Tackle Middle East water scarcity to save money, boost stability: World Bank
YAOUNDE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Middle East and North Africa region loses about $21 billion each year because of an inadequate supply of water and sanitation, the World Bank said on Tuesday, warning urgent action is needed to prevent ripple effects on stability and growth.
“As the current conflict and migration crisis unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa shows, failure to address water challenges can have severe impacts on people’s well-being and political stability,” the report said.
In Yemen, which is reeling from more than two years of conflict, water supply networks serving its largest cities are at risk of collapse due to war-inflicted damage and disrepair, and about 15 million people have been cut off from regular access to water and sanitation, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said in a separate statement on Tuesday.
Overall, 183 million people lack access to basic drinking water in countries affected by conflict, violence and instability around the world, it added.
With the urban population in the Middle East and North Africa expected to double by 2050 to nearly 400 million, a combination of policy, technology and water management tools should be used to improve the water situation, the World Bank report said.
“Water productivity – in other words, how much return you get for every drop of water used – in the Middle East in general is the lowest on average in the world,” said Anders Jägerskog, a specialist in water resources management at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors.
Water governance – in particular, water tariffs and subsidies – must also be addressed, he said.
The region has the world’s lowest water tariffs and spends the highest proportion of GDP on public water subsidies.
Such policies lead to excessive use of already scarce water supplies and are not sustainable, said Jägerskog.
Another challenge is that more than half of the wastewater collected in the region is fed back into the environment untreated.