AMMAN — Arab countries are expected to face severe water scarcity as early as 2015, when the annual per capita water share in the region will fall to less than 500 cubic metres, a recent report warned.
The situation of water resources is nearing a crisis in most Arab countries, the report said, attributing the degradation to misguided short-term outlooks and political inertia when it comes to introducing reforms in the water sector.
The Green Economy in a Changing Arab World Report, recently launched by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), said that by 2015, the region’s projected annual per capita water share will be less than one-tenth of the global average of over 6,000 cubic metres.
“An annual per capita water share below 1,000 cubic metres is considered to pose a significant constraint to economic development, health and well-being; below 500 cubic metres, water scarcity becomes a threat to life,” indicated the report, which was launched on Thursday at the University of Jordan.
AFED Secretary General Najib Saab said that one of the main drivers of the Arab Spring uprisings was unemployment — a challenge he said could be met with a focus on environment-friendly development.
“Turning to a green economy in the Arab world will help create millions of decent and sustainable job opportunities,” Saab said at the launch event.
The report indicated that more than 45 million people in the Arab world, or 10 per cent of the population, lack access to clean water and safe sanitation.
“In addition, water pollution is a serious challenge in the region, attributed to the use of high levels of chemicals in agriculture as well as increasing inflows of inadequately treated domestic and industrial waste into water bodies,” the report said.
It also indicated that the lack of sanitation for large segments of the population contributed to water becoming polluted with raw sewage.
Introducing institutional, legal and policy reforms that affect water use, regulation and governance are among the keys to addressing the challenges of the water sector in Arab countries, the report suggested.
“Arab states need to shift the focus from large-scale investments in supply-side projects and instead concentrate on demand-side policies that control and regulate water access, promote irrigation and water use efficiency, and prevent water pollution,” the report said.
The report said that a green development agenda for Arab countries would generate economic dividends, while improving environmental and social conditions.
“In addition to meeting the demand for change, an Arab green economy will address the shortfalls of past Arab economic performance, from poverty and unemployment to food and water security threats,” the survey indicated.
In agriculture, the report said that most water irrigation systems in Arab countries were inefficient and that agriculture was already using over 85 per cent of available natural freshwater resources, with an efficiency of less than 50 per cent on average and as low as 30 per cent in many Arab countries.
It proposed applying a more sustainable approach to the use of limited land and water resources, introducing subsidies and land reforms, and empowering farmers and agricultural workers.
The report also criticised solid waste management in Arab states.
“The waste management sector in the Arab countries is characterised by underdevelopment, underinvestment and high-risk ‘waste dumping’ practices,” the study said.
It indicated that although the volume of waste generated was increasing alarmingly, many Arab countries lacked national strategies or integrated plans for municipal solid waste management.
President of the Jordan Environment Society Mohammad Masalha said that the report showed the Arab region’s potential for shifting to a green economy in order to achieve sustainable growth.
“This report represents a clear action plan for Arab countries to identify loopholes and follow proposed measures that can help improve the environment and push economic growth,” Masalha said.
The report analysed the shortcomings in vital sectors in the Arab world, including agriculture, water, industry, transportation, cities and buildings, solid waste management, energy and tourism, and proposed reform measures.