The Middle East is struggling to cope with growing demand for fresh water. While the reasons for water shortages vary across the region, the issue that all governments around the Middle East are having to tackle is the same: how to guarantee access to shrinking supplies of fresh water.
In the Gulf, over-exploitation of the underground aquifers has resulted in many sources of fresh water – extracted largely for agricultural use – being depleted to the point that they will not be able to be used for years.
But the region’s rapid urban and industrial growth is also making increasing demands on water resources. Some countries, such as Oman, are tackling profligate use of limited supplies by raising water tariffs. With tariffs in Saudi Arabia less than a tenth of the cost of those in Europe, the pressure is now on Riyadh – and Doha, where water is free for Qataris – to follow the lead of Oman and encourage responsible levels of water usage.
In the West Bank and Gaza, the problem of access to water is exacerbated by Israeli control over the majority of the region’s limited supplies. Water is the key strategic resource without which neither Israel nor a future Palestinian state is viable.
But with water in scarce supply in the region, resolving the issue of access to water seems almost impossible.