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Water Scarcity in the Middle East


The Arab region has always had issues with the water supply but as the population continues to grow steadily, this issue has become even more alarming. As a result of this scarcity, there are competing claims over water rights which can create disputes between entire nations. Some of the nations that are financially better off than the rest can afford services such as desalination but at the same time, other nations seek alternatives such as digging even more wells increasing the issue at hand. (Gleick 2000).

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Historical Context

If one as to analyze the historical context of this issue, it can be seen that the Middle East and the North African regions suffer from water scarcity more than any other region in the world. This area contains about 6.3 percent of the world population but at the same time, has only access to 1.4 percent of the world’s supply of world’s reserves of renewable freshwater. While the water scarcity has been an issue due to the droughts and the lack of new supply, the rapidly growing population has accelerated the problems even more. Twelve of the world’s water-scarce countries lie in this region hinting at the extent to which water is scarce.( Gleick 2000).

Role of Population

As the population grows, so does the demand for water in all the different areas of the economy such as agriculture, domestic, industrial, etc. The number of women falling in the bracket of reproductivity is rising at a much faster rate than ever before-signifying the growth of the population. ( Roudi 2001).

Current distribution/uses

According to the household demand factor, the growing number of urbanized population, higher per capita income, and greater access to running water have all resulted in these issues. Urbanization creates greater demand and use of water than otherwise possible. In order to balance the demand with the supply of water, a number of policies have been devised for this purpose. In the long term, the key to solving this issue can be slowing the growth of the population, and at the same time creating effective policies to improve water management.

Supply-Desalination and other options

Some of the water management options are increasing supply which comes at a high cost and hence, cannot be possible for the lower-income countries such as Yemen. Increasing the supply can be done through desalination, and treatment and use of the existing water while using the older water treatment policies. A traditional method which has been used since time immemorial has been that of Qanats and rainwater harvesting, Sequential water usage; using water which has been used for another purpose previously such as using domestic water afterward for industrial purposes etc, desalination; provides a clean and reliable water source but does have external environmental negative effects, and lastly treading water between the different areas which can have ecological impacts as well.( Falkenmark & Widstand 1992).

Control-Managing the demand

This can include a number of options ranging from water reallocation; moving it from agricultural usage to industrial usage for one, having less water-intensive crops, more efficient technology usage which could reduce costs and improve the efficiency as well, having more effective distribution strategies, conserving the water resource, and lastly considering the economic aspect by analyzing ways to pass on the cost to the consumer as well.( Gleick 2000).


The above proposal highlighted some of the concerns and some recommendations in solving a critical issue for the Middle East region.

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Farnazeh Roudi 2001, “Population Trends and Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa” Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.

Peter H. Gleick, The World’s Water 2000-2001: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources Washington, DC: Island Press.

Malin Falkenmark and Carl Widstrand 1992, “Population and Water Resources: A Delicate Balance,” Population Bulletin 47, no. 3 Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.

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