Qatar: Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the most water-stressed region on Earth

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6 August 2019. Washington DC. 17 Countries, Home to One-Quarter of the World’s Population, Face Extremely High Water Stress

  • The World Resources Institute’s updated Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas finds that 17 countries, which are home to a quarter of the world’s population, face “extremely high” water stress. The tool ranks water stress, drought risk, and riverine flood risk across 189 countries and their sub-national regions, like states and provinces.
  • As of 2019, 17 countries in total are now experiencing “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress, according to recent data from the World Resources Institute (WRI).
  • Using peer-reviewed data to map water risks such as floods, droughts and stress, WRI has ranked water stress, drought risk, and riverine flood risk across 189 countries and their sub-national regions, like states and provinces.

The results clearly highlight the Middle East and North Africa as the most water-stressed region on Earth by far. In fact, 12 out of the top 17 most water stressed countries listed by WRI are located in the dry MENA region where ICARDA is active. Qatar, Israel, and Lebanon are ranked by the World Resources Institute in the top three.

“Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about. Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability. The newly updated Aqueduct tools allow users to better see and understand water risks and make smart decisions to manage them. A new generation of solutions is emerging, but nowhere near fast enough. Failure to act will be massively expensive in human lives and livelihoods.” Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute.

17 most water-stressed countries

Twelve out of the 17 most water-stressed countries are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The region is hot and dry, so water supply is low to begin with, but growing demands have pushed countries further into extreme stress. Climate change is set to complicate matters further: The World Bank found that this region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6-14% of GDP by 2050.

Yet there are untapped opportunities to boost water security in MENA. About 82% of the region’s wastewater is not reused; harnessing this resource would generate a new source of clean water. Leaders in treatment and reuse are already emerging: Oman, ranked #16 on our list of water-stressed countries, treats 100% of its collected wastewater and reuses 78% of it. About 84% of all wastewater collected in Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) is treated to safe levels, but only 44% goes on to be reused.

3 Ways to Reduce Water Stress
In any geography, water stress can be reduced by measures ranging from common sense to cutting-edge. There are countless solutions, but here are three of the most straightforward:

  1. Increase agricultural efficiency: The world needs to make every drop of water go further in its food systems. Farmers can use seeds that require less water and improve their irrigation techniques by using precision watering rather than flooding their fields. Financiers can provide capital for water productivity investments, while engineers can develop technologies that improve efficiency in agriculture. And consumers can reduce food loss and waste, which uses one-quarter of all agricultural water.

  2. Invest in grey and green infrastructure: Aqueduct’s new data shows that water stress can vary tremendously over the year. WRI and the World Bank’s research shows that built infrastructure (like pipes and treatment plants) and green infrastructure (like wetlands and healthy watersheds) can work in tandem to tackle issues of both water supply and water quality.

  3. Treat, reuse and recycle: We need to stop thinking of wastewater as waste. Treating and reusing it creates a “new” water source. There are also useful resources in wastewater that can be harvested to help lower water treatment costs. For example, plants in Xiangyang, China and Washington, D.C. reuse or sell the energy- and nutrient-rich byproducts captured during wastewater treatment. The data is clear: There are undeniably worrying trends in water. But by taking action now and investing in better management, we can solve water issues for the good of people, economies and the planet.

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