Journal of Water Resource and Protection, 2013, 5, 49-58 Published Online April 2013 (
Water Shortage in MENA Region: An Interdisciplinary
Overview and a Suite of Practical Solutions
Anas Zyadin
University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
Received February 10, 2013; revised March 11, 2013; accepted March 25, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Anas Zyadin. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The chronic water shortage in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is a perplexing issue, undoubtedly because
various operational sectors, multi-institutions and stakeholders are inextricably interconnected. In the light of climate
variability and the unprecedented population growth rate, the per capita water resources and biocapacity will continue
plummeting, and the demand-gap will seriously expand. Existing water quantification agreements have been deemed
inefficient to solve the problem of naturally diminishing water resources and thus require immediate re-assembling.
Most scholarly endeavors, including key international organizations, NGOs, and “Think Tank” policy briefs have lim-
itedly addressed water shortage in contexts of regional politics, mass media, and, importantly, from social psychology
perspectives. Therefore, a thorough analysis and interdisciplinary approach is required to find a feasible and suitable
framework of solutions and from a multi-perspective podium. A synthesis of cross-sectorial bottlenecks that are crucial
to water management is presented, and a suite of practical recommendations are introduced to water authorities and
governments. This study argues that in the shadow of the region’s political instability, the clash of ideologies and its
repercussions, and issues of national security and sovereignty, regional cooperation on water issues remain prognostica-
tions. In this essence, governments of MENA countries are urged to develop measures to substantially increase the wa-
ter supply through innovative approaches. Such measures include enhancing the capacities of water harvesting, maxi-
mizing the storage capacities of the built dams, and deploying groundwater recharge techniques. Furthermore, seawater
and brackish water desalination through clean energy technologies is a contemporary solution with socio-economic and
multiple benefits. Multi-billion water projects might not be suitable approach in the absence of external funding and the
aforementioned hurdles. Further research is required to address the social economics, and environmental aspects of de-
salination and the socio-economic feasibility of privatizing drinking water utilities and price polarization.
Keywords: Water Conflicts; Renewable Energy; MENA Region; Interdisciplinary Approach
1. Introduction
The Middle East North Africa (MENA)1 region has un-
doubtedly been attractive in the eyes of the international
community for decades due to the so-called “low hang-
ing fruits” of natural resource opportunities, but also for
a number of present yet past-driven geopolitical issues.
Not surprising, since the region is the home of over 50%
of the world’s proven oil reserves and approximately
40% of world’s proven natural gas reserves [1]. The
leadership of many industrialized countries obstinately
regards the region to be of immense political importance
and indispensable to the economic growth and energy
security [2]. The region, on the other hand, is endowed
with renewable energy cornucopia, particularly solar,
hydropower and wind power. The Middle East receives
3000 - 3500 hours of sunshine per year while North Af-
rica alone has the potential to supply all energy needs of
Europe from renewables [3]. Due to land use regulations
and restrictions in Europe, the desert of MENA is an-
other attractive opportunity to deploy large scale renew-
able energy projects. Although the region is a net im-
porter of water in virtual form and in various degrees [4],
the region has been exporting industrial commodities to
many parts of the world. The region has been an attrac-
tive tourist destination, especially to Tunisia and Egypt
[5]. Furthermore, the region accommodates vast and rich
historical archives of previous civilizations [6]. It has
also been remarked that MENA contributed to the de-
1The term “MENA” region refers to following countries alphabetically:
Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Libya, Morocco, Palestine (OPT), Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria,
Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
opyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
veloped world with numerous number of skilled workers2.
From a world trade security perspective, the region has
the life arteries of the world’s oil trade: Suez Canal and
Hormoz Strait. For instance, 40% of the daily oil exports
pass through Hormoz Strait. The enormous oil shale and
natural gas discoveries in Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon,
respectively, have made the region even more attractive
in the eyes of foreign energy utilities [7].
The key political challenges in the region include: the
Arab-Israel dispute in Middle East, Iran’s foreign affairs
and regional politics, and the social awakening in MENA
region that has given birth to newly elect political lead-
ership (Muslim Brotherhood). Surely, the region is tee-
tering on the verge of socio-economic repression due to a
cocktail of climate change effects, economic challenges,
and post-Arab spring political instability, even in coun-
tries that had their regimes toppled. The population of the
region is increasing at unprecedented rate, the unem-
ployment rate is overwhelming, poverty and high food
prices suppress the poor. Furthermore, potable water
shortages and lack of proper sanitization, and extreme
climate events such as summer heat waves, frenzy sand
storms, and frequent drought are key daunting challenges
[8]. Worse enough, the region’s consumption of natural
resources is more than double what regional ecosystems
can support, putting the region on a brink of “ecosystem
bankruptcy”. Due to the increase in per capita income,
population growth, and changing life patterns, the aver-
age Ecological Footprint of the region has increased from
1.2 to 2.1 global hectares per capita (gha/capita) while
the average biocapacity per capita decreased from 2.2 to
0.9 (gha/capita) [9].
The issue of potable water shortage and the accom-
panied “national security” and “sovereignty” affairs is
undoubtedly a fundamental issue, since water quantity
and quality play pivotal role across the various sectors
and it is obstinately regarded as a determining factor to
the region’s economic development and socio-political
stability. According to a recently published report by the
World Bank, the water demand in MENA countries will
quintuple by 2050. The reports stresses that MENA’s
citizen have a little over 1000 m3/year for use, compared
to a global average of over 7000 m3 [10].
The water conflicts in MENA region have remarkably
gained academic impetus and it has been a quintessential
issue to a number of NGOs, key international organiza-
tions e.g. (UN, FAO, WB, and IMF) and from eminent
international “Think Tanks” that have assiduously ad-
dressed thematic subjects related to water conflicts. The
outcomes of such endeavors have, indeed, provided a
clear understanding of the problem and provided a set of
policies and recommendations through mainly institu-
tional governance and cross-sectorial amendments. The
missing links are, however, a broader interdisciplinary
approach that encapsulates deeper political issues, mass
media influence, accompanied by better understanding of
the region’s social psychology and ideologies.
Today’s problems are very complex and global (such
as climate change, poverty, and population growth), thus
a better understanding requires new epistemological
frameworks and methodological practices that exceed
any one discipline [11]. Interdisciplinary studies draw on
disciplinary perspectives and integrate their insights
through construction of a more comprehensive perspec-
tive and coherent research [11-13]. The water shortage
and conflicts in MENA region are too complex to be
adequately addressed by a single discipline or profession,
therefore, the main objectives of this synthesis is to de-
ploy an interdisciplinary approach to target a number of
principle issues that, directly and indirectly, influence
water balance and potentially create or intensify conflicts
in MENA region. The study also seeks to suggest a suite
of practical recommendations that would contribute to
the frameworks of solutions already presented in the lit-
2. Review of Water-Related Issues in MENA
2.1. MENA Population: Social Psychology
The population growth in MENA region is growing at an
unprecedented rate compared to the rest of the world.
The Middle East (ME) is said to be the youngest region
in the world [14]. Since the 1970’s, the MENA has un-
dergone notable demographic changes and its total
population almost tripled from 128 to 359 million people
in all Arab countries [15]. By 2050, this region is ex-
pected to have a population size of 692 million [15,16].
Poverty and illiteracy among the poor have been one of
the main causes of this so-called “Pine syndrome3. Re-
ligious, traditions, and cultural heritage have also en-
couraged people to overshadow the reasons to control
birth. The Muslim-Arab societies are said to be submis-
sive to the God’s will, characterized by commonly saying
En Sha Allah” meaning (“if God is willing”). This
makes them feel ardently subjugated to their environment
and the embedded cultural traditions and thus they op-
pose interference and grudgingly conceive modern so-
cietal visions [17,18]. As a result, poor families disregard
governmental voices and outreaches to control birth be-
cause they are not aligned with the God’s will. Further-
2According to the Arab Labor Organization, annually 100 thousand
science-seekers leave the region to Europe and North America and only
50% return home. Due to relatively low monthly wages and instability,
the region suffers the “brain drain” syndrome.
3The “Pine syndrome” refers to the Aleppo pine tree that annually pro-
duces enormous amount of cones even on very poor soils. The same
applies to poor families who have many children without any consid-
erations of their economic status.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
more, the “so n-culture” in which the son/s is the symbol
of manhood, have caused many housewives to unneces-
sarily continue give birth until the first son is delivered to
please the husband and his family. This culture, though
have been slightly pacified, however still pose formida-
ble challenges in poor pockets and urban slums. More-
over, the rapid growing population in MENA region puts
a great strain on the resources of the countries and their
capacities; more water and food will be needed, more
jobs and housing will be needed [19]. There is little de-
bate today that economic growth can lead to lower birth
rates with Europe as an example [19], however there is
also ample evidence that improving the social and eco-
nomic status of rural women (through education and me-
dia outreach) would encourage family planning and
birth-spacing thus smaller family size [19]. Promoting
availability and affordability of contraceptives supported
by media campaigns is one approach. Furthermore, en-
couraging the participation of clerics in elevating public
awareness to gradually relinquish the “son culture”, to
promote family planning, deemed necessary. Clerics,
to-date, have played a fundamental role in influencing
and steering mass public attitudes and behaviors in many
MENA countries. For example, there now over 450 reli-
gious channels in MENA countries with the aim to
“spread the word of God and Islam”. Generally speaking,
there is a wealth of evidences that mass media play a
fundamental role in influencing public perceptions of
environmental and societal issues [20]. The stringent role
of social media in the MENA’s social uprisings has been
recently highlighted and reported [21].
2.2. Climate Change and Adaptation
The MENA region, based on global and regional climate
models, is expected to be drier with higher near-surface
air temperature thus with threatening consequences on all
vital sectors [22]. A study of climate change’s impact on
water resources, based on a high-resolution regional
model, shows a decrease in precipitation of on average
4% between 2040 and 2069 in the Middle Eastern coun-
tries included in the model [23]. An increase in precipita-
tion is predicted for Kuwait (30.7%) and Qatar (27.9%)
while Jordan (16.6%) and Lebanon (14.7%) will see
the largest decreases. Despite the high increase in pre-
cipitation in Kuwait and Qatar, which already have ex-
tremely low water resources, no improvement in water
availability is expected. With the current population pro-
jection of the United Nations, Jordan’s annual per capita
water resources are expected to decrease from 110 m3 to
56 m3 by 2050. The rather high water availability in
Lebanon is projected to decrease from 900 m3 to 725 m3,
putting Lebanon below water scarcity levels. Conse-
quently, groundwater will continue to be a vital source of
drinking water [24]. Surprisingly enough, during the
years 1993, 2003 and 2013, the Middle East witnessed
extraordinary intensive downpours and snow storms
originating from Siberia causing vast destruction to the
fragile low-capacity infrastructures [25]. However, these
extraordinary climate events instantly send messages to
the governments of the region to conduct water-infra-
structure refurbishment in order to maximize the benefits
of such storms (good-rainy-year) using water harvesting
and groundwater recharge techniques. This is vital since
precipitation is modeled to decrease, however, intensive
rain showers probably become a climatic characteristic of
the winter season. The MENA region is threatened by
desertification and degradation of ecosystems due to
global warming and the over-use of natural resources
[5,9], which will exacerbate the problem of water scar-
city. Desertification is expected to threatens 14% of Al-
geria’s and 52% of Morocco’s land base while in Egypt,
30% to 40% of total irrigated land is affected by saliniza-
tion [26]. Since landscape water plays eminent eco-
logical roles, landscape water management and vegeta-
tion rehabilitation using e.g. harrowing and furrowing
techniques and establishing natural reserves, would pac-
ify the effect of desertification and promote ecological
stability and diversity. In this regard, the MENA gov-
ernments are argued to establish a set of regulations that
contemplate the ecological use of water [9].
2.3. The Agriculture Sector: From Traditional
Practice to Economic and Efficient Practice
Typical irrigation practices in MENA use 10,000 cubic
meters of water per year for every hectare. That same
quantity of water would meet the basic (drinking and
hygiene) requirements for 1000 people [27]. In Jordan,
75% of the water is used for agriculture whilst this sector
contributes only 2% to national GDP [28]. Over-pro-
duction of agricultural products in Jordan, such as tomato
and citruses, accompanied by market distortions usually
results in product low prices. Consequently, farmers trash
their products on streets as a form of grievance [29]. One
major problem is that irrigation is favored over house-
hold use, and commercial farming (especially for export
crops), over (generally smaller) farms producing for local
markets [27]. Astonishingly enough and during the past
25 years, the Gulf States (particularly Saudi Arabia) have
consumed quantities of non-renewable water for agricul-
ture use enough for 500 years without the need for sea-
water desalination [30]. Saudi Arabia shares two-third of
the Al-Disi aquifer with Jordan. Satellite image shows
green circles that resembles forage production (Pivot
irrigation) on the Saudi Arabia’s territory (Figure 1).
Due to the sandy texture of the soils, the high infiltration
rate doubles the needs of fresh water for irrigation.
The highly subsidized oil in Gulf States and the en-
deavor to nationalize strategic crop production especially
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
Figure 1. Google Earth image of forages pro duction thr ough
pivot irrigation systems in Saudi Arabia using Al-Disi fresh
wheat and forages resulted in a disastrous use of the
non-renewable fresh water. In Egypt, the agriculture
sector where the majority of the poor reside, subsidies to
irrigation have been justified as it provides aid to the
poor [8]. However, it has been proven that such an in-
come redistribution instrument only benefit the rich
households, not the poor [8]. On the other hand, the Is-
raeli agriculture model consists mainly of diverting water
from Palestinian villages to Israeli settlements for inten-
sive export-oriented agriculture systems. The Palestinian
farmers therefore abandoned their lands and worked as
day-labor in Israeli settlements [8]. Although Israel uses
modern and efficient irrigation techniques, this diversion
water marked political intentions to probably gain politi-
cal weight in the peace process negotiations and national
security issues. The poor farmers in MENA region gen-
erally exhibit low education profile and they perceive
agriculture as a socio-traditional heritage rather than pure
economic practice. Therefore, they accept only grudg-
ingly to change their old-fashioned and the inefficiently
inherited practices from previous generations. Further-
more, due to lack of knowledge, farmers use excessive
quantities of fertilizers and pesticides, which have led to
soil contamination and seriously threaten groundwater
qualities. Another noteworthy trend in agriculture is the
expansion of urban areas on the expense of highly fertile
arable land. For example, Jordan has lost over 100 thou-
sand hectares of highly productive and fertile lands espe-
cially in the North (Irbid city) and Middle (Amman the
capital) in just 40 years. Overall, manufacturing- and ser-
vice sector-led growth, rather than agriculture-led growth,
become predominant in most pro-poor Arab countries
[31]. It has been suggested that improving food security
in MENA region is not only important for improving
livelihoods of MENA’s people but also likely to be the
key for a peaceful transition [32]. The agricultural sci-
ences are developing remarkably. In this essence, organic
mulching, using composted municipal solid wastes and
animal manure, have shown to increase the water holding
capacity of soils and double the production rate, thus,
reduces demand for chemical fertilizers [33]. Using ex-
tracts of some poisonous weeds and biological control
for pest management are some modern techniques to
substitute extensive use of pesticides.
2.4. Waste Water Management: The Forgotten
The total volume of wastewater generated by the domes-
tic and industrial sectors in MENA region estimated at 13
billion m3/year, of which 6 billion m3 is treated for reuse
[34]. Treated wastewater, used predominantly in agricul-
ture, can provide a reliable alternative source as waste-
water produced is linear to water consumed. Issues re-
garding treatment processes and infrastructure capacity,
due to the varying quality of wastewater and increase of
quantity, have resulted in non-effective treatment of
wastewater [34]. For instance, 57% of wastewater from
MENA countries is partially treated or not treated at all,
however, the volume of wastewater collected and treated
in the MENA countries varies from country to country
[34,35]. Due to lack of financial resources, municipalities
relied on traditional “waste stabilization ponds” to treat
wastewater and municipal liquid wastes. Effluent from
these plants are sometimes mixed with freshwater re-
sources and used for irrigation causing serious contami-
nation problems from the high concentrations of chloride
and nitrate [36]. The overflow of stabilization ponds also
leads to untreated water polluting the downstream lands
and probably the groundwater resources [36]. In many
MENA countries, however, the shift to mechanical treat-
ment using “Activated Sludge” accompanied by secon-
dary and tertiary aeration ponds have considerably im-
proved the quality and quantity of the treated wastewater.
Nonetheless, the projected increase in MENA population
will naturally increase the quantities of wastewater;
therefore, wastewater treatment plants require addressing
the design limitations, increase their capacities, and over-
come the regulatory obstacles regarding the use of waste-
water in agriculture or groundwater recharge [34]. The
lack of technical data on wastewater qualities and quanti-
ties pose another fundamental challenge to successful
development of wastewater sector [34-36].
2.5. The Drinking Water Networks and Utilities
According to the United Nations, the total renewable
water per capita decreased from 3035 m3 in 1958-1962 to
1000 m3 in 2003-2007 in MENA region. This makes the
region the world’s water scarcest [5,8,10]. Some coun-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
tries are below the scarcity level with 12 other countries
in state of water crisis (less than 500 m3) and of these 9
are in the state of absolute scarcity (less than 165 m3 per
capita)4 [8]. This trend will increase the groundwater
footprint [37], especially with the introduction of extrac-
tion technologies. Furthermore, the water demand gap
will quintuple by 2050, from today’s 42 billion m3 per
annum to 200 m3 per annum with a total cost to close this
gap could reach as US $300 billion - 400 billion a year if
no demand management measures are adopted [10]. The
dire demand gap is further intensified by the continuous
deterioration of the fossil non-renewable ground water
quality. Excessive extraction led to higher salinity, sea-
water intrusion, sewage liquids intrusion, and intensive
agriculture practices with the absolute absence of ground
water recharge techniques [28,38,39]. For example, no
groundwater in Gaza Strip meets all World Health Or-
ganization (WHO) drinking water standards [38]. Due to
measured higher underground radioactivity, serious con-
cerns have been raised on the safety of such underground
water resources for domestic use [40]. Many, if not most
of the countries in the MENA region, have heavily in-
vested in drinking water infrastructure in recent times.
However, most of the infrastructure does not deliver the
services as designed, either due to lack of maintenance or
poor planning. For instance 30% of water facilities in
Iran supply less than one-third of their design capacity
and 20% are non-operational [41]. The lack of prompt
network maintenance leads to the increase of losses from
the networks, but without effective monitoring represen-
tative figures are difficult to establish. Non-revenue wa-
ter at country level has been reported to be as high as
59% for Turkey amounting to 43.4 m3/km/day, 54% for
Algeria (53.9 m3/km/day), 40% in Bahrain (59
m3/km/day) and 36% for Jordan (14.8 m3/km/day) [42].
Cities in most MENA countries have water losses over
30% and although it can be argued that the urban water
sector uses only 10% to 15% of the region’s water, these
losses are considerably higher than the average water
losses in western countries and may add up to substantial
amounts of water [41]. Within the domestic use, MENA
countries, in general, have separated bodies for irrigation
water and drinking water with no clear guidelines for
coordination [27]. Another malfunction in MENA water
institutions is that water demand management is deemed
a secondary task, meaning such institutions perform
pricing measures, to increase revenues, without consid-
ering the water end-use by their clients [27]. The poor
performance of many water utilities in MENA is, in most
cases, due to lack of funding and mismanagement and
the tendency to be administered as government depart-
ments and not private entities, creating problems such as
unclear responsibilities for operations, low tariffs, diffi-
culty retaining qualified personnel, the lacking of and
application of necessary legislation and political inter-
ference [41,43]. The idea of mega-hydro projects such as
the Red-Dead Sea canal is another complex issue, since it
requires enormous funding, which is difficult in the light
of EU and US austerity measures, the difficulties to as-
sess post-implementation environmental impacts, and it
requires political treaty among the beneficiaries, which is
unfeasible due to sovereignty issues [44]. Theoretically,
the Red-Dead Sea canal is said to save the vanishing
Dead Sea, generate power and drinking water; however,
practically, it require US $10 billion and a decade—in
the best case scenario, with no obstacles—to be accom-
plished [44].
2.6. Corruption: The Plague
According to Transparency International [45], many
countries within the MENA region are near the bottom of
the transparency index making them very corrupt. Cor-
ruption has many forms and exist at all governmental
levels. According to Wilson and Damania (2005) [46],
corruption is one of the major causes of environmental
degradation in developing countries. The corruption
plague in MENA region has reached a tipping point that
has burst social unrest and street riots in North Africa [8].
Predominantly, corruption is a tool used to dilute the
intended effects of governmental policies [46], to in-
crease the low monthly wages especially in service sec-
tors, and a tool used to express social prestige and power.
In MENA region, the monocratic regimes and politically
well-connected businessmen—“who earn huge profits by
virtue of politica l conn ections, which allow them to avo id
taxes and charge non-competitive prices”—in a rentier-
based political economy model [8]. Consequently, the
poor-rich gap has expanded, public services have been
rendered substandard, low political trust has resulted in
poor political participation, and economic activities have
accumulated in selected urban zones (e.g. capitals) leav-
ing vast rural areas, rambling, under the mercy of the
intermittent and modest governmental aid. The poor had
no choice but to practice corruption (through bribes), or,
in case of water scarcity, digging illegal wells with an
over-extraction rate [28]. The lack of political trust is one
key hurdle to enforce regulations and laws related to wa-
ter governance in MENA region. Anti-corruption agen-
cies exist in many MENA countries with some level of
achievements to pacify corruption. However, their auto-
nomy is not yet matured.
2.7. Water Quantification Treaties and Politics
of Water Policies
4Countries with absolute scarcity (Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, and the Occupied Palestinian Terri-
tory). The issue of water politics in MENA and particularly in
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
Middle East is contentious and a perplexing one. This
issue encompasses: water treaties, broader political ide-
ologies and foreign affairs, shared and cross-boundary
water resources, and the country’s development pathway.
Due to complexity of these issues, we will briefly exam-
ine them and provide the reader with a broader image. A
long-standing literature exists to demonstrate the ineffi-
cacy of the bilateral treaties to solve water conflicts in
the region [47-50]. One possible explanation of the fail-
ure of such bilateral treaties is the pre-defined quantifica-
tion of water resources, which is an ineffective approach
due to virtue of precipitation variabilities. According to
[47], securitization of water resources prevents the sys-
tem from adjusting to natural changes or to socio-eco-
nomic developments, therefore, once such allocations
have been fixed, changing them is perceived as a threat
to national security. Furthermore, climate variabilities are
expected to reduce the available water resources to all
parties, thus, and in the light of population and economic
growth, fixed quantitative allocations that seem equitable
now may be considered inequitable in a few years [47].
Alternatively, we argue that water resource partitioning
based on “percentage allocations” of seasonally-moni-
tored surface water quantities would accommodate sea-
sonal climate variabilities and thus render water negotia-
tions and treaties more flexible rather than static and
contentious. To date, Israel neither has water nor peace
treaties with Syria and Lebanon, and the former countries
are currently in war-status with Israel. This is deeply
rooted to issue of national sovereignty of occupied terri-
tories. The state-in-state Hezbollah in Lebanon—although
listed as terrorist organization by Israel, EU and the US
officials, is politically and financially connected to Iran’s,
Hamas organization in Ghaza Strip, and Syrian’s regimes.
This delta of ideologies precludes any attempts to
achieve political stability in the region in the foreseeable
future. For instance, the EU-US economic sanctions on
Syria and Iran are one compelling measure. Furthermore,
Gaza’s siege by Israel and the abolish of international aid
to Gaza strip for water management purposes was due to
Hamas political control over the Gaza territory [51]—
Hamas is also listed terrorist organization by the EU-US
officials. On the other hand, Turkey’s strategic location,
economic competence, the relatively high water re-
sources, and its endeavor toward Europe Union accession
have collectively re-positioned Turkey to play pivotal
role in shaping the region’s politics. However, Turkey’s
support to the Syrian opposition to ouster the Assad’s
regime has paralyzed bilateral collaboration for the time
being. Current social unrest in Syria will further compli-
cate the political disputes between Syria and Israel, espe-
cially when the Israeli air force launched two air strikes
inside the Syrian territory in 2006 and in 2013. The other
important pillar of MENA’s water conflicts is that water
resources are either shared (especially underground) or
crossing borders of ten countries in case of Nile River in
North Africa, four countries in case of Euphrates-Tigris,
and five countries in case of Jordan River. There are few
more rivers with smaller strategic value such as (Shatt
AL-Arab, The Orontes, Shebelle River, and Senegal
River) with a number of tributaries feeding them. Ac-
cording to [52], water conflicts emerged as a sovereignty
issue in Euphrates (2700 km long-upper 40% in Turkey,
middle 25% in Syria, and lower 35% in Iraq) and Tigris
Basin when all the three riparian countries (Turkey, Iraq,
and Syria) put forward their major development projects,
which aim to utilize these waters for hydropower and
irrigation purposes. Although bilateral meetings took
place since 1964, however, due to the disagreement on
the terminology and procedures on water allocation, the
three countries couldn’t agree, to date, on the water allo-
cation of the rivers [53]. Consequently, by treating the
rivers as one single unit, Turkey prevented downstream
countries to have co-sovereignty on the Euphrates and
Tigris rivers [52-54]. The Euphrates was extensively
utilized by the Turkish through the Ataturk Dam that was
impounded in 1990 and through the Anatolia Project
(Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi: GAP) to develop 19 dams
and 22 hydroelectric power stations. The Turks blocked
the flow of entire Euphrates for one month which heavily
and adversely affected the Syrians and Iraqis as well.
During the construction of the GAP project Syria sup-
ported PKK (Partia Karkaren Kurdistan or Kurdish
Workers Party) to force Turkey to reach an agreement on
minimal allocation of the Euphrates waters [55]. As a
result, Turkey agreed to guarantee the minimal allocation
of 500 m3/second flow of Euphrates. Syria, on the other
hand, launched several dams on Yarmouk River basin,
which surpassed Jordan’s ambitious to build Al-Wahda
Dam5 [28]. The river now suffers contamination and
over exploitation [28,36]. Regarding Nile River, and ac-
cording to Prince Khalid Bin Sultan (Honorary Chair-
man of the Arab Water Council), Egypt’s water shortage
will reach 94 billion cubic meters by 2050 and Egypt’s
share of the Nile River is “barely enough”. He argues
that the Ethiopian 4.8 US$ billion “Grand Renaissance
Dam (GRD)” (12 kilometers away from Sudanese border)
is a “political maneuver rather than an economic gain”.
He stresses that in case of collapse, the prospect dam will
threatens Khartoum Capital, with potential negative con-
sequences on Aswan Dam [56]. The Ethiopian officials
claim that the GRD project aims to: eradicate poverty in
the region, to enable Ethiopia to export electricity to Su-
dan, Egypt, Kenya, and South Sudan, and help control
5Jordan invested 50 million to build Al-Wahda dam after long negotia-
tions with the Syrian water authorities, the dam’s construction com-
leted however is not getting enough in-flow. The project deemed a
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
flooding risks in the Nile’s downstream countries. The
Ethiopian officials stress the Ethiopia’s right to utilize
the Nile resources, and that the GRD is being constructed
based on “global high quality standards” [57,58]. To
conclude, any country’s ability to find a compromise is
collided with its ability to jeopardize its sovereignty and
development rights. The contentious debate on MENA’s
water resources may remain hyperactive and no consen-
sus seems to be approachable, even though these coun-
tries seem to show verbal commitment to cooperate.
3. Renewable Energy Technologies Are Part
of the Solutions
Renewable energy technologies have matured and their
prices are plummeting considerably [59]. Renewable
energy have witnessed a resurgence the past few years
with US $257 billion poured in deploying various appli-
cations standing at 16.7% of the global primary energy
mix in 2011 [59]. Therefore, clean energy resurgence in
MENA region may solve many of the economic difficul-
ties and it may potentially contribute to solving the water
shortage problem. The DESERTEC industrial initiative
[60] and the Mediterranean Solar Plan [61] demonstrate
the EU’s endeavor to utilize the desert resources in North
Africa and the Mediterranean region respectively. Arab
oil revenues are expected to reach US $400 billion annu-
ally, thus there is a room to transform the regional eco-
nomies from a rent-seeking behavior to a more inno-
vative and developmental economic model [8]. The
MENA region has now approximately 10 million unem-
ployed young graduates with extraordinary energy to
engage in labor markets. However, due to projected eco-
nomic growth, the region would need 75 million jobs
within the next eight year to achieve social equity and
economic development [62]. Energy transition is antici-
pated to be led by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
with US $250 billion investments in clean technologies
during the next five years [63]. Mutual benefits for
MENA and European energy utilities are feasible through
cooperation and technology transfer. The GCC currently
manufacture fresh water using intensive fossil energy for
seawater desalination through “Reverse Osmosis” and
Israel is on the pathway to install several plants along the
Mediterranean Sea [47]. Deploying Concentrated Solar
Power (CSP) for seawater desalination is one modern
approach [10]. Photovoltaics (PVs) solar application can
be deployed for brackish water treatment and powering
water pumping stations. Deploying renewable solutions
to increase water supply will be of multiple benefits and
create numerous jobs. For example, a potential desalina-
tion plant can be built in Jordan at the Red Sea shore,
which would save the 50 million m3 of fresh water ex-
tracted from Al-Disi aquifer to Aqapa city. Another de-
salination plant can be built on the Gaza’s Mediterranean
shore to serve Gaza’s needs of drinking water. Clean
energy benefits goes beyond the scope of desalination, it
can be used in agriculture sector for soil fumigation and
drying up forages for winter use. More innovative use of
clean energy involves deploying solar collectors for fer-
menting municipal liquid wastes to generate methane gas
for power production.
4. Discussions and Conclusions
The main objective of this study is to provide the readers
with an overview of the challenges confronting MENA
region with special focus on water shortage. The study
deployed interdisciplinary approach due to the profound
complexity of MENA water issues. A suite of practical
recommendations are presented in the aforementioned
sub-sections. These recommendations can be scrutinized
by governments, NGOs, and water and agriculture au-
thorities that seek rationale solutions to water and broader
environmental issues. The main arguments drawn from
this analysis accentuates the daunting political and socio
economic challenges confronting the MENA region. The
study argues that current bilateral treaties need to be re-
addressed to accommodate seasonal variabilities in pre-
cipitation. Overall, the member countries of MENA re-
gion have no choice but to increase water supply through
energy transition and technological tools. However, re-
ducing water demand in agriculture sector through the
use of modern irrigation techniques (drip irrigation) and
abolishing flooding irrigation style is inevitable. In a lec-
ture delivered at Stanford University, UN Secretary-
General Ban Ki-moon outlined three ways to achieve the
“Great Transition” by advancing sustainable develop-
ment, helping people meet their aspirations for democ-
racy and dignity, and empowering women and young
people [62]. In this essence, modern public education
strategies need to be adopted to elevate public awareness
of contemporary environmental issues and clean tech-
nologies [64], equip and empower women to play stronger
role in family planning and birth control. Population
growth and water demand are linearly plotted, thus, any
attempts to control population growth will have a posi-
tive rebound effect on water demand. Mass media out-
reach campaigns are influential in changing public atti-
tudes and behaviors if it used in the right direction and
for the right objectives [20]. The successful public edu-
cation profile in Finland, Japan, and Singapore are some
examples that demonstrate how education can create en-
vironmentally and country loyal citizens.
Although climate variabilities may reduce precipita-
tion and increase the mean annual temperature, however,
years of intensive rainfall maybe expected especially
after the exceptional years 1993, 2003, and 2013. In this
regard, community-based resilience and adaption are
strongly recommended. Encouraging water harvesting
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JWARP
from house roofs would satisfy the water needs for two
to three summer months. Community associations in
rural areas could play a pivotal role in encouraging and
funding such community endeavor. Furthermore, and on
governmental level, improving large-scale water har-
vesting techniques and enhancing dams’ capacities through
the removal of seasonal sedimentation would be benefi-
cial especially in the unexpectedly good rainy years. The
agriculture sector in most MENA countries consumes the
lion-share of water resources yet only modestly contrib-
utes to the national income. Fixing market distortions in
the agriculture sector through state-intervention approach
is required to elevate the national income in this sector.
State owned corporations that monitor the production
chain of products and assist in marketing the surpluses
will be beneficial. Producing European-standard (e.g.
EURO-GAP) quality products will increase the volume
of product exportation to Europe. In Gulf states, agricul-
ture policies reform are needed to preserve the ground-
water resources by, for instance, reducing the intensively
irrigated fodder production that consumes 25% of ground
water resources [10]. Privatization and polarization of the
water utilities must be analyzed within the country’s con-
text; further research is required to assess the economic
feasibility and social acceptance of privatizing water
supply and demand institutions. In some known cases,
privatization of e.g. tele-communication sector (Jordan
and Egypt) resulted in a resurgence and highly quality
product delivered to consumers. Privatization may en-
hance competition and lead to lower prices on longer
terms. Social acceptance studies accompanied by public
referendum help governments decide on privatization
option of drinking water utilities. Current bilateral water
treaties partition fixed water quantities to beneficiaries.
However, revisiting the treaties and distribute water
based on percentages of seasonally-monitored surface
water resources would render such treaties more accept-
able and fair. A solid data bank is required to better un-
derstand and document the waste water quantities in all
MENA countries. Therefore, water utilities must invest
in gathering data to assist in planning and building treat-
ment plants. Information and continuous quality control
of the produced treated waste water would help decide
the final destination of treated waste water. The region is
under-going a political and democratic transformation
process. Arab Spring is a myriad force demanding trans-
formative change [8], however, it may take several years
to stabilize and achieve its goals. Therefore, the political
instability in the region is expected to continue and social
transition may colloid with the ideology of the new po-
litical leadership and globalization. The politics of the
region will most likely change the way the water issues
are being negotiated, and equally water scarcity may
steer the politics of the region which therefore may take
new unexpected directions.
5. Acknowledgements
The author is indebted to the European Science Founda-
tion (ESF) for providing a generous grant to attend the
ESF interdisciplinary Junior Summit “Water: Unite and
Divide”. The author also wishes to thank Helen Bridle
(Heriot-Watt University) for her technical and logistic
support. The author would like to thank: Lina Eklund,
Mine Islar, Arun Rana (Lund University), Katerina
Charalambous (The Cyprus Institute), and Cristos Zou-
mides (Cyprus University of Technology) for their re-
markable efforts to draw the scope of this study and
commenting an earlier draft of this study.
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