Middle East nations face highest water stress as climate crisis reaches new extremes

Middle East nations face highest water stress as climate crisis reaches new extremes
3 min read
06 August, 2019
Countries in the Middle East make up nine out of ten countries facing the highest water stress in the world - meaning taps are close to running dry.
Water crises are due to hit most of the Middle East and North Africa [SOPA]
Almost a quarter of the world's population lives with extremely high water stress - and multiple Middle Eastern nations are among those bearing the brunt of this stress, according to a new report.

The report, released on Tuesday, showed that 17 countries consisting of nearly a quarter of the global population face "day zero" conditions, meaning residents' taps are close to running completely dry.

Qatar faces the highest water stress in the world, with Lebanon not far behind.

The World Resources Institute's Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas ranked water stress, drought risk and riverine flood risk using a peer-reviewed methodology.

While the small Gulf nation of Qatar proved to be facing the most extreme water stress, fellow Gulf states Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all ranked in the top ten, respectively facing the 7th, 8th and 10th highest levels of water stress.

In between Lebanon and Kuwait came Israel, Iran, Jordan and Libya.

Also in the top ten nations facing extreme water stress was Eritrea.

"Agriculture, industry, and municipalities are drinking up 80 percent of available surface and groundwater in an average year" in the 17 worst affected countries, the report said.

"When demand rivals supply, even small dry shocks - which are set to increase due to climate change - can produce dire consequences" such as the recent water crises in Cape Town, Sao Paulo and Chennai.

Bahrain and Oman were also in the top 17 nations facing extremely high water stress, which also included India, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Another 27 nations face high water stress. Among those countries are Yemen, Morocco, Afghanistan, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Turkey, Djibouti, Iraq and Egypt.

"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," said Andrew Steer, CEO of WRI.

Read more: The dangers of war and climate change in Yemen

Even countries facing low water stress on average can have dire hotspots.

While the US ranked 71st on the list, the state of New Mexico faces an extremely high level of water stress comparative with the UAE.

The only Middle Eastern and North African nations facing comparatively lower levels of water stress according to WRI are Sudan and Mauritania, which face medium-high water stress, and South Sudan, which faces low-medium water stress.

The report marks the latest evidence that the Middle East and North Africa is one of the regions facing the most extreme consequences of climate change.

Rising wet bulb temperatures - an index which reflects the combined effects of heat and humidity - could render parts of the Middle East practically uninhabitable during the summer within the next 50 years, studies have predicted.

High wet-bulb temperatures that now only occur once a year could prevail from 100 to 250 days a year by the 2070s.

In such temperatures, without air conditioning, sweat stops evaporating from the body, meaning it is unable to keep cool. According to climate scientists, no human being could survive outdoors for more than a few hours under such temperatures.

Developing nations, and especially those who have to work outside and poor populations with little access to air conditioning, will be more affected by the rising temperatures.

Climate change will also put increasing stress in agriculture on the region, where the World Bank predicts water availability per capita will be halved by 2050.