The Arab world is facing severe water shortages as early as 2015, as the annual per capita share will be less than 500 cubic meters. This is below one-tenth of the world’s average, currently estimated at over 6,000 cubic meters of water per capita per year, according to a report  released by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED).
The report [...] warned that without fundamental changes in policies and practices, the situation will get worse, with drastic social, political and economic ramifications. Water supply sources in the Arab world, two-thirds of which originate outside the region, are being stretched to their limits. Thirteen Arab countries are among the world’s nineteen most water-scarce nations, and per capita water availability in eight countries is already below 200 cubic meters annually, less than half the amount designated as severe water scarcity. By 2015, the only countries in the region which will still pass the water scarcity test will be Iraq and Sudan. The Arab region is one of the driest in the world. More than 70% of the land is arid and rainfall is sparse and poorly distributed. Climate change will exacerbate the situation.
Other key findings from the report included:
- Water use in the Arab region is dominated by agriculture, which utilizes about 85% of the water resources, against a world average of 70%
- Goundwater resources have been over-exploited, resulting in significant declines in water tables and pollution of aquifers.
- Arab countries have over 50% of the world’s desalination capacity; at the current rate desalination capacity will be doubled by 2016, using expensive, fully imported and polluting technologies
- Responsibility for managing water and water services is dispersed across multiple institutions with poor coordination, and decision making is top-down with no, or ineffective, stakeholder participation
- The average price charged for water in the region is about 35% of the production cost, and in the case of desalinated water it is only 10%.
- There is an urgent need for a strategic shift from a culture of water development to one of improving water management, rationalizing water consumption, encouraging reuse and protecting water supplies from overuse and pollution
- The Arab water crisis can be addressed through policy and institutional reforms, education, research, and public awareness campaigns.
AFED launched the report at the opening of its third annual conference in Beirut on 4 November 2010. The conference attracted more than 500 participants from 43 countries, including delegates of government agencies and international organizations, the private sector, NGOs, universities and research centers, and the media.
Lebanon: institutional and legislative reforms
Speaking on behalf of PM Saad Hariri, Minister Tareq Metri said:
“the Lebanese government has taken key steps to reform the water sector seeking management decentralization, through integrating 21 water authorities in 4 regional public institutions. It has also developed and is currently implementing a 10-year plan to increase water resources, including building dams and mountain lakes. Moreover, the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources seeks to develop a comprehensive long-term strategy in order to increase the effectiveness of water sector in Lebanon, including improving efficiency and preventing over-exploitation.”
Premiere Screening: The Last Drop
AFED also presented its latest documentary The Last Drop , at its annual conference. The 12 minute documentary takes a tour around different Arab countries, showing how they are increasingly vulnerable to disastrous impacts of climate change, mainly due to fast population growth, increasing demand on water and lack of sustainable water management strategies.
Youth Declaration on Water
The opening session concluded with the Youth Declaration on Water, presented by students from AMSI eco-schools. AFED awarded prizes to six Arab schools from Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, that had won the “Make Every Drop Count” competition on water efficiency, in which more than 200 schools participated. AFED will support the winning schools with their projects to reduce water consumption.
Water Efficiency Handbook
At the conference, AFED released its Water Efficiency Handbook , the “first comprehensive guide specifically designed for the Arab world on efficient water use in industries, agriculture and households”.
The handbook provides methods and a framework to cut water consumption and water costs.
AFED Secretary General Najib Saab announced the conference recommendations, which included a demand for immediate action to the address the water crisis, which was rooted in “a set of political and management shortcomings, including fragmented water institutions and deficient water legal systems”. Reforms are needed to:
enable a shift from a culture limited to securing more supplies through expensive water development, to one which manages demand, by improving efficiency, cutting losses, and protecting water from overuse and pollution”. It also urged governments to adopt economic criteria for enabling water efficiency, introducing water tariffs that rationalize water use, achieve cost recovery in a gradual manner and promote equity through targeted subsidies
Read the full list of recommendations.
 El-Ashry, M., Saab, N. and Zeitoon, B. (eds) (2010). Water : sustainable Management of a Scarce Resource : 2010 report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development. Beirut, Lebanon, Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED). xxi, 222 p. ISBN 978-9953-437-31-6
Download full report
 AFED (2010). The last drop. Beirut, Lebanon, Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED). Video (12 min.). Arabic, with English subtitles. View online (wmv file)
 Mirata, M. and Emtairah, T. (2010). Water efficiency handbook : identifying opportunities to increase water use efficiency in industry, buildings, and agriculture in the Arab world. Beirut, Lebanon, Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED). 87 p. ISBN 978-9953-437-33-0
Download full report
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