WRI: Extreme water stress in Middle East could stoke civil unrest

Countries from the Middle East will likely be be exposed to 'extreme water stress' by 2040, threatening national security, the World Resources Institute has found.

Climate change and population growth has led to many countries suffering from water stress

Climate change and population growth has led to many countries suffering from water stress

WRI scored future water stress—a measure of population and surface water depletion—in 167 countries using their Aqueduct analysis. The report suggested that 33 countries would be at risk from water-stress, 14 of them from the Middle East.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon all scored 5.00 out of 5.00 in analysis highlighting countries at continuous risk from water scarcity in the next 25 years.

The deterioration of the Middle East, home to over 350m people, will threaten economic growth and national security, according to the report. It will likely see more people move to increasingly overcrowded cities, and some of the effects are already being seen with the ‘death’ of the Dead Sea.

The analysis even suggests that water-stress played a key role in the 2011 Syrian civil war.

The report said: “Drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country’s 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilisation.”

The Middles East is already considered as the least water-secure region in the world. It relies heavily on groundwater and desalinated sea water. But secure countries like the United States, China and India also have concerns. While they won’t be exposed to the same extremities as the Middle East, these global powerhouses could be at risk at a regional level.

Water stress levels in these countries are projected to remain steady through to 2040. However, specific areas, such as the South-Western U.S. and China’s Ningxia province, could see water stress increase by up to 40-70%. This highlights a problem in the report’s ability to match regional levels with national. For example, the UK is expected to rank 61st by 2020 despite the fact the London is ranked as the 15th most water-stressed city in the world.

High risers

Chile, Estonia, Namibia, and Botswana receive the unenviable accolade of facing the most significant increase by 2040. Botswana and Namibia could rise from 1.48 and 1.74 (medium low scores) to 3.00 and 3.18 scores which would place them in the high risk category. Estonia and Chile will both likely reach a score of 3.9 or above in the same timeframe.

“Water supplies are limited, and risk from floods and droughts make Botswana and Namibia particularly vulnerable in southern Africa where projected temperature increases are likely to exceed the global average, along with overall drying and increased rainfall variability,” the report said.

As far as a solution is concerned the report suggests: “National and local governments must bring forward strong national climate action plans and support a strong international climate agreement in Paris this November. Governments must also respond with management and conservation practices that will help protect essential sustainable water resources for years to come.”

Matt Mace


| drought | population | surface water | war | water | Water scarcity


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