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Issues Middle East: Eastern

Water in Crisis- Middle East

by Alexandra Barton

The Middle East has experienced many environmental concerns lately. Water resources are becoming increasingly scarce, especially for the millions there who already lack access to sanitary water. Some of these countries, including Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, are facing unique problems that require global, immediate attention. Beside their neighboring location, one shared factor of all these countries is their lack of water resources and poor water management.

The Middle East has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, which produces most of the area’s wealth. Even so, the region’s climate and environment make living harsh. The Middle East requires water resources and suitable land for agriculture. Much of the land that is available for producing food is destroyed by increasing desertification.

Desertification is a sweeping environmental problem, with vast effects in countries such as Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran. Universal causes for a spread of arid environment are unsustainable agriculture practices and overgrazing. Agriculture uses 85 percent of water in this region. It is common to misuse land by heavy irrigation in the Middle East. In the area droughts are more frequent, and contribute to the changing landscape. The overuse of water in agriculture is affecting the countries’ already undersized water resources.

Jordan, located in the Syrian Desert, and Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, both endure severe water scarcity in the Middle East. For example, Jordan’s average freshwater withdrawal is less than ten percent of Portugal’s average, despite being the same size. The cost of water in Jordan increased thirty percent in ten years, due to a quick shortage of groundwater. Yemen has one of the highest worldwide rates of malnutrition; over thirty percent of its population does not meet their food needs. In recent years, Yemen has not been able to produce enough food to sustain its populations. Water scarcity has damaged the standard of living for inhabitants of the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates, located on the Arabian Peninsula, is famous for its luxurious cities filled with lavish resorts, shopping, and attractions. The livelihoods of these extravagant emirates might create the assumption that water scarcity is not a problem for these rich states. In reality, however, the UAE is confronted with a serious depletion of their available water resources. A report from the Emirates Industrial Bank in 2005 said that the UAE had the highest per capita consumption of water in the world. Additionally, for the past thirty years the water table of this region has dropped about one meter per year. At this current rate, the UAE will deplete its natural freshwater resources in about fifty years. Even with a large amount of desalination plants to reduce water deficiency, the UAE needs to adjust its water use habits before its energy consumption doubles in 2020.

Desalination plants are an overuse of water resources in the Middle East. Seventy percent of desalination plants in the world are located in this area, found mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. While the plants produce water needed for the arid region, they can manufacture problems for health and the environment. The seawater used most in desalination plants has high amounts of boron and bromide, and the process can also remove essential minerals like calcium. Also, the concentrated salt is often dumped back into oceans where the increased salinity affects the ocean’s environment. The plants harm local wildlife and add pollutants to the region’s climate. In addition, desalination is the most energy-costing water resource. The Pacific Institute explains that the high use of energy results in raised energy prices and higher prices on water produced, hurting the consumer. The water produced can be beneficial towards substituting any lack of freshwater, but these areas have tendencies towards overuse of their natural resources. Concerns with the large amount of desalination plants in the Middle East focus on the improper dependency they will cause, instead of encouraging alternate forms of water and energy and conserving freshwater.

The Middle East has numerous struggles with its current water resources, and the region needs more than one solution to generate an optimistic environmental position for the future.

The Effect of Water Sanitation on Children’s Health in Pakistan

by Humera Uddin

Water in Iran

by Jennifer Young

A Persian nation situated in the heart of the Arab-dominated Middle East, Iran has had no shortage of upheaval, be it social, religious or political. Despite Iran’s continued presence in the media for these reasons, very little attention has been allotted to its environmental issues. Iran is a country prosperous from its exports in petroleum, chemical products, produce and carpets but its water health is very poor. Main issues include unsustainable water use, drought, overgrazing, soil erosion, and desertification, particularly in rural Iran. Agriculture serves as the main source of these problems.

The majority of water use in Iran comes from agriculture; by 2004, over 8 million hectares were turned into irrigated farmland. According to the United Nations, this translated into 93.3 km of water or 46.1% of cultivated land use. Of the water used for agriculture, roughly 62% came from ground water. Ground water extraction occurs in areas where surface water is less easily accessible, such as the central basin regions. This means of irrigation is highly unsustainable as it has seriously depleted the water table. When the water table lowers, it causes a number of serious problems. The lower the water table, the more effort is required to withdraw water. This increases the cost of water, making it more difficult for the Iranian people to have adequate access to water. A lowered water table also leads to drought. The lowering of the water table leads the soil to become drier, negatively affecting crop fertility, farm animals, and human quality of life. Drought and the lowering of the water table can become a vicious cycle. As the water table lowers and the upper levels of soil dry, people become desperate, prompting them to dig deeper to access ground water. This causes the water table to become even lower, causing the soil to get even drier, and so it continues. Irrigation efficiency in Iran lies at roughly 33%; this unsustainable rate of water use must be remedied for Iran to improve its standard of living according to the U.N.’s Human Development Index (HDI).

Another water-related problem that is caused by agriculture is overgrazing. Overgrazing is when farmers let their livestock graze excessively in one area. This kills off plant life to the point that it cannot grow back. Overgrazing leads to soil erosion. Soil erosion causes the earth to become more arid. This in turn leads to desertification. Once an area’s climate has become desert, it is impossible to reverse through human efforts. Must of Iran’s climate is already dry and arid; overgrazing dangerously exacerbates the problem, putting the country at high risk of losing preciously fertile land.

While ground water serves as the main source for agricultural water use, there are other sources as well. Almost all of the remaining water used for agricultural irrigation, almost 38%, came from surface water. Some of the water used comes from treated wastewater, and in some rare cases, untreated wastewater. Exposure to sewage like this can lead to disease like giardia, pink eye, and diarrhea. Despite the fact that Iran has a value of .707 on the Human Development Index, placing it in the “high” category for human development, sewage treatment and therefore water quality remains an area of deficiency, in both rural and urban areas.

Iran is a country in the middle of a great deal of change, both politically and socially. The repression and unrest it has had to deal with have put a great strain on its water resources. Social and political stability are probably necessary before water health can be achieved.

Water and Health in Pakistan

By Janie Anderson

Between 2010 and 2011, horrendous floods wrecked havoc on numerous areas in Pakistan, resulting in severe damage of infrastructure and clean water areas. Thousands of residents became homeless, along with the emergence of water born diseases and ailments such as diarrhea and cholera.

Where water access and sanitation is still an issue as a result of floods, many organizations have reached out to aid in the reconstruction of infrastructure as well as build clean water stations. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP ) is developing a US $120 million recovery program “to help communities affected by the recent floods across 39 most affected districts to start to rebuild their lives. The one-year program, part of a broader UN emergency response plan, aims at restoring livelihoods through job creation, repairing basic community infrastructure, and strengthening local government offices to get public services running again.”

UNDP Pakistan is not only a focus on access to clean water, but a movement to improve all aspects of health and sanitation in order to promote a more stable and stronger community, that can be more readily able to withstand future natural crisis.

Other organizations such as UNICEF have aided in the effort to create clean water access as well as water purification interventions such as purifying tablets. Without clean water, other health effects can result such as malnutrition.

Sanitation hygiene specialist Sabahat Ambreen of UNICEF mentions, “Safe drinking water is vital to avoiding water-related diseases, like diarrhea, that can prove fatal for young children…Repeated episodes of diarrheal disease also makes children vulnerable to other diseases and malnutrition.”

Without clean water there is no foundation. Water is the necessity that can breed better hygiene, healthier communities, better infrastructure, longer lives, and less disease. When you have a healthy community you have a stronger, more mobile, more determined people to prosper.

If you would like more information on the humanitarian efforts and updates on the progress in Pakistan, you can visit UNICEF’s page here.


Water Shortage in Qatar

by Courtney Johnston

All over the world there are many countries that are suffering from water shortage. This change has occurred over the past few decades because of over population as well as climate change. Some of these countries that are suffering are the countries in the Middle East. “The issue of water has, since time immemorial, been of monumental importance to the peoples of the Middle East, North, and East Africa” (Amdetsion, 2012). This is because most of those countries are desert, and they do not have a great amount of rainfall. “Average annual rainfall are low, variable, unpredictable, and highly erratic in time and space” (Darwish & Mohtar, 2012). With the shortage of water comes a shortage of human activities, such as agriculture and increased food insecurity (Amdetsion, 2012). Both of these are important for the survival of humans.

Not having enough water means that there is going to be more consequences for those who become affected. The water that is being used in Qatar is also being used wastefully, and this is also contributing to the water shortage. “Potable water is wasted away and misused in services not needing this high-quality water such as in garden irrigation, for washing cars, for flushing toilets, and similar such activities” (Darwish & Mohtar, 2012). Qatar also uses about 75% of the nation’s freshwater to replenish their farms (Amdetsion, 2012). All of these activities, combined with little rainfall, are contributing to the lack of water that the country needs for agriculture and food production. One way that Qatar is trying to fix the water shortage issue is by desalinating seawater (Darwish & Mohtar, 2012).

However, this can also be a problem because it is expensive and because the storage capacity is “less than three times the daily consumption” of water that everyone needs (Darwish & Mohtar, 2012). “Qatar is already significantly below the water poverty threshold, with its citizens having access to only 200 m3 of water per day” (Amdetsion, 2012). This means that people are not getting enough water that they need daily. Things need to change in order to help the water shortage issue. Conservation of water is most important, as well as “raising public awareness and education, using water conservation measures, and restructuring water prices” (Darwish & Mohtar, 2012). The more the public becomes aware of the problem, the more solutions can be made to address the problem.


Amdetsion, F. (2012). Where water is worth more than gold: Addressing water shortages

in the Middle East & Africa by overcoming the impediments to basin-wide agreements. The SAIS Review of International Affairs, 32(1). Retrieved from

Darwish, M. A., Mohtar, R. (June 8, 2012). Qatar water challenges. Desalination and

Water Treatment. Doi: 10.1080/19443994.2012.693582

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