* Arab world to face severe water scarcity by 2015
* Population to hit 600 million by 2050 from 360 million
* Groundwater over-exploited, cheap pricing leads to waste
By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent
BEIRUT, Nov 4 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.
"Free water is wasted water," the report says, noting
average prices charged in the region cover 35 percent of water
production costs and only 10 percent for desalinated water.
Governments, which often focus on seeking new supplies of
water, should instead concentrate on improving water management,
rationalising consumption, encouraging reuse and protecting
water supplies from overuse and pollution, AFED urges.
Better water management presents huge challenges in Arab
countries where most public organisations serving irrigation and
urban water needs "do not function properly".
Water pricing schemes are needed to attract new investment
in the sector, but that will not be enough, the report says.
"No technological or engineering solutions will be effective
without the necessary policy, institutional and legal reforms."
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
(For full report see www.afedonline.org/Report/2010/main.asp)