While the spread of COVID-19 dominated the headlines and policy-making priorities of 2020, the looming global water crisis hasn’t gone away. If anything, it has worsened in the face of swelling demand for fresh water supplies and COVID-related delays to projects intent on relieving this mounting pressure. This month we assess the state of water security in the Middle East and the wider world.
By 2050, over 50% of the world’s population will be living in areas with ‘water stressed’ systems. This defines a system where demand exceeds supply, or the poor quality of water restricts usage. This leads to the depletion of natural water sources (aquifers, ground water, etc) and brings with it a host of social issues, from dehydration to the spread of water-borne diseases and illnesses. Due to its climate, the Middle East is by far the world’s most water-stressed region, with most of its countries already categorised as having ‘extremely high (>80%) water stress.
Not only is it a present and growing threat to human life and the cohesion of a rapidly urbanising global society, poor water security also carries a huge price tag. The latest Oliver Wyman report states that the lack of adequate water management could cost the Middle East up to 6% of its GDP by 2050.
While troubling in its implications, the scale and nature of this threat is thoroughly understood by respective ME governments. This can be seen by their creation of formal, long-term national strategies for improving water security and their billions of dollars’ worth of investments in new technological innovations and advanced water infrastructure. But are current efforts going to be enough to stay ahead of the water demand curve? The same report from Oliver Wyman highlights that while $35 billion is being invested annually in attaining UN Sustainable Development Goal number 6 (ensuring the availability of clean water and sanitation for all) the actual amount needed to hit the 2030 deadline for this goal is between $75-165 billion. This imbalance needs to be addressed, either by greater investment, innovation, or both.