Limited water resources ‘costing Middle East and North Africa $21bn a year’

31 Aug 17

Inadequate water supply and sanitation is costing the Middle East and North Africa region around $21bn a year in economic losses, the World Bank has said.

Its vice president for the region Hafez Ghanem said: “If we think of water resources as a bank account, then the region is now seriously overdrawn.”

The bank’s new report, Beyond Scarcity: Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa, found that limited water resources need not restrict the region’s future and a combination of technology, policy and management could bring about secure supplies.

Ghanem said: “Drawing water from rivers and aquifers faster than they can be replenished is equivalent to living beyond one’s means, and it undermines a country’s natural capital, affecting longer-term wealth and resilience.

“But there are solutions, and they start with clear incentives to change the way water is managed.”

He said that despite water scarcity, the region has the world’s lowest water tariffs and, at 2%, the highest proportion of gross domestic product spent on public water subsidies.

Low service tariffs discouraged efficient use and increased water service fees would signal the true value of this dwindling resource and encourage conservation.

Such fees could also provide finance for water resources protection, infrastructure maintenance and reliable service delivery.  

Guangzhe Chen, senior director of the World Bank’s Global Water Practice, said there was also potential in nonconventional methods such as desalination and recycling and that many other countries had done this successfully and were quickly improving the technologies involved.

Chen said the contribution of recycling had yet to be fully exploited in the region, where more than half of the wastewater collected is returned to the environment untreated, resulting in both waste and health hazards.

Jordan and Tunisia had though shown that wastewater could be safely recycled for irrigation and managed aquifer recharges. 

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