverse impacts on water quality. Reduced runoff means less fresh water available to dilute naturally-occurring salts eroded from upstream areas, resulting in higher salinity in both surface waters and agricultural soils. Hotter, drier conditions over a greater percentage of the year mean less irrigation water available to flush salts that accumulate from the soil. Increased soil and surface water salinity constitutes an existential threat to agriculture as well as an economic liability (in terms of damage to piping, drains, and other infrastructure).

These impacts can be mitigated with careful planning that takes this delicate balance of factors into account, such as coordinated facility management to minimize adverse impacts to all users or funding agreements designed to address the damage caused by excess salinity. Greater cross-border collaboration among MENA countries is essential if stakeholders hope to maximize the delivery potential of the water resources projects in which they have already invested so heavily.

Orestes Morfín is a senior planning analyst with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and a non-resident scholar with MEI’s Climate and Water Program. The views expressed in this piece are his own.

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images

Groundwater: Nourishing Life

Groundwater: Nourishing Life

Groundwater Nourishing Life by Dr Irfan Peerzada and published by Greater Kashmir applies to all areas of the planet, particularly to those regions that are at the forefront of the sweeping global warming.

It should be noted that this threat has been taking on an alarming dimension for several years. Risks and vulnerability analyses of the Climate Change effects on the MENA region were carried out on behalf of certain authorities in charge of the environment. Most came up with findings on the fragile sectors of agriculture and water resources and established maps from local and international data such as the “drought severity” map based on the World Resources Institute.

These analyses of risks and vulnerability to climate change developed by these experts for several years also indicated that climate change will cause the MENA region generally a rise in temperatures, a decrease in total rainfall but also a greater instability of the distribution of precipitation during the year. It will lead to a degradation of the vegetation cover and soils resulting in greater erosion and acceleration of desertification.


In the above-featured image “Groundwater is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers. “Flickr [Creative Commons]

Reliance on groundwater for food production continues to increase globally

Groundwater is invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere. Out of sight, under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that supports our lives.

Almost all the liquid fresh water in the world is groundwater. Life would not be possible without groundwater. Most arid areas of the world depend entirely on this resource.

Groundwater supplies a large proportion of the water we use for food production and industrial processes. Groundwater is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers. 

Groundwater: The invisible ingredient in food

Population growth, rapid urbanisation, and economic development are just some of the factors driving increased demand for water, energy and food. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources. Feeding a global population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 50 per cent increase in food production.

Today, approximately 70% of global groundwater withdrawals are used in the agricultural sector, for the production of food, livestock and industrial crops. Reliance on groundwater for food production continues to increase globally, resulting in more use for irrigated agriculture, livestock and related industrial processes.

Indeed, about 30 per cent of all the water used for irrigation is groundwater, with regions heavily reliant on groundwater for irrigation such as North America and South Asia.

Groundwater has already lifted millions of people out of poverty and significantly improved food security, especially in India and East Asia, since technologies for drilling and energy sources for pumping were made widely available for rural farmers in the latter half of the 20th century.

Groundwater: a finite resource

Groundwater is being over-used in many areas of the world, where more water is abstracted from aquifers than is naturally recharged by rain and snow.

Continuous groundwater over-use can lead to depletion of this resource, compromising significant groundwater-dependent ecosystems and threatening to undermine basic water supply, agricultural production, climate resilience and food security.

Avoiding the problems of groundwater depletion requires increased management and governance capacity at multiple integrated levels and in inter-sectoral approaches. Reducing food waste can also play an important role in lowering water consumption.

Groundwater pollution

Groundwater is polluted in many areas and remediation is often a long and difficult process. This increases the costs of processing groundwater, and sometimes even prevents its use.

The use of chemical and organic fertilizers in agriculture is a serious threat to groundwater quality. For example, nitrate is the most common contaminant of groundwater resources worldwide. Other diffuse contaminants of concern to groundwater from irrigated agriculture include pesticides and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

Laws and regulations need to be enforced at all levels to prevent or limit diffuse groundwater pollution from agriculture, to preserve ecosystems and human health.

What can we do about groundwater?

Groundwater has always been critically important but not fully recognized. We must protect groundwater from pollution and use it sustainably, balancing the needs of people and the planet. Groundwaters’ vital role in agriculture, industry, ecosystems and climate change adaptation must be reflected in sustainable development policymaking.

Monitoring groundwater

In some areas of the world, we do not even know how much groundwater lies beneath our feet, which means we could be failing to harness a potentially vital water resource.

Sustainable groundwater use requires continuous monitoring of water consumption, particularly in irrigation systems serviced from non-renewable aquifers.

Satellite technologies offer cost-effective opportunities for estimating groundwater consumption and abstraction levels by measuring actual evapotranspiration in near-real time, over large areas.

Dr Irfan Peerzada, Department of Agriculture, District Bandipora

Groundwater: depleting reserves must be protected

Groundwater: depleting reserves must be protected

The above-featured image shows a well that brings groundwater to the surface at an oasis in Egypt. Water Alternatives Photos, CC BY-SA

Many countries in the MENA region, depend on groundwater as their main source of freshwater. Because the region suffers from the highest level of water scarcity stress in the world, it is absolutely vital that this reliable source of groundwater is looked after with due consideration of overexploitation and climate change can be lethal. The authors of this article recommend that all groundwater: depleting reserves must be protected around the world. Let us hear them.

Groundwater: depleting reserves must be protected around the world

Richard Taylor, UCL and Mohammad Shamsudduha (‘Shams’), UCL

Though water is central to our everyday lives and indeed life itself, we often mark World Water Day on March 22 not by reminding ourselves of all that water brings, but of the consequences of its absence or contamination.

As the American polymath Benjamin Franklin noted, “when the well runs dry, we (shall) know the worth of water”. This direct reference to groundwater, the water flowing through the pores and cracks in rocks beneath our feet, is fitting as the theme of this year’s water day is Groundwater: Making the Invisible, Visible.

Groundwater is our planet’s invaluable natural store of freshwater but it is woefully neglected. It differs from the water running off into rivers, lakes and wetlands as this underground flow derives from precipitation that occurred years, decades or even millennia ago. Much of the estimated 23  million km³ of groundwater in the upper 2 km of the Earth’s crust is ancient. Yet even the shallower and more easily accessible water, part which has been replenished by rain over the past half century, still greatly exceeds all other unfrozen water on Earth.

Found throughout landscapes on all continents, groundwater plays a vital role in not only sustaining water-dependent ecosystems during period of low or absent rainfall, but also providing people with access to safe water, especially off-grid communities. In drylands that stretch across around 40% of the world, groundwater is often the only perennial source of freshwater. It is estimated that half of the world’s drinking water and a quarter of all the water used in irrigation are currently sourced by groundwater drawn from wells and springs.

A woman uses a well
‘Water, water every where nor any drop to drink’ – a woman pumps fresh deep. groundwater in coastal Bangladesh while surrounded by brackish surface water. Richard Taylor, Author provided

Groundwater flowing within rocks underground known as aquifers is generally more resilient to climate variability and change than surface waters. Therefore droughts – whose frequency and severity are amplified by global warming – often increase dependence upon groundwater. This was recently witnessed in Cape Town in South Africa, which narrowly avoided “day zero” when the municipal water supply would be turned off. It has even been argued that human evolution itself relied on continuous spring discharges during periods of extreme drought.

The world is expected to become more dependent upon fresh water stored as groundwater as societies adapt to a world in which rain falls less frequently but in heavier bursts brought about by climate change. Recent evidence suggests such changes in rainfall may favour groundwater replenishment in the tropics to cope with drier periods, and that irrigation with groundwater could address climate change threats to rain-fed agriculture.

Man in field beside pipe
Onion crops irrigated by groundwater in southeastern Niger. Boukari Issoufou, Author provided

Exploited and contaminated

Despite groundwater’s invaluable attributes, it is not immune to overexploitation or contamination. For instance, continued groundwater pumping in some of the world’s most productive food-growing regions – California’s Central Valley, the North China Plain, northwest India, the High Plains of the US – is rapidly depleting reserves.

Map of global groundwater depletion
Groundwater is running low in some of the world’s main agricultural areas. UNESCO, CC BY-SA

Similarly, some of the world’s fastest growing cities such as Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Nairobi (Kenya) are struggling to reliably provide safe water as the groundwater below is running out. Groundwater depletion in both contexts disproportionately affects lower-income households and farmers who are typically less able to engage in a “race to the bottom” and drill deeper wells.

Groundwater in coastal areas is also becoming more salty, thanks to intensive pumping and rising sea levels, which both serve to drive sea water into underground aquifers. This salinisation especially affects groundwater in low-lying nations across the world and has the potential to force millions of people to leave their homes.

Use of groundwater is also impaired by the natural leaching of pollutants such as fluoride and arsenic from their host rocks – arsenic leaking into wells in Bangladesh has been described as the largest mass poisoning in history. Human activity, be it indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture, inadequate sanitation infrastructure, or ineffective regulation of industrial practices, also threatens the sustainability of groundwater use.

A common resource

As groundwater is out of sight, it has long been out of mind. Many countries struggle to monitor and evaluate their supplies, and only invest a tiny fraction of the resources they allocate to tracking surface water. There has also been a lack of investment in training and education in groundwater science, known as hydrogeology.

Like fisheries, groundwater is a commons, which is constantly threatened by The Tragedy of the Commons – a situation where individual users act in their own self-interest to deplete or degrade a resource, contrary to the collective good. The Nobel-Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom showed that cooperation is possible, however. She identified a set of conditions from case studies that included shared use of groundwater in which a community of users regulates individual access to develop common-pool resources prudently and sustainably. If we are to make groundwater visible, and ensure it provides equitable and climate-resilient access to water throughout the world, then such cooperative approaches are urgently required.

Richard Taylor, Professor of Hydrogeology, UCL and Mohammad Shamsudduha (‘Shams’), Associate Professor in Humanitarian Science, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt

Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt

The top featured image of Reuters is not only for illustration but meant to draw some attention to one of the most important cause of this traumatic situation of Egypt as well as that of many countries in the MENA region. Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt, that with an over-population still on the rise, has a limited but diminishing arable lands area. Building on farmland coupled a certain lack of control of all real estate developments bear on the lower social classes; those supposed to be at the forefront of food production.


Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt – the world’s largest wheat importer

By Kibrom Abay, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Clemens Breisinger, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; David Laborde Debucquet, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Joseph Glauber, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) , and Lina Alaaeldin Abdelfattah, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly pledged to keep food prices in the fair range amid the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Photo by Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua via Getty Images

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could create a global food security crisis. It is disrupting agricultural production and trade from one of the world’s major exporting regions. This threatens to drive rising food prices still higher and create scarcity, especially for regions most dependent on exports from Russia and Ukraine.

Particularly affected is the Middle East and North Africa – or MENA – region. These Arab countries consume the highest wheat per capita, about 128 kg of wheat per capita, which is twice the world average. More than half of this comes from Russia and Ukraine.

As agricultural and food security experts, we have explored the impacts of the war on the wheat market, focusing on Egypt.

Wheat is a key food item for Egypt, representing between 35% and 39% of caloric intake per person in the last few years. And wheat imports usually account for about 62% of total wheat use in the country.

Despite the government’s efforts following the global food crisis in 2007 to 2008 to diversify sources of cereal imports, the vast majority of cereal imports, between 57% and 60%, come from Russia and Ukraine.

A number of key policy actions are needed that will reduce dependence on Russia and Ukraine in the short term. This will help Egypt’s agriculture and food system to become fairer and more resilient – an absolute necessity in the context of looming threats from climate change, water scarcity and conflict.

Black Sea import disruptions

Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat. It imports a total of 12 to 13 million tons every year. With a population of 105 million, growing at a rate of 1.9% a year, Egypt has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet food needs.

Imports of cereal crops have been steadily increasing over the last three decades at a rate higher than that of domestic production.

Egypt’s wheat market and trade regime is largely controlled by government agencies. The General Authority for Supply Commodities, operating under the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade, usually handles about half of the total wheat imported, while private trading companies handle the other half.

Government agencies are already feeling the impact of the war, which has led to recent cancellation of tenders due to lack of offers, in particular from Ukraine and Russia.

Still, there is no fear of shortage in the coming weeks. In early February, Egyptian MoSit Minister Aly Moselhy said that the country held sufficient inventory to cover five months of consumption. But the outlook beyond that is less clear.

With the abrupt closure of Ukraine ports and current maritime trade in the Black Sea – wheat is transported across the Black Sea – Egypt will have to find new suppliers if Ukraine is unable to export wheat this year and if sanctions against Russia impede food trade indirectly.

Such opportunities are, unfortunately for Egypt, limited.

Limited options

Currently, wheat producers in South America – Argentina in particular – have larger than usual surpluses from the last harvest available to export. Overall, however, it will be difficult to expand the global wheat supply in the short run. About 95% of the wheat produced in the European Union and about 85% of that in the United States is planted in the fall, leaving those regions little room for expanding production in the near term.

In addition, wheat competes with crops such as maize, soybeans, rapeseed, and cotton, all of which are also seeing record high prices. In combination with record-high fertiliser prices (also exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict), farmers in some regions may favour less fertiliser-intensive crops, such as soybeans.

About 20% of world wheat exports come from the Southern Hemisphere (primarily Argentina and Australia) which typically ship from December through March.

In addition, Canada and Kazakhstan are large producers that harvest in the fall. Over the coming year and beyond, their exports may be able to make up much of the deficit created by the loss from Ukraine production, but at a higher cost due to longer shipping routes and increased transportation costs triggered by higher oil prices.

Rising prices

Rising global wheat prices hit a 10-year high at US$523 per ton on March 7. This is a serious problem for the Egyptian government’s budget and a potential threat to consumer purchasing power.

Even just before the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, prices of commodities in Egypt were increasing. The war has started adding further pressure and consumers are feeling these impacts.

Some countries have already imposed export restrictions in response to rising prices. These trends, coupled with disruptions in Russia’s and Ukraine’s exports, will likely add further upward pressures on prices going forward. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, global wheat prices will remain high throughout 2022 and the trend is likely to persist through 2023, given limits on expanding production.

The Egyptian government has been spending about US$3 billion annually for wheat imports. The recent price increase could nearly double that to US$5.7 billion. This, in turn, threatens Egypt’s Baladi bread subsidy program. This program provides millions of people with 150 loaves of subsidised bread per month. About 90% of the production cost is borne by the government at an annual cost of US$3.24 billion. The program requires about 9 million tons of wheat annually about half of the total wheat consumption in Egypt and three-quarters of Egypt’s wheat imports.

Policy options

In the short term, Egypt needs to diversify its food import sources.

The government is actively exploring this option, while also increasing planned procurement from domestic sources by 38% over last year’s figure. The government has just announced a new and relatively higher buying price for domestic wheat from farmers.

In addition, the government has decided to ban exports of staple foods, including wheat, for three months to limit pressure on existing reserves.

In the long term, Egypt needs to explore options for reducing the gap between domestic supply and demand. Here are some of its options.

Boosting domestic wheat production will be challenging, as Egyptian farmers are already achieving high yields, relying on high input and water use. While there are some opportunities to expand arable land, modernise farming systems and improve water management practices, the country’s principal focus should be to adapt the farming system to address imminent water shortages and climate change threats and increase resilience, rather than unsustainably expanding production.

Reducing the high consumption and waste of bread has significant potential. Egyptians on average consume about 145 kg of wheat per capita annually – double the global average.

Improve the efficiency and targeting of the Tamween food subsidy program. This provides beneficiaries with ration cards for various foods. The program absorbs a large share of imported wheat and vegetable oils. Reforming it could reduce inefficiencies in the wheat sector and the cost of running the program.

In conclusion, the Russia-Ukraine war poses a big challenge to global food security and particularly difficult obstacles for Egypt. The short-term and long-term impacts will of course depend on how the war unfolds and affects exports from Russia and Ukraine over the coming months and years. Impacts on Egypt will also depend on other countries’ responses to global price hikes and cereal shortages.

Egypt can mitigate some of these impacts with short-term actions as outlined above, but major global shocks like the Russia-Ukraine war are also reminders of the need of longer-term reforms and solutions.

Kibrom Abay, Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Clemens Breisinger, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; David Laborde Debucquet, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Joseph Glauber, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) , and Lina Alaaeldin Abdelfattah, Senior Research Assistant, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Water: The Dilemmas MENA Governments Are Facing

Water: The Dilemmas MENA Governments Are Facing

 

IHS Markit on 31 January 2022 posted this article written by Jihane Boudiaf Ralf Wiegert Yasmine Ghozzi on how the natural scarcity of water resources in the region as augmented by the current socio-economics and above all, like for the rest of the world, by climate change are causing the dilemmas MENA Governments are facing.


Water: The dilemmas MENA governments are facing

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been increasingly affected by water-related issues. This has focused concerns on government ability to meet demand for this increasingly scarce resource, the associated potential for violent protests and interstate conflict, and the consequences for economic development.

  • The MENA region is heavily exposed to water stress risks. Water scarcity is endangering development of water-intensive sectors and threatens economic diversification of net energy exporters in the region.
  • Agriculture has the highest consumption rate of freshwater by far. The strong growth outlook for agriculture in several MENA countries signals that pressures on water resources will intensify, with policy goals facing potential reversal.
  • Climate change-related issues such as locust devastation confronts MENA countries with increased pressure to meet vital needs. State failure to address water supply issues threatens to become a major source of civil unrest; water scarcity will be an important trigger for regional conflicts.
  • Technical expertise in water management is increasingly likely to become a major tool to advance diplomatic objectives in the region.

The MENA region contains only 1.4% of global freshwater resources, making it the most water-scarce region worldwide, suffering from increasing desertification and droughts. The United Nations defines critical water stress – the highest possible category – as the situation of more freshwater being withdrawn than freshwater resources are available. Of the 16 countries facing critical water stress globally, 12 are in the MENA region: Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Qatar, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Oman, and Jordan. Those countries withdrew more than 10 times as much freshwater in 2018 than was available from renewable resources. The situation is, however, getting worse as freshwater supply is becoming increasingly scarce.

Water: The Dilemmas MENA Governments Are Facing
Water withdrawal in MENA 2018

Demand is also growing, and demographics are unfavorable. IHS Markit expects the MENA region’s population to grow by 45% between 2020 and 2050, putting further strain on scarce water resources. The lack of, and rising prices for water restricts economic performance and slows development. MENA countries increasingly facing an existential dilemma between ensuring food security and water use, as well as expanding productive sectors such as the manufacturing and agricultural (either generate export revenues, like Morocco and Egypt or reduce import dependencies like the GCC countries). Developing these sectors is, however, problematic given that they are highly water-intensive, demonstrating an obvious policy contradiction that risks putting natural water supplies under further strain.

Agriculture is by far the largest consumer of water in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, and Iraq. In Israel, water withdrawal by agriculture represented about half of its total. Industrial water withdrawal was most prominent in Oman, where 13% of water was withdrawn for industrial purposes. For the region overall, IHS Markit currently projects agriculture to grow by 2.5% on average between 2020 and 2025. We forecast agriculture to perform strongly in Jordan, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, and Iran, which all have average growth rates for agricultural production ranging between 3.0% and 4.4%. Given the water scarcity in the region, such strong growth will also aggravate stress relating to water access across the region. There is a risk that the planned sectoral growth will not be realized in the absence of sufficient access to freshwater.

Producing freshwater in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is expensive, thus increasing the cost of agricultural production. In Saudi Arabia, nearly 80% of total water withdrawn is already used for agriculture, indicating the difficulty of sourcing additional water resources to permit agricultural expansion. The GCC is therefore likely to remain highly dependent on agri-food imports, notably for basic staples like rice, wheat and flour, and pulses, which are imported almost 100% across the GCC.

State failure to address water supply issues threatens to become a major source of civil unrest, with heightened risks of violent protests demanding better access to water and exposing governments’ inability to secure water resources. This is even more problematic for countries whose water security is not only dependent on improving water management and modernizing technologies but is also heavily dependent on the government’s ability to secure shared water resources from other countries. This is notably the case for Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and Israel.

Economically stronger countries like the GCC members and those that had already initiated national plans on water management (such as desalination processes and the modernization of irrigation systems for private, industrial, and agricultural usage) like Egypt and Israel, are likely better placed to improve access to water resources. Israel is likely to increasingly use water to advance its diplomatic objective of normalizing relations with MENA countries. In November 2021, Israel, Jordan, and the UAE signed a flagship energy-for-water deal, whereby Israel would double its annual supply of desalinated water to Jordan to 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water to water-stressed Jordan in exchange for 600MW of renewable electricity from a UAE-financed solar energy facility in Jordan. Israel’s ‘water diplomacy’ is facilitated by its position as one of the world leaders in water reuse and desalination, with 86% of its total wastewater being recycled. Having been in a situation of water shortage 10- 15 years ago, Israel currently has a surplus of water through a combination of recycling of wastewater and desalination technology, enabling it to export regionally. This places Israel as a key water stakeholder regionally in the coming years, which is likely to facilitate its access to MENA countries, thereby improving its prospects for pushing its normalization agenda within the MENA region.

Posted 31 January 2022 by Jihane Boudiaf, Analyst, Country Risk and

Ralf Wiegert, MENA economics team lead, Economics & Country Risk, IHS Markit and

Yasmine Ghozzi, Senior Economist, IHS Markit