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Can rationing safeguard the region against water scarcity?

Middle East is home to 7 percent of the world’s population yet only 1.5 percent of the world’s fresh water supply

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

Not all resources in the Middle East are as abundant as oil reserves. Water, one of the world’s most precious resources, is in fact tight. The region is home to 7 percent of the world’s population, yet contains only 1.5 percent of the world’s fresh water supply.

In the base case, there is a severe resource imbalance. Despite suffering rom severe water scarcity, the region does not ration water utilization. The utilization of water for agriculture, industrial and domestic use of some of the countries in the region, including Libya and Iraq, is almost twice the global average.

Rationing policy

The reasons behind the large water footprint are not entirely linked to over-consumption for domestic use. The UNEP estimates that over 60 percent of water is used in the agricultural sector, with the remaining 40 percent used for general industry and in homes for general domestic use.

The gluttony of the region’s agricultural sector will not end until governments limit subsidies and end unsustainable support for the industry. While it is important to support the agricultural industry because it literally provides the seeds to human survival, governments must ensure that they are not compromising safety, security, or health of their populations.

Water and energy subsidies ultimately encourage inefficient forms of production and high waste. In a region that is already suffering from water shortages, this is simply unsustainable in the long run. Investing water subsidy money in research and technology to make water utilization more efficient is a more sustainable method for the future. Sustaining the agricultural industry, within some limits, is important for employment rates in the region as the industry makes, especially in countries with a high rural population, such as Egypt and Morocco.

While the agricultural industry makes up the lion’s share of water usage in the region, it does not contribute appropriately to the GDP. According to The World Bank, although 69 percent of water used in Algeria is for agriculture, agriculture only makes 12 percent of the contribution to the GDP of the country. There is a great imbalance in resource utilization versus economic contribution.

When it comes to domestic use of water, populations in certain countries, such as Syria and Egypt, experience cuts to domestic water supply. This is a method used to ration water supply in the homes. However, the domestic use of water makes up less than 20 percent of the total water usage of the region.

Investing water subsidy money in research and technology to make water utilization more efficient is a more sustainable method for the future

Yara al-Wazir

In effect, cutting water supply to homes is the equivalent of squeezing a dry sponge. Rationing water usage does not mean cutting supplies to homes rather in educating the public of the impact of water shortage. Water outages won’t teach anyone how to conserve water; it merely forces the public to “stock up” on water by going into survival mode, storing it in tanks.

Instead, the crisis must be addressed from a human perspective to sustain futures and economies. Instilling core water-conservation values in our younger generation, simultaneously investing in sustainable energy-efficient desalination technologies must become a core part of government policy.

Resource balances, efficient technology, and forward-thinking subsidizing policies are required in order to ration water usage in the region.

Water security

Following the signing of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Anwar Sadat, president at the time, turned a sour note stating that “the only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water”. Water scarcity is a real struggle, both in the region and internationally. The Middle East has had its fair share of wars over ideologies. However, one does not necessarily need an ideology to survive like one needs water. If the wars over ideologies have been so deadly and brutal, how brutal would a war over a vital resource be?
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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.