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News AFED: Arabs to face severe water shortages by 2015

The Arab world is facing the prospect of severe water and food 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, according to a report released today by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) at the opening of its annual conference in Habtoor Grand Hotel, Beirut.

The report entitled Water: Sustainable Management of a Scarce Resource 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. 

AFED’s conference is held under the patronage of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, represented by Minister of Information Tareq Metri. More than 500 participants from 43 countries were present, including delegates of 50 government agencies and international organizations, 55 companies, 40 NGOs, 42 universities and research centers, and 63 regional and international media. 

Also present were Minister of Energy and Water Resources Gebran Bassil, a number of parliamentarians and ministers, Jordan’s former Prime Minister Adnan Badran, Sudan’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Kamal Ali Mohamed, Sudan’s Minister of Environment Joseph Melwal Ding, Member of Water Committee in the Saudi Shoura Council Ali Al-Tkhais, Tunisia’s Green Party parliamentary delegation headed by MP Mnajji Al-Khammasi, a delegation from Water and Environment ministries in Iraq, Head of Environment and Sustainable Development Department in the Arab League Jamal Eddine Jab-Allah, Ambassadors of Arab and foreign countries including Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands and Mexico. 

Deputy Manager of Mexico’s National Water Commission Grizelda Medina Laguna also participated, along with a Greek government delegation and a large number of diplomats, businessmen, CEOs and heads of AFED member organizations.


The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) held its third annual conference in Beirut on 4-5 November 2010, dedicated to discussing the sustainable management of water resources in the Arab world. The conference, held under the patronage of His Excellency the Lebanese Prime Minister Mr. Saad Hariri, has brought together 500 delegates from 32 countries, representing corporations, non-governmental organizations, academia, research institutions, and media. Ministers and representatives of government and international organizations participated as observers. Conference delegates deliberated the findings of the AFED report on the state of the water sector in Arab states and the prospects for water policy reforms.

The conference endorsed the following conclusions and recommendations:

  • 1) The conference agrees with the AFED report that the state of water in Arab countries is critical and demands immediate action. Prospects of severe water shortages are serious under a business-as-usual scenario, which would contribute to reduced agricultural production, increased poverty, adverse public health outcomes, and more environmental degradation, all of which would gravely undermine the human development agenda that is the stated priority of every government in the region. The conference also agrees that without a fundamental change in water policies and consumption patterns, the benefits of sustainable use and equitable sharing of water will continue to elude the Arab region.
  • 2) Despite large sums of investments in Arab water infrastructure over the past few decades, the water sector in Arab states continues to suffer from a crisis, which manifests itself in multiple forms: safe sanitation and reliable water supply services are still lacking for millions, over-extraction of groundwater has left aquifers depleted and at a risk of contamination, urban water supply and irrigation infrastructures perform poorly and inefficiently, and average water availability is projected to continue its decrease below the severe water scarcity threshold of 500 cubic meters per capita per year by 2015, dropping below 100 cubic meters in some countries, compared to a world average exceeding 6,000 cubic meters. Due to high rates of population growth, freshwater availability per capita will continue to decrease, which demands more efficient use of water, cutting losses, increasing the ratio of water treatment and reuse, securing more crop per drop, and achieving a breakthrough in desalination technology to make it more widely accessible.
  • 3) The conference concurs with the AFED report that at the root of the Arab water crisis is a set of political and management shortcomings: water institutions are fragmented, water legal systems are deficient, public water budgets are constrained, water policies are divorced from sound science, water investments are poorly targeted, funding and regulations for pollution control are insufficient, controls over proper aquifer use are lacking, and water prices are artificially low. For the Arab water crisis to be dissipated, water reforms must address these and other shortcomings.
  • 4) The conference calls upon Arab governments to:
  • a) Make a sustained effort to introduce policy, institutional, and legal reforms 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.
  • b) Adopt economic criteria for enabling water efficiency and prioritizing the allocation of the available supply of water resources among competing sectors. Governments are urged to introduce water tariffs that rationalize water use, achieve cost recovery in a gradual manner, and promote equity through targeted subsidies.
  • c) Support new agricultural policies by offering economic incentives, research assistance, training, and public awareness campaigns to persuade farmers to improve irrigation efficiency, change cropping patterns, improve irrigation scheduling, and shift toward higher-value adding crops and agricultural activities.
  • d) Develop adaptation policies to climate change predicated on using saline water in agricultural production, developing new local crop varieties tolerant to aridity and drought conditions, and rehabilitating water harvesting systems.
  • e) Reorient the role of state water authorities from that of a water provider to that of an effective regulator and planner, including establishing legal frameworks that enable private investments and public-private partnerships to provide clean water and safe sanitation, while maintaining transparency and accountability.
  • f) Promote, through a mix of economic incentives and publicly sponsored research programs, opportunities for the private sector to assist in developing locally-based competitive desalination technologies, while encouraging the application of solar energy.
  • g) Commit to a national strategy for tapping the underutilized potential of wastewater reclamation as well as greywater recycling to augment Arab countries' water supply. The strategy should commit to strong institutional coordination and planning to ensure that wastewater is properly treated and suitably reused according to requirements for protecting health and the environment.
  • h) Commit to investing in scientifically credible and policy-relevant research that addresses the practical problems of water management in Arab states.
  • i) Enact comprehensive national water legislation that addresses existing gaps in current laws and establishes mechanisms to control and regulate water access, promote water use efficiency, enable pollution control regulations, establish protected areas vital to water resources, provide for land use planning, and institute enforceable penalties for violations that cause damage to water resources.
  • j) Foster joint management of shared river basins or aquifers and identify a sustainable formula for sharing transboundary waters, fairly guided by customary legal principles of ‘equitable and reasonable use' and the ‘obligation not to cause harm'. Arab governments are also urged to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, and draw on its principles for concluding effective and fair water sharing agreements.
  • k) Launch sustained public awareness campaigns to cultivate a water ethic of care among the public, inspire behavioral changes, and inform water users about economic incentives for achieving water efficiency targets. Civil society, including non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector groups, should be included in water reform planning.
  • 5) The Conference calls upon private industrial enterprises to apply extensive water efficiency measures to substantially reduce the quantity of water used per unit output, to prevent pollution at the source, to make process changes whenever possible to minimize the volume of wastewater generated, and to ensure that wastewater is treated to meet strict regulatory standards prior to disposal.
  • 6) The Conference calls upon real estate developers and users to accord water efficiency a high priority in the design and operation of buildings and to take advantage of water retrofits to make existing buildings water efficient.
  • 7) The conference calls upon non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector to cooperate fully in the implementation of these recommendations.
  • 8) The conference wishes to thank the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) for its constructive initiative on the sustainable management of water resources in Arab states, and requests it to present the recommendations to all Arab governments and other stakeholders.
  • 9) The conference invites the AFED Board of Trustees to consider means of following up the implementation of the annual conferences' recommendations, and to present the outcome at AFED's fourth annual conference.
  • 10) The conference expresses its gratitude to the Lebanese government for hosting the event. It offers its appreciation to all sponsors for their support to the convening of this conference.

Contact information The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) / المنتدى العربي للبيئة والتنمية -أفد- - (email:
Phone: +961 1 321 800 ; Fax: +961 1 321 900
News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information Alhayat / / Reuters / AFED
Geographical coverage Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Palestine, Mauritania, Iraq,
News date 06/11/2010
Working language(s) ARABIC

Key Findings of AFED's Report:

AFED's 2010 report Water: Sustainable Management of a Scarce Resource includes 12 chapters in 256 pages. A special study by Dr. Farouk El-Baz, Director of the Center for Remote Sensing in Boston University, tackles exploring groundwater resources in Arab Deserts by satellite images. Here are the key findings of the report:   

  • - Arabs will face, as early as 2015, the condition of severe water scarcity, at which the annual per capita share will be less than 500 cubic meters.
  • - Thirteen Arab countries are among the world's nineteen most water-scarce nations. By 2015, the only countries in the region which will still pass the water scarcity test, at above 1,000 cubic meters per capita, will be Iraq and Sudan.
  • - The Arab region is one of the driest in the world. More than 70% of the land is dry and rainfall is sparse and poorly distributed; climate change will exacerbate the situation.
  • - By the end of the 21st century, Arab countries are predicted to experience an alarming 25% decrease in precipitation and a 25% increase in evaporation rates. As a result, rain-fed agriculture will be threatened, with average yields estimated to decline by 20%.
  • - Water use in the Arab region is dominated by agriculture, which utilizes about 85% of the water resources, against a world average of 70%.
  • - Since surface water supplies do not meet growing demand due to population growth and economic development, groundwater resources have been over-exploited beyond safe yield levels. This has resulted in significant declines in water tables and pollution of aquifers.
  • - With 5% of the world population, Arab countries are endowed with just 1% of the world's renewable fresh water resources, while they have over 50% of the world's desalination capacity. At the projected rate of annual increases, current 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. Moreover, 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 world is already experiencing a water crisis that will only get worse with inaction. However, even though the crisis is serious and multi-dimensional, it can be addressed through policy and institutional reforms, education, research, and public awareness campaigns. Averting the crisis is only possible if Arab heads of state and governments make a strategic political decision to urgently adopt the recommendations for reform.

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