GULF WATER PRESSURES

GULF WATER PRESSURES

According to a 2017 World Bank Report, all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are amongst the 17 most ‘water-stressed’ countries in the world.  This finding may not seem that surprising.  The Gulf region is hot and dry so water supplies are naturally limited.  However, a combination of economic expansion and the impact of climate change is predicted to make the situation even more acute, leading some analysts to conclude that water scarcity will ultimately lead to regional conflict.

The rapid expansion of urban areas in countries across the Arab world has been inevitable given that rural living has become nearly impossible on arid land with marginal environments that can barely support subsistence agriculture.  Even with high-tech solutions being pursued by some Gulf countries, sustainable agriculture in the region will always remain a challenge.

It is this combination of expanding populations, particularly in cities, and the growing demand for water driven by the steady rise in regional living standards, that has put additional pressures on governments and municipalities each year.  The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that 60 percent of the Middle East’s surface water originates from outside the region and almost all water basins are shared.  This means that individual governments are unable to exert full control over the distribution of these scarce water resources.  It also means that every Gulf state remains heavily dependent on desalination to provide the balance of water supplies.  This remains a power-intensive process that contributes significantly to the Gulf’s large carbon footprints and makes energy efficiency much more difficult.

While the immediate threat of water scarcity leading to conflict may be overstated it remains the case that water scarcity should be understood as central to Gulf concerns over climate change and sustainable development.  Combined with the demands of economic transformation and addressing the pressures of population growth, particularly amongst younger generations, this means that water will continue to present policymakers across the Gulf region with daunting challenges that require concerted attention and action.