The Arab world, one of the driest regions on the planet, will tip into severe water scarcity as early as 2015, a report issued on Thursday predicts.
By then, Arabs will have to survive on less than 500 cubic metres of water a year each, or below a tenth of the world average of more than 6,000 cubic metres per capita, said the report by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED).
"The Arab world is already living a water crisis that will only get worse with inaction," the report says, adding per capita supply has plunged to only a quarter of its 1960 level.
Rapid population growth will further stress water resources. According to U.N. projections, the Arabs, who now number almost 360 million, will multiply to nearly 600 million by 2050.
Climate change will aggravate matters. By the end of this century, Arab countries may experience a 25 percent drop in precipitation and a 25 percent increase in evaporation rates, according to climate change models cited in the report.
"As a result, rain-fed agriculture will be threatened, with average yields estimated to decline by 20 percent," it says.
Thirteen Arab countries are among the world's 19 most water-scarce nations. People in eight Arab countries already have to make do with less than 200 cubic metres a year each.
"Without fundamental changes in policies and practices, the situation will get worse, with drastic social, political and economic ramifications," the AFED report says.
Conditions vary across the region, but within five years only Iraq and Sudan will pass the water scarcity test, defined as over 1,000 cubic metres a year per capita, assuming supplies from Turkey and Ethiopia still flow at current levels.
Agriculture consumes 85 percent of Arab water use, compared with a world average of 70 percent. Irrigation efficiency is only 30 percent, against a world average of 45 percent.
Groundwater is over-exploited, leading to significant declines in water tables, pollution of aquifers and seawater intrusion in coastal areas, AFED says. More than 43 percent of wastewater is discharged raw, while only 20 percent is reused.
The Arab world has 5 percent of the world's population but only 1 percent of its renewable fresh water, so several Gulf Arab countries rely heavily on desalinated sea water -- accounting for more than half the world's desalination capacity.
GOLF COURSES IN THE DESERT
Some of the expensive desalinated water is used to irrigate low-value crops or even golf courses, the AFED report says.
Discharge from the desalination plants, which use imported, polluting technologies, makes sea water warmer and more saline.
Despite its scarcity, water is often squandered in the Arab world thanks to low prices and subsidies that disguise its cost.
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