During the past several years, I have focused on the shortages of fresh water in the Arab world. Nearly all Arab states have fallen below the minimal water need, which is 700 cu.met/person/year according to the U.N. standard. Several Arab states have even fell below the 500 cu.met./person/year , as is the case especially in Jordan and Yemen which are classified among the most water poverty stricken countries.
Furthermore, the shortages of water will get even worse in light of several factors: 1) if the population increases at the same rate, the Arab world population will double from 365 million as of 2011 to nearly over 650 million in the next 25-30 years. According to a recent U.N. report, the consumption of water increased six fold during the last century, while the world population increased three fold during the same period.
2) The global climate changes that have been taking place, which have impacted North Africa and the Middle East region more than any region around the globe. The increase in temperature and the decrease in the annual rainfall led to the frequent droughts in many parts of the Arab world, which lasted in some countries for more than 6-7 years. This also led to more desertification of land. Keep in mind that more than 75% of the land in the Arab world is barren desert that is unsuitable for cultivation. It is unfortunate that urban expansion in the Arab world takes place on agricultural lands, especially in Egypt.
3) The three major rivers that flow in the Arab world – the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Tigress – originate beyond the boundaries of the Arab world. Most of the lands under cultivation depend on rainfall.
4) Nearly 70% of the water in the Arab world is used for agricultural cultivation. The old system of irrigation is still the major method used for cultivation, despite the fact that the flow of water in the three major rivers in the Arab world has been decreasing.
5) The Arab world is considered the number one region in the import of cereal in the world. Recently, it was reported that more than 65 million tons of wheat were imported during 2011. Furthermore, from 2007-2010, food imports increased by 13%.
6) None of the 22 Arab states is sufficient in food production. More than 50% of the food consumed in the Arab world is imported from abroad. The cost of food import has been estimated to exceed $35 billion per year.
Such information is available to the political leadership in the Arab world and they have been discussing it through the regular Arab league meetings. It is regrettable to say that aside from the discussion as usual, no concrete policy has been implemented and put into action regarding the future and present threats of starvation, which millions of people in the Arab world will face. Nearly half of the population in the Arab world is poverty-stricken. Recent reports by the CIA and the U.N. revealed that “by the year 2040, the world will face a shortage of fresh water. The situation will lead to political unrest and will hinder economic growth and will endanger the availability of food in the global market.” Furthermore, the U.N. has issued a report warning the Arab world in particular, who uses 70% of its water resources for cultivation despite the fact that it imports more than 50% of its food needs. The report continued to project that war caused by shortages of water will not lead to armed conflict in the Middle East. However, the situation will lead to political and economic manipulation among neighbor states. (www.nytimes.com, 3/23/2012).
In conclusion, and despite the recommendations issued by various Arab league committees about the present and future threats of water shortages and its impact on food needs, it is unfortunate to say that Arab political leadership has failed to take the warning seriously. Arab oil producing countries, especially in the Gulf region, are short sighted. They have invested over two trillion dollars in foreign countries, especially in the west. They have failed to invest even 10% of their foreign investments in the Arab world, especially in the countries with high populations, like Egypt and others where nearly half the population are living below the poverty index levels. In addition, such an investment will also create millions of jobs for the many young people who are unemployed.
I would like to stress again the fact that the Arab Spring Revolution started by the young Arab college graduates. Many are unemployed. Furthermore, the impact of that revolution has been felt by the entire Arab population, irrespective of where they live. It is about time that Arab wealth is invested in the Arab world, where the challenges are so serious they cannot be ignored.